Quality of classroom instruction and the degree to which students are provided with powerful opportunities to learn determines the effectiveness of schools. Effective teachers make the question “Why?” a classroom mantra to support a culture of reasoning and justification. Impactful teachers rely on relevant contexts to engage their students’ interest and use open-ended questions to stimulate thinking and create collaborative classrooms. Lessons are planned to employ student inquiry and multiple approaches in order to facilitate deeper learning. Increasingly, it is clear that practices such as these are developed and institutionalized in schools with effective coaching.
In the most effective schools, one finds formal or informal coaching. Experienced teachers mentor new teachers. It is common for colleagues to observe one another teaching and then debrief these observations. There are frequent discussions about what worked, what did not work, which students were and were not engaged, and what adjustments might be made. Coaches co-plan and co-teach with, and critique the work of, colleagues. The debilitating professional isolation many teachers experience does not exist. Instead, there is a common spirit of “We get better together,” a respectful ethos of transparency, a culture of professional sharing, and common commitments. It is through this dedication to colleagues that powerful classrooms where students have agency, are collaborative, and show their creativity are implemented and scaled.
We’ve known for years that people can’t do what they can’t envision. People won’t do what they don’t understand. People can’t do well what isn’t practiced and practice without feedback results in little change. Unless these processes are done collaboratively, little is sustained or institutionalized. Thus, the key to raising the quality of day-in-and-day-out classroom instruction is a systematic focus on helping teachers envision, understand, practice, receive feedback, and collaborate.
The deprivatization of teaching, which serves to re-culture schools into collaborative learning environments, begins with coaching. Effective coaches walk shoulder to shoulder with teachers in a partnership driving toward a common vision of impactful lessons. The job-embedded differentiated support makes certain teachers receive what they need, for a sustained period of time, and make progress toward shared goals.
When teachers are comfortable opening up their classrooms to a coach, it is inevitable that teachers begin to seek out collaboration. Schools will transition from a collection of teachers, each doing their best to serve students as best they know how, to a team of colleagues striving toward a common vision of instruction that best supports the learning of all students.
Digital Promise’s commitment to coaching is exemplified in the Dynamic Learning Project, a project generously funded and supported by Google. After only one year of implementation, the early indicators are promising. Nearly 60 percent of teachers who received coaching reported that they made considerable progress in their teaching after one year. Additionally, 95 percent of principals and 89 percent of coaches reported that they now have high confidence in their ability to support teachers through coaching. It is still early in this project, yet we are encouraged by what our fellow educators are telling us.
In year two, we have doubled the number of schools involved from 50 to 100 and will measure the impact at continuing schools as well as schools new to coaching. We look forward to learning more about the promise of coaching as we enter our second year of the Dynamic Learning Project and we anticipate sharing what we learn next summer with additional research reports.