Coaching: Not Just for Athletes

by Sue Land, M.Ed.

When was the last time you attended a workshop or a conference and learned a teaching strategy that you wanted to implement in your classroom the next school day? You carefully reviewed your notes and handouts and gave the strategy a try. Much to your dismay, the strategy bombed with your students! You thought it looked so easy and you wondered what you did wrong. Did you decide that it was just too much work and abandoned it, continuing to use your "tried and true" methods?

What you needed was someone to talk with, to plan with, to model the strategy for you, and to ask the right questions to move you forward-someone like a coach. Emerging research suggests that school-based coaches contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning in schools (Killion & Harrison, 2006). Coaching can lead to sustained implementation of new teaching practices in schools (Hall & Hord, 2006).

Coaching exists in a variety of formats and models (e.g., cognitive coaching, literacy coaching, executive coaching), this article focuses on instructional coaching. An instructional coach is a "full-time, on-site professional developer who works with teachers to help them incorporate research-based instructional practices" (Knight, 2007, p. 12). How can a coach help you improve your teaching practices? A coach performs a variety of roles, to include resource provider, data coach, curriculum specialist, instructional specialist, classroom supporter, learning facilitator, mentor, school leader, catalyst for change, and learner (Killion & Harrison, 2006).

Five of the 10 roles described by Killion and Harrison (2006) are highlighted on the following pages. Examples are provided for Mr. Smith, an experienced special education teacher, and Ms. Jones, a general educator new to teaching. They began co-teaching for the first time this school year. Even though they attended a workshop on co-teaching, they don't know where to begin. They are not sure of their teaching roles or responsibilities. They want to support each other and feel they can be a good co-teaching team, but don't want to overstep their boundaries. They enlist the help of an instructional coach, who provides a variety of supports.


Resource Provider

"to expand the teacher's use of a variety of resources to improve instruction" (Killion & Harrison, 2006, p. 31)

Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones with the assistance of the coach, identify their areas of need: co-teaching formats, roles and responsibilities, and communication skills. The coach gives the teachers a DVD illustrating co-teaching variations or formats. She also provides them with a list of successful co-teaching teams to visit and a handout of questions for new co-teachers to consider. Finally, she offers to cover their co-taught class while they visit a team and meet to plan weekly lessons.

Data Coach

"to ensure that student achievement data drive decisions at the classroom and school level" (Killion & Harrison, 2006, p. 35)

The coach assists the teachers in examining data and identifying students' strengths and weaknesses to determine strategies and co-teaching formats to meet their needs. After reviewing their students' informal writing samples with their coach, the teachers determine writing weaknesses. To meet student needs in their co-taught class, they plan to set up writing skills centers through which the students will rotate. They also determine which centers will be teacher-supported and group students.

Instructional Specialist

"to align instruction with curriculum to meet the needs of all students" and implement research-based instructional strategies by differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all learners" (Killion & Harrison, 2006, p. 47)

The coach helps the teachers select and implement the most appropriate strategies for meeting their students' needs. To assist the students with their writing, the teachers explore the writing process and focus on effective pre-writing strategies.

Classroom Supporter

"to increase the quality and effectiveness of classroom instruction" through modeling, co-teaching, and observing and giving feedback (Killion & Harrison, 2006, p. 53)

The coach plans a lesson with the teachers and models a pre-writing strategy with their students. The teachers use the same strategy with their students later in the week and the coach now observes and gives feedback through a "reflective conference" (Costa & Garmston, 2002).

Learning Facilitator

" to design collaborative, job-embedded, standards-based professional learning" (Killion & Harrison, 2006, p. 67)

Based on the teachers' identified needs, the coach suggests further school-based professional development opportunities and provides them with current journal articles on co-teaching. The teachers plan to read and discuss the articles.

Killion and Harrison (2006) state that "traditional professional development usually occurs away from the school site, separate from classroom contexts and challenges in which teachers are expected to apply what they learned, and often without the necessary support to facilitate transfer of learning" (p. 8). With the support of an instructional coach, however, teachers will grow in their skills to implement research-based strategies and effective teaching practices. For descriptions of Killion and Harrison's book and Knight's book, go to the Check It Out section of this newsletter.


Costa, A., & Garmston, R. (2002). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools (2nd ed.). Norwood, MA. Christopher-Gordon.

Hall, G. E., & Hord, S. M. (2006). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and potholes (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.

Killion, J., & Harrison, C. (2006). Taking the lead: New roles for teachers and school-based coaches. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press and National Staff Development Council.

Date: February/March 2008