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October 7, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Should teachers have coaches as a method of teaching education toward excellence?

From October’s New Yorker Magazine:

So outside ears, and eyes, are important for concert-calibre musicians and Olympic-level athletes. What about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can? I talked to Jim Knight about this. He is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. He teaches coaching—for schoolteachers. For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight think we should push coaching.

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Knight experienced it himself. Two decades ago, he was trying to teach writing to students at a community college in Toronto, and floundering. He studied techniques for teaching students how to write coherent sentences and organize their paragraphs. But he didn’t get anywhere until a colleague came into the classroom and coached him through the changes he was trying to make. He won an award for innovation in teaching, and eventually wrote a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Kansas on measures to improve pedagogy. Then he got funding to train coaches for every school in Topeka, and he has been expanding his program ever since. Coaching programs have now spread to hundreds of school districts across the country.

Read more

You can learn more about Coaching for Teachers including the research and the work of Mr. Knight at the University of Kansas at Instructional Coaching. In addition, you can check out these coaching conference materials, which are to help with the coaching process as well as the Centers collection of conference videos on coaching.


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  1. Nathan Ketsdever / Oct 7 2011 1:25 pm

    One such examination of the literature on cognitive coaching is here:

    Since it was first developed in the 1980s, Cognitive Coaching has been
    the subject of numerous research studies. For this chapter, we reviewed 29
    dissertations, 38 articles, 7 books or book chapters, 11 research reports, 19
    presentations, and 19 other documents discussing Cognitive Coaching.
    “The mission of Cognitive Coaching” described in detail in Chapter 4, “is
    to produce self-directed persons with the cognitive capacity for high
    performance, both independently and as members of a community” (Costa
    & Garmston, 2002, p. 16).

    In Cognitive Coaching: A Synthesis of the Research, Edwards (2008, p. 1)
    identified nine outcomes that can be expected from Cognitive Coaching:
    (1) increase in student test scores and “other benefits to students,” (2) growth
    in teacher efficacy, (3) increase in reflective and complex thinking
    among teachers, (4) increase in teacher satisfaction with career and position,
    (5) increase in professional climate at schools, (6) increase in teacher
    collaboration, (7) increase in professional assistance to teachers, (8) increase
    in personal benefits to teachers, and (9) benefit to people in fields other
    than teaching. For the purposes of this chapter, Edwards’ nine outcomes
    can be collapsed into impact on students (outcome number 1) and impact
    on teachers (outcome numbers 2 through 8).


    Among practices coachesmight share are literacy strategies; reading strategies; differentiation techniques;The Big Four of classroom management, content, instruction, and assessment for learning; curriculum, lesson planning and mapping; questioning techniques; hands-on teaching; inclusive teaching practices; cooperative learning; project-based learning; colleague collaboration tools; rapport building and communication techniques—the possibilities are endless. Researchers can provide an important service by helping educators sort through this jungle of interventions and identify which teaching practices are most likely to improve student achievement in which situations.
    Coaches cannot do everything, and teachers cannot learn everything. For that reason, we need educational scientists to help us identify which practices are best bets for improving student achievement in which situations.

  2. Nathan Ketsdever / Oct 7 2011 1:45 pm

    The work of Michael Fullan may also prove important on this issue:

    Specifically at 25 minutes he discusses some pretty dramatic results of the model he uses for the Ontario school system:

    Also the work at NDSC (National Staff Development Council) with Learning Forward is interesting:

    Two less related links:

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