Written by Christophe Mullings

“Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” – Atul Gawande, Personal Best, The New Yorker

Coaching provides a fantastic opportunity for experienced teachers to develop themselves further. But also, for new teachers, it can give them the confidence, skills and self-awareness needed for a long and successful teaching career.

Researchers and educators have emphasised the importance of teacher coaching for decades, describing it as an essential component of effective continuous professional development.

Providing teachers with the theory underlying the new strategies they’re learning, plus demonstrations of the strategy, and the opportunity to practice them in their own classrooms are said to be key to providing teachers with all the skills they need to improve. But alone, those still aren’t enough. Let’s start at the beginning.


Different types of teacher coaching

As with every type of teacher coaching, there are different ways you can provide support for your teachers. Depending on your teacher’s situation, time and resources, you can choose from many different coaching methods.


1. Instructional coaching for teachers

According to researcher Sam Sims, instructional coaching is “probably the best-evidenced form of professional learning currently known to mankind”.

The evidence he presented at the ResearchEd 2018 event in London was both convincing and compelling. Looking at randomized, controlled trials of teaching interventions in English (from the US-based Investing in Innovation program) only seven out of 31 had a statistically significant positive effect, with even worse results for Maths (three out of 23).

However, Sims found that for ten out of 15 of the RCTs, instructional coaching had a statistically significant positive effect.

So, what is instructional coaching, how does it work and how can your teachers benefit from it?

What is instructional coaching for teachers?

Not to be confused with straight “coaching”, (where a coach simply asks questions and the trainee comes up with the solutions) instructional coaching is more like sports coaching, where an expert teacher helps the classroom teacher to focus on one aspect of their technique that can be isolated and practiced (think drilling football passes).

Instructional coaching reflects the growing consensus about what makes high-quality professional development for teachers. It is job-embedded, addressing issues teachers face daily in their classrooms. It is ongoing, not a one-off workshop. It can be aligned to curriculum and assessment. And its goal is twofold: improved teaching practice and improved student learning.

How does instructional coaching for teachers work?

Instructional coaches’ partner with teachers to help them improve teaching and learning and raise student outcomes. To do this, instructional coaches collaborate with teachers to get a clear picture of where their teaching is currently, identify goals, choose teaching strategies to meet the goals, monitor progress, and problem solve until the goals are met.

6 benefits of instructional coaching for teachers and schools

Recent meta-analysis of research on instructional coaching shows that it has promising outcomes for the improvement of practice, and subsequent academic gains for students. Suggesting that it’s a worthy investment of time and effort.

Six benefits of instructional coaching for teachers are that it is:

  1. individualised,
  2. intensive,
  3. sustained,
  4. context-specific,
  5. focused, and
  6. encourages self-reflection.

But, the benefits of instructional coaching go far beyond supporting the teacher in just the classroom. When put in place, instructional coaching can also change school culture because improvement efforts are school-wide, not just made by individual teachers.

It can also improve collaboration because professional growth opportunities are stressed by instructional coaches, and collaboration and building of successful relationships is encouraged within the educational community.

So, the benefits of instructional coaching are plentiful. But according to Lucy Steiner and Julie Kowal from the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement: “For an instructional coaching program to be effective, school leaders need to play an active role in selecting trained coaches, developing a targeted coaching strategy, and evaluating whether coaches are having the desired impact on teaching and learning.”


2. Peer coaching for teachers: Teachers teaching teachers

The concept of peer coaching for teachers was introduced by Joyce and Showers (1982). After evaluating research about how individuals best learn new skills, they investigated the usefulness of peer coaching for helping teachers to develop expertise with new teaching techniques. They found that peer coaching did in fact make a difference. 

A meta-analysis of studies that examined the outcomes of staff development programs revealed that peer coaching was more powerful in terms of transfer of training than all other training components (e.g. information, theory, demonstration, feedback and practice).

What is peer coaching?

“It is an opportunity for two individuals to enter into an ongoing dialogue and relationship, the focus of which is to improve skills, techniques and behaviors that lead to professional and personal success.” – S. Barkley, Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching (2005).

Peer coaching is when teachers of similar or equal status support each other through mutual problem solving, observations, collaborative teaching, and planning. The aim being to improve upon skills through reflection and collaboration without evaluation. In addition to helping teachers transfer new skills into their own classrooms, peer coaching also facilitates the development of a culture of learning, experimentation, and collegiality.

How does peer coaching work?

A teacher invites a coach to observe them in the classroom. During a pre-observation meeting led by the inviting teacher, they decide on the focus of the observation, the way they’ll collect data, guidelines for the coach’s behaviour in the classroom during the observation, the parameters of the discussion of observed teaching, and the date and time of the observation.

After the observation, a post-observation meeting provides opportunities for the teacher and coach to discuss, analyse and reflect on what was observed and how to move forwards. 

Other types of peer coaching can involve a pair or a team of teachers co-planning a lesson or curriculum unit, problem solving, analysing videos of lessons or study groups, and conducting action research.

The benefits of peer coaching 

The benefits of peer coaching for teachers are plentiful and include:

  • improved student achievement and progress, 
  • increased ability to analyse their own lessons, 
  • better grasp of best practices in teaching and learning, 
  • wider repertoire of instructional strategies/resources, 
  • deeper sense of efficacy, 
  • greater feeling of autonomy,
  • overcoming feeling of isolation,
  • stronger professional ties and relationships with colleagues, 
  • improved teaching performance, 
  • a better articulated curriculum, 
  • more cohesive school culture and positive school climate. 

Peer coaching has monetary benefits for a school too. Instead of paying trained professionals to run workshops where participants rarely retain the information, teachers can work together over time towards sustainable change.

10 tips to get started with peer coaching

  1. Identify a partner. This could be someone in another department or school. Whoever you choose, it must be someone that you trust.
  2. Invite them to partner with you. Tell them what you’d like to get out of peer coaching, and why you think the two of you would work well together. 
  3. Schedule a pre-observation meeting. Face-to-face meetings can be great, but don’t let geographic barriers stop you. Video or phone calls are just as effective. 
  4. During your meeting, each take equal time as the coach and the trainee. The total duration doesn’t matter as much as gaining a really good shared understanding of what is expected from each person.
  5. Identify your area of focus and share this with your partner. It could be a teaching strategy you’re working on or a tricky relationship in the school/classroom. 
  6. When it’s your turn to be the peer coach, give your partner your full attention. Really listen while he/she talks about whatever they want to focus on. Provide feedback as needed but encourage them to come up with their own answers.
  7. Focus on the positive, and what action you can take in the future.  Don’t let your peer coaching sessions turn passive. By all means let off a bit of steam but limit this otherwise the meeting will become unproductive.
  8. Close with two questions. At the end of each peer coaching conversation ask each other these two things: “What is your main insight or take-away from this peer coaching session?” and “What action will you take next?”
  9. Set goals and hold each other accountable. By closing each session with your next action, you have a great place to start the conversation next time. At the start of your next peer coaching session, share what you’ve accomplished or where you encountered any issues.
  10. At the end of each peer coaching session, schedule the next one. This will help you maintain momentum. 

3. Video coaching for teachers

Professional athletes use video to stay at the top of their game. Surgeons use video to continually refine their skills. Salespeople use video to perfect their pitch. All of these professional’s study videos of experts in their field to emulate great performance, to be inspired by new ideas, and to identify areas of improvement. Video recording also allows them to reflect on their own performance, to get feedback from others, and to objectively measure their progress. These professionals use video because it works – and teachers can do the same.

Coaching can also be logistically challenging. Conflicting schedules can prevent teachers and coaches from meeting. There is often insufficient time or funding for coaches to travel to teachers’ schools.

Video coaching helps to overcome these challenges by making coaching:

  • Objective – conversations are based on what actually happened in the lesson, rather than subjective and conflicting perceptions. This helps build trust and honest dialogue in the coaching relationship.
  • Shareable – to discuss a lesson with a coach, you don’t have to describe what happened or arrange an in-class observation; you can just show them the video of the lesson.
  • Time and distance shifted – recorded lessons can be discussed at any time and sent to a coach in a different geographical location, overcoming schedule constraints.
  • Reusable – it might be that you’re working on your questioning technique with your coach, but later you might want to talk about a different aspect of teaching. One lesson recording can become a resource that you can use again and again, without having to arrange more in-classroom observations.
  • Self-directed – video helps to engage both teacher and coach more in the coaching process, leading to a deeper level of reflection and a richer experience.

How video coaching supports the coaching cycle

If you’re using IRIS Connect… 

Reflect – record as many of your lessons as you like. They’ll be automatically uploaded to your ‘Reflections’.

Implement – share your reflections with others if you’re successful in an area in which they want to develop. Or ask them if they’re happy to share an aspect of their teaching with you. You might want to set up a Group so you can all share your reflections and resources into one place.

Review – share your reflection with your coach so they can add time-stamped comments to give you contextualised feedback. If you only want to share part of your reflection with your coach, you can use the video editing tool.

10 areas of coaching you’ll see improve with video

  1. Trust – before getting started, coach and teacher can swap a lesson recording and pick out three positive aspects of each other’s practice.
  2. Confidence – seeing the positive aspects of teaching and learning in action and recognising the good decisions that resulted in positive outcomes will help motivate the teacher.
  3. Feedback – feedback can be time-stamped to critical moments, making it contextualised and turning the lesson into a reusable, multi-dimensional, and objective resource.
  4. Strategies – consider the effectiveness of student and teacher questioning by watching it as it happened.
  5. Visual evidence – watch how the teacher and students move around the classroom to see how they interact with their physical environment and with each other: is the lesson inclusive?
  6. Critical incidents – replay both successful and unsuccessful critical incidents to look at them from different perspectives to pick out the actions or triggers that led to the incident.
  7. Learning behaviors – examine students’ learning behaviors and identify patterns, triggers, and outcomes. This will make reasons for progress and slow progress clearer.
  8. Lesson features – identify the key parts of a lesson and how much time is spent on each section. Discuss how each section is related to the expected lesson outcomes.
  9. New ideas – with the ability to see their teaching in action, the teacher can identify areas where they’d like to improve and implement changes in the very next lesson.
  10. Goals – in a coaching session, there should be a gradual shift towards the teacher setting their own objectives and taking a lead on analysis, perhaps with different foci than emphasised by the coach.

4. Live remote coaching

Some video systems like IRIS Connect can enable live remote coaching. Live remote coaching (‘in-ear’) involves the teacher wearing an earpiece and being coached by someone who is not in the classroom (and may even be in a remote location). The coach, with permission from the teacher, can observe the classroom via a live video link and make suggestions to the teacher in real-time. 

The pupils cannot hear the suggestions, although they will have been told this process is taking place. Both video and audio can be recorded and securely uploaded to the IRIS Connect cloud-based platform and annotated with written comments for later discussion. 

Live remote coaching is a high impact, accelerated professional development process: “The lasting benefits of (live remote) coaching are immeasurable, not only to the teachers who are coached, but also to their students. Quantitative and qualitative data confirms that teacher’s instructional effectiveness improves after coaching sessions. More importantly, her students’ skills increased.” – Marcia Rock in ‘The Power of Virtual Coaching’.

Live remote coaching for performance improvement can be traced back to the 1950s. Nowadays, it’s vital to live TV, live sports coaching, and is used within the security and public protection services. A substantial body of research has also shown that it has a dramatic impact on teacher learning as well.

7 reasons to try live remote coaching

  1. To make improvements in the very same lesson. Immediate feedback is crucial (Anderson 2008) because memory fades and written notes lose their power out of context. Think of learning to drive; the instructor’s comments and warnings are in the moment as they wouldn’t have the same impact if they were given in written note form at the end of the lesson.
  2. To easily notice when students aren’t engaged. A live coach acts as a second pair of eyes in the classroom.
  3. So that advice can be requested, and feedback clarified immediately. Thanks to the two way dialogue between the coach and the teacher.
  4. For a confidence boost. The coach can also offer feedback to the teacher when they are doing something well; the teacher may find it reassuring that the coach is there to support them and feel more confident as a result.
  5. To identify, celebrate and share real examples of effective practice. Using video means that a lesson is recorded. With the teacher’s permission, it can then become a community resource, perhaps an example of best practice that can be shared with other teachers and re-watched time and time again.
  6. To promote greater teacher engagement with professional learning. The session could be carried out in a way that makes the teacher feel empowered and in control. The coach is there to support the teacher; the teacher remains in control of their own practice and professional learning.
  7. So, a session can take place even if the coach is in a different geographical location. A live remote coaching session can go ahead with the coach located in a different room, town or country.

How IRIS Connect can help you coach your teachers

IRIS Connect enables your teachers to record video and audio of as many of their lessons as they like and automatically uploads them securely to their private account on the cloud platform. From there, they can reflect on their practice and share the whole lesson or certain parts of it with a coach or fellow teacher to collect valuable time-stamped comments to give them contextualised feedback. With the GoLive feature, you’re also able to conduct a live remote coaching (‘in-ear’) session, without disturbing classroom dynamics.

And if you need coaching support that goes beyond the use of our platform, let us know! We can also provide you with valuable resources and contacts to highly trained professional development consultants.

Interested to find out more? Get in touch.