When it comes to student achievement, teacher quality matters more than any other school factor. Therefore, it is not surprising that the average U.S. school district spends nearly $18,000 each year per teacher on professional development (PD). Despite this investment, the majority of teachers do not feel the PD they receive supports them in improving their practice, and many administrators share this view.
In light of these concerns, over the past decade, instructional coaching has increasingly attracted the interest of researchers and practitioners alike as an avenue for providing personalized PD that supports teachers in transferring learning into practice. A recent meta-analysis that reviewed the results of 60 causal studies on the effect of instructional coaching programs on creating meaningful change found large, positive effects on teachers’ instructional practice, as well as a meaningful effect on student achievement.
Teachers who were coached as part of the Dynamic Learning Project pilot (DLP)1, compared to their peers who did not receive coaching, reported having a stronger ability to use technology to improve their teaching approaches and to teach their specific content area. Additionally, more than 90 percent of coached teachers reported at least some improvement in the following teaching challenges as a result of working with their coach: assessment, differentiation, instructional strategies to support a specific content area, classroom management, planning and preparation, and professional growth. In all six of these categories, more than half of participating teachers reported “much” or “very much” improvement.
Moreover, compared to non-coached teachers, more coached teachers reported that their students’ technology use had a positive impact on students’ engagement and learning, and principals observed tangible changes, as well. “You go into classrooms, they feel like more comfortable, joyful spaces,” one DLP principal said. “Colleagues are generally reporting improved achievement in most areas, [and] generally, all of our data across the board has improved this year. You can’t not attribute it to what [DLP coaching] brought.”
Coached teachers described ways that coaching helped them grow in their teaching and classroom practices. For example, in one California elementary school serving primarily refugee and immigrant students, a second grade math teacher worked with her coach to develop her students’ critical thinking and agency in math. At the beginning of the year, when student math activities were prompted, timed, and directed by the teacher, students exhibited major “social and behavioral” outbursts. Over the course of her work with the coach, students grew in their ability to monitor and assess their own progress in math using a variety of technology tools. While collaboratively using these tools, her students began offering one another support on technical challenges and congratulating each other on their accomplishments. Crediting her collaboration with the coach, the teacher described the improvement in students’ skills and engagement as “…night and day. Not only are [students] more independent when it comes to technology, they’re also more confident in what they’re doing.”
Students at a low-income middle school in California described a design thinking project their coach helped their early-career science teacher create and implement. Students collaborated to think critically to design and then 3-D print a prototype chair that would meet the needs of a specific audience (e.g., NASA scientist, marathon runner). In groups, they presented their prototypes to their intended audience over videoconference and received real-world feedback. “We actually got to talk with a real astronaut, from a computer. I was really excited about that,” a student said. After incorporating the feedback, students recorded persuasive commercials using Flipgrid and reflected on their own designs and those of their classmates.