The Future of Instructional Coaches?

In class this week, we watched this video (John Hattie Tedx) where John Hattie broke down his quarter of a billion data points (not exaggerating) to show that teacher collaboration and feedback on practice was the most impactful process schools could engage in to improve student achievement.  It had a far greater impact than commonly cited “silver bullet” solutions like more resources for the school or smaller class sizes.

Later in the week, I revisited this idea with a committee that I’m part of, as we looked at how to increase teacher leadership.  Research shows that teachers are more effective, and less likely to burn out, when they feel that they are viewed as a professional and have the opportunity to make an impact on the school and/or district, in addition to their own classroom.  But many teacher leadership programs, despite being fabulous opportunities for teachers, have “side effects”–labeling some teachers experts, implying that the rest of us are mediocre, or building a career ladder for some and devaluing the work and goals of the teacher who doesn’t desire to climb that ladder.

In the committee meeting, we played around with these ideas, and then one participant proposed an idea that I keep coming back to: what if we gave teachers “mini-sabbaticals” to become coaches for peers?  We identify teachers who are strong in instructional practices, curriculum knowledge, technology, assessment, etc., and they are given release time to observe and coach others in the school or district around that topic.  This approach leverages the strengths of many teachers, not just the few experts, builds the leadership base for the school, and gives time for the peer collaboration and reflection we know is so important.  Thinking outside of my current school, it has now become de rigueur for schools to have math coaches, ELA coaches, instructional coaches, technology coaches, and more (and coaches are wonderful!  They do fabulous, important work!).  But many schools struggle to find room in the budget to keep up with the demand for coaches.  The teacher leader approach could offer some wiggle room for schools and districts to build capacity for their teachers, capitalizing on the expertise already in-house, if adding additional coaching positions is not an option.

I know this idea isn’t without its flaws, and I’m sure some schools are already utilizing this (or a similar) peer-to-peer coaching model, and I’d love to learn more about them!  How much release time is feasible, without negatively impacting students?  How do schools build the trusting relationships needed to make this work most meaningful?

What do you think?  Could this be the next innovation in professional development and teacher leadership?


About Teacher Cait

Massachusetts educator, learner, committed to finding joy every day. @CaitAhern
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