Instructional leadership is an integral piece of the educational puzzle. According to the William and Mary Educational Review (2016), coaches are becoming a standard part of educational systems with more than 90% of students enrolled in districts that utilize at least one instructional specialist who provides coaching. Coaching is one way to ensure the implementation of instructional leadership in districts and schools.
What is an Instructional Leader?
Before discussing instructional leadership through coaching, it is important to understand what an instructional leader is. Instructional leaders make student learning a priority and provide the necessary resources to support teachers in their efforts to improve upon student learning. Instructional leaders are the driving force behind how content is delivered to students. Those that lead can be district leaders, school administrators, instructional coaches, mentors, and grade-level lead teachers. These leaders can implement instructional leadership professional development through coaching.
What Professional Development is Currently Available for Instructional Leaders?
While there are several resource options available to instructional leaders, professional development can provide a solid foundation for those that serve in instructional leadership roles. The Center for Educational Leadership stresses the importance of professional development designed to support the improvement of teaching and learning. Professional development suggested by and provided by the Center for Educational Leadership includes utilizing videos, lesson observations, classroom coaching in action, and the development of subject matter, collaboration, and instructional knowledge. District frameworks and grade-level expectations should be put into place so that instructional leaders can become fluent in teaching and learning expectations and relay this important information to teachers. The National Boards Association Center for Public Education Report states:
“The one-time workshop assumes the only challenge facing teachers is a lack of knowledge of effective teaching practices and when that knowledge gap is corrected, teachers will then be able to change. Research finds otherwise. It turns out teachers’ greatest challenge comes when they attempt to implement newly learned methods into the classroom. In all forms of learning a new skill, mere knowledge of it is never as difficult as its implementation….Crafting effective professional development means confronting this reality and building a significant amount of support for teachers during the critical implementation phase in one’s actual classroom.”
In order to implement effective professional development that supports teachers, coaches can receive in-service training from district leaders, participate in professional development from an outside agency, or learn from other instructional coaches in their district through collaboration and observation.
Furthermore, districts can adopt effective coaching models, such as the “GROW Model”, which is a tool used to organize coaching and serves as a framework for short- and long-term teaching and learning goals. The model is often repeated during the school year and includes the following:
- Goals – Goals are set at planning meetings.
- Reality – Instructional teams follow district and state expectations along with student data to determine goals and develop ways to measure success.
- Options – Instructional teams set necessary steps toward meeting goals.
- Way forward/Will – The process for meeting goals begins. Teachers and leaders are accountable for following the steps developed by the instructional team.
Often times, instructional leaders are not taught effective coaching models and are told to lead without guidance as to how they should lead. If districts would make it a priority to teach coaches how to coach effectively, teaching and learning would flourish.
Additionally, leaders are often aware of instructional programs being used at their site; however, they may not have a deep understanding of how the programs work and how they are aligned with standards to promote student growth. In depth training for instructional leaders should be provided as much as possible to insure that proper support is provided to teachers at the school level. If leaders do not know what is going on in the world of education, in their districts, and in their schools, they cannot provide effective leadership to their buildings.
Why is Coaching an Effective Form of Professional Development for Instructional Leaders?
Just like students, teachers benefit from support and guidance. Coaching allows this guidance. When coaching is present, performance is more regularly examined and monitored. Coaches can recognize concerns and needs of teachers and identify what professional development is needed in order for students to be provided with high-quality learning experiences.
Instructional leaders can be coached in a variety of areas. Coaching can come in the form of modeling, providing feedback, collaboration, and using data to guide teachers through decision making. Instructional leaders can help build teacher capacity by helping teachers identify areas of strengths and weaknesses in their practice and providing them with resources and supports to improve upon weaknesses.