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Ten Reasons Instructional Coaching Is the Key To Sustainable Professional Growth

By Kim Cofino
28-Sep-22
Ten Reasons Instructional Coaching Is the Key To Sustainable Professional Growth


Instructional coaching, when implemented successfully, can be the key driver in continued, long-term, sustainable professional growth in schools. We know that when schools and leaders invest in teachers, they are investing in students. When teachers grow, they model growth-mindedness for students. When teachers feel valued, they bring that feeling of support and joy into their classrooms.

Educators have tons of options for professional learning, conferences, in-house professional development (PD), consultants, and online courses, but coaching is the best way to take all of that and make it achievable, personalized, and sustainable. As a consultant, I spent a lot of time traveling to schools and “enjoying” the suitcase method: fly in, inspire people, fly out. But as much as I love doing that work, and am good at that work, I know that the schools that have full-time coaches and structures in place for those coaches to do their jobs well have much more success implementing everything I share. In fact, schools with thriving coaching programs don’t need to invest as much in outside consultants or external PD; and those communities are deeply inspired and engaged in professional growth.

Although creating a coaching culture will not happen overnight, it is possible to start with just one dedicated coach. If you’re in a school right now, and you are a coach, you want to be a coach, or your coaching program is struggling, you may find this topic helpful in working with your school leaders to help them understand why coaching is so valuable. You may also want to use this as a resource to help your school leader financially support your professional development goals too!

To help you with that, I’ve created a FREE resource for you to share with your school leader that highlights all of these 10 points, with quotes from other school leaders who have been guests on the #coachbetter podcast. This Quick Guide gives you the leadership language to have a purposeful conversation with your school leaders about investing in YOUR professional growth as a coach, and therefore maximizing the impact you can make in your school setting.

Before I share the 10 reasons I think coaching is the key to sustainable professional growth, it’s important to clarify what we mean by instructional coaching. In this context, I’m talking about a formal or informal process that is non-evaluative (and not tied to appraisal), that starts with teacher goals and is invitational for teachers to access, that involves a cycle, structure, or system of self-reflection, and operates close to the classroom with observation, co-teaching, or modeling as a central part of the experience.

Ten Reasons Instructional Coaching is the Key to Sustainable Professional Growth:

1: Enable Differentiation of Whole-School PD

Every school offers whole-school, mission-focused professional learning. Schools need to hold these one-size-fits-all sessions, usually at the beginning of the year, to set the tone and focus for our professional growth for the year. It’s essential that everyone hears the same message and that we are able to communicate school goals and priorities to all staff.

However, by the very nature of these sessions, they are extremely hard to differentiate. Even with the best efforts, whole-school PD will often have educators with vastly different experiences, understandings, and preparedness attending the very same session. 

Instructional coaches can take the big-picture messaging of whole-school PD and customize the professional learning for teams or individuals based on need. They can build on full-faculty sessions with smaller, more focused, and differentiated sessions for groups as needed and within the school day. 

2: Avoid the Suitcase Model of PD

When schools hire consultants, even highly experienced and effective consultants, the ideas and inspiration they bring with them (in a suitcase) often leave with them too. Even when the consultant has a long-term connection with the school, the time between visits and the lack of depth of knowledge of the school community mean that their impact will be unlikely to be as deep and sustainable as that of educators who are on the ground, part of the community, and committed to the school. 

Schools often seem eager to listen to the recommendations of consultants even though on-staff personnel have been saying the same thing for years. The consultant simply provides an easy way to “tick a box” and make sure we’re “getting it done.” But the reality is that consultants (including me) don’t know the school community the way the actual staff does. Invest in the people that can actually make and sustain the change.

Plus, although at first glance hiring an outside consultant or sending teachers away to conferences seems to be a cheaper investment, not only are you not able to reach every teacher at a personal and practical level, but the amount of time and energy needed to see the implementation of those new strategies goes far beyond just the cost of attending a conference or bringing in a consultant.

While the cost of hiring coaches varies based on the host country, the long-term investment in a coach will make a lasting impact on a much larger group of educators than any one-off conference or consultant visit.

3: Learning Is Ongoing

Sending teachers to conferences often leads to one-off learning experiences that may impact an individual teacher’s practice, but without the long-term, contextual support within the school setting, those ideas often end there. When schools require teachers to share what they learned with their colleagues, that is another step removed from the original inspiration. When teachers walk away from events with long lists of “things to try” but don’t have the support to make that happen in their classroom, the lists stay “wishes.” 

Long-term, personalized learning within the context of the school, held physically in the classroom spaces at the school, and with someone who knows the teachers, the school, the context, and can work with them over a long period of time, will make a bigger impact than traveling for annual conferences.

4: Learning Is for Everyone 

If you consider yourself a learning-focused school, the learning is not just for students, it’s also for teachers. When schools make an investment in the professional learning of all educators, the value placed on learning is explicitly clear. When leaders model this growth-mindedness by being coached, they are doubling down on the investment in hiring coaches.

5: Schools Are Dynamic

Schools are dynamic learning spaces. Every year things change; we face the unexpected and we learn how to adapt. Likewise, coaches grow with the school and their colleagues. They understand the changing nature of the school community because they are part of it. As school goals change, coaches can bring their experience and relationships with their colleagues to the changing needs of the school. 

6: Schools Are Unique 

Every school has a unique school culture that’s influenced by the community, the local culture, the host country, and its history. Having experience living in and working in this environment is priceless. Although outside consultants may be experts in their specific field, and cross-culturally competent, it’s unlikely that they will have the depth of understanding of your school-specific context, unless they have worked at that school before. 

7: Keep Learning Close

We know that the closer professional learning is to the classroom, the more effective it is. When professional learning happens in the classroom context, with actual students, in the exact situation that teachers are managing on a daily basis, the process is clear and achievable, and the impact is visible immediately. You can’t get any closer than having coaches in the school, working with teachers in their classrooms every day. 

8: The Ripple Effect 

When coaches work with one teacher on a team, the success spreads to others. Teachers sharing about the value of their experience of being coached helps build interest in engaging in the coaching process. Investing in coaches, when instructional coaching is supported appropriately, has a positive ripple effect of engagement and interest in improvement that radiates out to all the teachers they work with.

9: The School-Wide Perspective 

Coaches are some of the only non-administrative positions that have a whole-school perspective. They have the opportunity to see what’s happening in a variety of grade levels and subject areas. They have the availability to cross divisions and engage in deep conversations with teachers and leaders. Coaches have the time and focus to become experts in what teachers are doing and know what works in this context by connecting teachers to each other and by sharing and celebrating success (without evaluation pressure).

10: Focus on Growth Mindset 

Because coaches are in a non-evaluative position, they can help teachers keep a growth mindset in a non-threatening way. When coaches invest in their own professional learning, they become role models for professional growth and risk-taking. By engaging in coaching themselves, and by coaching leaders, they set the stage for coaching to be valued by all staff members. 

All of these are dependent on school structures being in place to support effective and non-evaluative instructional coaching, so it’s also important for coaches to know what they need to be successful, and to be able to articulate that to their school leaders.

Whether your school already has an established coaching culture or is just considering implementing an instructional coaching program, building a coaching culture will have a lasting impact on teachers’ professional growth.

If you think coaching is the key and you want to make a bigger impact in your school setting, whether you’re already a coach, or you’re just getting started, please join us for the next cohort of the Coach Certificate and Mentorship Program! You will learn everything you need to be successful as an instructional coach and begin to build a thriving coaching culture in your school setting! You can find all the details at edurolearning.com/coach.

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Kim Cofino has been an educator in international schools since August 2000. Having lived and worked in Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan, Kim has had a variety of roles in international schools, including (her favorite) instructional coach. Now based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kim is the co-founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, which offers online customized professional development in a community-driven environment, including COETAIL, Women Who Lead, and The Coach Certificate & Mentorship programs. Kim is co-author of Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers, as well as co-host of the #coachbetter podcast and YouTube series. Find out more about Kim at edurolearning.com




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