A set of studies released in this month’s special issue of The Elementary School Journal reveals the powerful effect that the coaching of teachers can have on both teachers and students.
“Many in the field have trusted that intuitive feeling that putting a knowledgeable coach in a classroom to work with a teacher will result in improved teacher practices and increased student learning,” write the issue’s guest editors, Misty Sailors of The University of Texas at San Antonio and Nancy L. Shanklin of University of Colorado, Denver. “The jury of these researchers and the peer reviewers of their work has delivered its verdict: while coaching may be new, it is no longer unproven.”
The eight research articles included in the issue span multiple subject areas and grade levels, and suggest that teacher coaching programs could be an important part of efforts to increase teaching quality in the coming years, the editors say.
Long-Term Gains in Student Reading Achievement: A literacy program with a strong coaching component helped increase student literacy learning by 16 percent in its first year, 28 percent in its second year, and 32 percent in the third, according to a study tracking students from kindergarten through second grade in 17 schools. “[T]his study contributes important new evidence of the potential for literacy coaching to yield improvements in student literacy outcomes,” the researchers write. –Gina Biancarosa, Anthony S. Bryk, and Emily R. Dexter, “Assessing the Value-Added Effects of Literacy Collaborative Professional Development on Student Learning.”
Coaching Benefits New Teachers: High teacher turnover is a problem in many urban school districts and can disrupt professional development efforts. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University investigated the effect of coaching on new teachers in a high-turnover school. The study found that schools with coaching programs saw significant improvement in measures of teacher practices and student outcomes compared to schools without coaching programs. The findings suggest that new teachers benefit from going to work at schools with strong coaching programs in place, and that coaching programs could have an added benefit in high-turnover urban schools. –Lindsay Clare Matsumura, Helen E. Garnier, Richard Correnti, Brian Junker, and Donna DiPrima Bickel, “Investigating the Effectiveness of a Comprehensive Literacy Coaching Program in Schools with High Teacher Mobility.”
Advantages of Coaching over Traditional Professional Development: Susan Neuman and Tanya Wright of the University of Michigan compare the effectiveness of university-based coursework and coaching as means of professional development for early childhood educators. On measures of classroom environment that supports literacy learning, teachers in the study who received coaching outperformed teachers who received coursework. “In sum, coaching appears to improve a number of quality practices in language and development for early childhood educators,” the researchers write. “It reaches teachers where they are, demonstrating that quantitative changes in language and literacy development in the short term are possible when professional development is targeted, individualized, and applicable to its audience.” –Susan B. Neuman and Tanya S. Wright, “Promoting Language and Literacy Development for Early Childhood Educators: A Mixed-Methods Study of Coursework and Coaching.”
What Coaches Do and How Teachers React: A study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh explores what coaches do, how teachers perceive that work, and how coaching affects student learning. The study found that coaching activities fall into five broad categories: “working with teachers (individually or in groups), planning and organizing that supported the work with teachers, management or administrative tasks, school-related meetings and outreach to parents or community, and working with students in assessment or instruction.” Most teachers involved in the study had positive perceptions of coaches’ work, the study found. Moreover, in schools where coaches spend more time coaching (as opposed to administrative or planning tasks), a higher percentage of students demonstrate proficiency in reading, the study found. –Rita M. Bean, Jason A. Draper, Virginia Hall, Jill Vandermolen, Naomi Zigmond, “Coaches and Coaching in Reading First Schools: A Reality Check.”
What Teachers Value in a Coach: Michelle Vanderburg and Diane Stevens of the University of South Carolina used interviews with 35 teachers who had participated in coaching programs to find out what teachers value about the work of coaches. “Patterns in the data suggest the teachers valued how the coaches created a space for collaboration, provided ongoing support, and taught about research-based instructional strategies,” the authors write. “Teachers credited their coach with helping them try new teaching practices, incorporate more authentic assessments, ground their decisions in professional literature, and create curriculum that was more student centered.” –Michelle Vanderburg and Diane Stephens, “The Impact of Literacy Coaches: What Teachers Value and How Teachers Change.”
Balancing the Relationship with Teachers: Jacy Ippolito from Salem State College investigated the way coaches balance two potentially competing roles as they work with teachers: being responsive and being directive. “Responsive relationships are those in which coaches focus on teacher self-reflection, thereby allowing teachers’ and students’ needs to guide the coaching process,” Ippolito writes. “Directive relationships are those in which coaches assume the role of expert and are assertive about what instructional practices teachers must implement.” The research found that coaches flip between the two roles frequently during the course of a single coaching session, often using established protocols to balance the two. –Jacy Ippolito, “Three Ways That Literacy Coaches Balance Responsive and Directive Relationships with Teachers.”
Going from Teacher to Coach: Researchers from the University of Missouri and Penn State University followed a group of first-year mathematics coaches to see how they settled into their new roles. The researchers found four components to a new coach’s identity: “coach as supporter of teachers, coach as supporter of students, coach as learner, and coach as supporter of the school-at-large.” These roles were shaped not only by the coaches themselves, but also by teachers and principals. –Kathryn B. Chval, Fran Arbaugh, John K. Lannin, Delinda van Garderen, Liza Cummings, Anne T. Estapa, Maryann E. Huey, “The Transition from Experienced Teacher to Mathematics Coach: Establishing a New Identity.”
What Coaches Do Right: Researchers from the University of Delaware, University of Virginia, and Georgia Department of Education identify several specific aspects of teacher coaching that have a significant influence on teaching practice. The study could help create a framework to evaluate teacher coaching programs. –Sharon Walpole, Michael C. McKenna, Ximena Uribe-Zarain, and David Lamitina, “The Relationships between Coaching and Instruction in the Primary Grades: Evidence from High-Poverty Schools.”
The Elementary School Journal has served researchers, teacher educators, and practitioners in elementary and middle school education for over one hundred years. ESJ publishes peer-reviewed articles dealing with both education theory and research and their implications for teaching practice.