Recently in the Fordham Flypaper, Michael Petrilli wrote about the practice and promise of instructional coaches. Excerpts from the piece appear below:
Whether initiated from the bottom-up or the top-down, any effort to help educators align their practice with the best evidence is going to succeed or fail on the strength of its implementation. This means building capacity and teachers’ understanding in a way that will improve instructional delivery in their classrooms. It’s also mighty difficult. Fortunately, three-fourths of all primary schools and two-thirds of all high poverty schools have a resource that’s ideal for accomplishing this: We call them instructional coaches, and recent research indicates that their work can be very effective at changing instruction and somewhat effective at improving outcomes, especially when programs are relatively small-scale.
A recent meta-analysis by Matthew Kraft and his colleagues indicates that coaching is very effective at changing instruction and somewhat effective at improving outcomes, especially when programs are relatively small-scale.
The coaches themselves need to be highly effective educators—both of students and of fellow teachers. Helping other instructors improve their craft takes a high degree of social and emotional skill, technical expertise, and patience. It can’t be generic, lest it will prove no more effective than conventional professional development. Coaching tied to specific, high quality curricula is probably best. And it’s not inexpensive; as Diana Quintero pointed out in a recent article for the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center, these coaches are precisely the sort of positions that have inflated the ranks of “non-teachers” working in our schools, which in turn has squeezed out other priorities, like higher teacher pay.
If deployed well, however, instructional coaches show great potential. So state and local leaders should ask themselves, when trying to implement a high quality curriculum or other evidence-based practices:
- Am I using instructional coaches effectively?
- Have we picked the best people for that role?
- Have they been properly trained on the new curriculum?
- Do they have a manageable number of teachers to work with?
- Do we have a way to collect their feedback so that we might make changes to the curriculum or program in response?