Leveraging Coaching for School Improvement: Theory and Practice of Instructional Coaching

Jim Knight, Ph.D.Research associate professor, University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning

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The National Center for Research on Rural Education commenced its 2011 Creating Rural Connections Speaker Series with an April 21 visit from Dr. Jim Knight, research associate with the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

The presentation, "Leveraging Coaching for School Improvement: Theory and Practice of Instructional Coaching," focused on the titular form of teacher professional development that Knight has dedicated more than a decade to studying. Approximately 60 teachers, coaches and researchers attended.

Knight opened the presentation by discussing the difficulties and potential pitfalls of professional development efforts. Having interviewed many teachers over the years, he shared quotes from those who expressed frustration with the limitations and impracticality of traditional professional development workshops.

"What we see, again and again, is that a workshop, by itself, doesn't do much in terms of changing teaching practices," Knight said.

Knight then explained the process of developing a response to these frustrations – a response that would eventually become Instructional Coaching. That process began with the advent of the Partnership Learning Approach, a forerunner of Instructional Coaching that emphasized principles such as equality, choice, dialogue and reciprocity.

"It's my belief that we will never get the kind of schools we want unless the professional learning we [implement] creates this opportunity for a mutually humanizing conversation," said Knight, "[in which] all parties feel like they've been heard."

Though Partnership Learning improved teachers' comprehension of and engagement with professional development, Knight said participants often failed to implement the strategies they gleaned from it. This realization led him to develop Instructional Coaching, which emphasizes modeling, observation and teacher-directed goals to encourage buy-in from participants.

"For us, Instructional Coaching is a way of helping people learn proven practices," Knight said. "We're all about learning a practice to change beliefs [about teaching]."

After reviewing the essential components and demonstrated impacts of Instructional Coaching, Knight summarized efforts to continually refine and modify the approach according to feedback from coaches, teachers and students. He concluded by outlining plans for future publications and studies that will further evaluate and augment Instructional Coaching. A 20-minute question-and-answer session followed the presentation.