For most of my career, I’ve been studying teacher growth. I’ve found, as I’m sure many readers have found, that one-shot workshops and other quick-fix forms of professional development often have little impact on teaching and learning. For that reason, my colleagues and I have spent more than a decade studying instructional coaching.
Our research has uncovered that one factor plays an incredibly important role in successful instructional coaching. When coaches set measureable student goals with teachers, and provide effective support, coaching can really make a difference. When coaches and teachers do not set goals, coaching can be a waste of time.
Successful goals have three characteristics
We’ve found the following to be essential characteristics of effective goals:
1. The goal has to be based on a clear picture of what is happening in the classroom. The easiest way to do this is just to video record the class. Coaches can also gather data such as Time On Task or Ratios of Interaction if that is what they prefer, but teachers need to see the data as reliable.
2. The goal must be a student goal. If coach and teacher set a teacher goal, they can’t be sure that the goal will make a difference. When a student goal is set, coach and teacher keep working until something significant happens for students. Setting a student goal also takes the focus off of the teacher, which often helps the coaching relationship.
3. The teacher has to care about the goal a lot. If the teacher doesn’t care about the goal, not much is going to happen.
How the Process Works
We usually complete the following steps to set goals:
1. The coach video records the teacher’s class or gathers some other data.
3. When they meet after they have watched the video, the coach asks a few questions to help the teacher identify a goal, such as the following:
• On a scale of 1-10, how close was today’s class to your ideal?
• What would have to change for it to be closer to a 10?
• What would your students be doing if that change happened? Describe what the students would look like.
• How would we measure that change?
• Is that a goal you would like to try to achieve?
• Which teaching strategy can we use to achieve that goal? We offer a list of teaching strategies from High-Impact Instruction that teachers can choose from, but coaches could use other books or instructional frameworks such as Robert Marzano’s Art & Science of Teaching, or Jon Saphier & Mary Ann Haley-Speca’s Skillful Teacher
4. Once a measurable student goal is established, the coach should confirm that the teacher really is committed to implementing the goal, by asking questions such as “Is this a goal you really want to achieve? Does this matter to you?”
If the teacher is committed to the goal, then coach and teacher move forward. If the teacher isn’t committed, then coach and teacher revisit the goal until one is identified that matters to the teacher.
Our research on instructional coaching has led us to many insights into the importance of modeling, effective questions, effective communication skills, how to explore data and so forth. In my opinion, our most important finding is that goals are incredibly important. When teachers set a measureable student goal, there is a good chance the coaching will really improve instruction. When there is no goal, there is a real danger that coaching will have no lasting impact.