M-CESC Teaching & Learning

January Focus: Instructional Coaching

Seven Success Factors for Successful Instructional Coaching

According to Jim Knight and the Instructional Coaching Group, in order for instructional coaches to be successful, there are seven factors that need to be present:


  1. Partnership - in their studies they have found that the key to partnership relies on what they call "the partnership principles": Equality, Choice, Voice, Reflection, Dialogue, Praxis, and Reciprocity. Jim outlines these principles in his book Unmistakable Impact.
  2. A Coaching Process - An established process ensures that no matter what coaching scenario an instructional coach is dealing with, that they have all the tools they need to help teachers set and achieve their goals. Knight details in his book The Impact Cycle the framework they have developed for any coaching scenario.
  3. Instructional Strategies - When going through the coaching cycle, there can be so many factors at play and so much new information coming to light that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But a central focus of instructional coaching is partnering with teachers to modify their instruction to meet student-focused goals. This is why providing resources to help teachers implement new strategies is such an essential part of a coach’s work. One of the most effective resources for implementing high-impact teaching strategies is an instructional playbook**. An instructional playbook is a simple resource made up of the following three parts:
    • A one-page list of high-impact teaching strategies
    • A one-page description for each of the strategies
    • Checklists to help facilitate the practices contained in the playbook
  4. Gathering Data - Data is important within coaching because it provides a way to identify goals and monitor progress. Goals need to be measured frequently so that teachers can determine if what they are doing is working or if adjustments need to be made. Using video to gather data is one of the most effective methods, and Focus on Teaching by Jim Knight is the first book on using video for this purpose. Data can be gathered for two main focuses for coaching – student engagement and student achievement. It is important to consider three different types of engagement – behavioral, cognitive, and emotional – in addition to measuring student achievement to get a full and clear picture of reality.
  5. Communication Beliefs & Habits- since conversations are at the heart of what coaching is about, coaches must be good communicators in addition to utilizing effective coaching skills that reflect healthy beliefs about communication. Jim Knight outlines a set of Beliefs and a set of Habits that can help improve the quality of coaching conversations in his book Better Conversations**. He also discusses the importance of developing strategies for improving and gathering video data to reflect on the current reality of our conversations.

  6. Leadership - Leadership can be divided into two parts: leading yourself and leading others. To lead yourself, you must know your purpose and principles, how to use your time effectively, and how to take care of yourself. To lead others, a combination of ambition and humility is needed – to be reliable and ambitious for change but at the same time responsive to teachers.

    If coaches are responsive and emotionally intelligent but are disorganized or lack ambition, people won’t want to work with them. Similarly, if they are ambitious and organized but not responsive or emotionally intelligent, people won’t want to work with them. Effective coaching involves being reliable and ambitious and being humble and responsive. Both are essential.

  7. System Support - When coaches flourish, it is often because they work in settings where leaders are intentional and disciplined about providing the support that is required for coaching success to occur. The opposite is also true. Without support, coaches will often struggle to have any impact at all.

    Two of the most important things that need to be in place for coaches to be successful are administrative support and time management. When asked, most coaches identified time as the major barrier the faced. If coaches don’t have time to do the work, the work won’t get done. Coaches are often tasked with many things that can add up and interfere with their actual coaching. At the most fundamental level, coaches will struggle if their principals don’t believe in coaching or professional development.


(Adapted from Jim Knight and the Instructional Coaching Group)

** Indicates we are or will be conducting professional learning opportunities on this topic **

The Teacher's Perspective

In my 7th year of teaching, it was mentioned that a fellow teacher was going to have a math coach assist her in her classroom. My immediate thought was “it’s because she can’t pass a test.” This is often the belief behind why teachers have instructional coaches, but this is simply not the case.


Your best athletes are coached on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. The most elite athletes often seek input and feedback from multiple coaches, who analyze a variety of different aspects of the athlete’s training and performance. In ideal situations, instructional coaches are utilized to help you, the teacher, improve upon your teaching. In some cases, they will observe and provide feedback. Other situations involve the teacher and coach co-teaching in the classroom.


My experience with a math coach was one where we spent a significant amount of time co-planning with new instructional strategies of which I was unfamiliar. My coach would walk me through the lesson, and if I did not feel comfortable, or it seemed as if my students were going to be out of control (a huge fear of mine), she would model the lesson for me during the first block, which provided me opportunities to improve and gain confidence throughout the day.


Reflection was a significant piece of my coaching experience. My coach asked for my opinions and personal feedback on lessons daily, and together, we reviewed student assessment data. Having someone with whom I could share my ideas with, while also looking to that individual for suggestions on ways to improve my teaching was beyond beneficial. Knowing this person was rooting for me and my students, and that my growth was also a reflection of her, added an extra layer of accountability to our relationship.


The year that I had an instructional coach in my classroom, I had a +7 value-added! My years before her and since her have not been as impressive, and the only difference that I can attribute to such growth is the power of collaboration, as well as daily feedback and accountability.

A look at one building's use of Instructional Rounds

a guest contribution by Michael Belmont at London Middle School.


Instructional rounds are one of the most valuable tools that we can use to enhance our pedagogical skills and develop a culture of collaboration. The goal of instructional rounds isn't necessarily to provide feedback to the teacher visited, although this is an option we can incorporate. Instead, the purpose is for the participating teachers to compare their instructional practices with those they visit. The benefit of this approach is found in the post discussion, as well as in any subsequent self-reflection.


That said, the London Middle School BLT began visiting the classroom for our Instructional Rounds initiative. This initiative is a four-part series starting with Instructional Rounds 1.0 and ending with Instructional Rounds 4.0. Throughout the year, we discuss with the staff in further detail the next step of the initiative. The following is a quick breakdown of the Instructional Rounds initiative:

Instructional Rounds 1.0 - BLT will make 5 min classroom visits to take a quick snapshot of instructional practices based on Marzano 9. Will happen in Q1.

Instructional Rounds 2.0 - The prior practice used by the BLT in Q1 is handed over to the rest of the staff, and they will conduct the same classroom visit. Will happen in Q2.

Instructional Rounds 3.0 - Same Practice but with conversations after the visit to discuss the instructional practices with your colleagues. Will happen in Q3.

Instructional Rounds 4.0 - The prior practice used by the BLT in Q3 is handed over to the rest of the staff, and they will conduct the same classroom visit. Will happen in Q4.

Finally, we have connected this initiative to the teacher performance rubric under Professionalism. Professional Responsibilities (Standard 6: Collaboration and Communication; Standard 7: Professional Responsibility and Growth). This section reads: When all teaching (certified) staff collaborates with their colleagues to improve personal and team practices by facilitating professional dialogue, peer observation and feedback, peer coaching, and other collegial learning activities. And for those in administration, it supports Standard 2: Instruction Principals support the implementation of high-quality standards-based instruction that results in higher levels of achievement for all students. This section reads: Principal guides staff in the implementation of research-based instructional practices and sets aside time for attention to crucial instructional issues during the school day. Principal empowers and facilitates teachers in designing curriculum and addressing instructional and assessment issues.

Again, instructional rounds are one of the most valuable tools that we can use to enhance our pedagogical skills and develop a culture of collaboration."