Coaching for Transformation: A Model for Professional Development in Today’s Schools

April 25, 2019 no comments S

This is Part 1 of a four-part series on coaching that will be published over the next several months.

The Midwest School Transformation Project is a three-year project that will provide up to 15 schools across Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota with individualized support to transform education to more student-centered learning models. For more on the project visit http://edvisions.org/the-edvision/mstp/ and stay tuned for further articles on the project by our insightful writer, Dr. Nancy Allen-Mastro!

Dr. Allen-Mastro began her career in education as an elementary school teacher and later spent 26 years as a school administrator, serving in a variety of roles, including Principal, K-12 Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent in rural and suburban schools in Minnesota.  She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Montana State University, a Master’s degree from Bemidji State University, and a Doctorate from the University of North Dakota.  She retired in 2017.  

Coaching for Transformation: A Model for Professional Development in Today’s Schools

By Dr. Nancy Allen-Mastro

If you ask teachers what they love most about their job, rarely do they say professional development.  They are likely to say they enjoy learning new ways to teach and like being exposed to different methods, but you won’t often hear them attributing their best learning to workshops and other traditional ways school seek to help teachers expand their repertoire of instructional strategies.  

The exception, however, might be coaching.  In recent decades, coaching has evolved as a preferred model for professional development, and for good reason.  According to Elena Aguilar, author of The Art of Coaching:  Effective Strategies for School Transformation, “The traditional notion of teachers as passive recipients has been largely rejected for a more active conception of teachers as co-constructors and contributors to the pedagogical knowledge base.”¹  As adult learners, teachers possess knowledge, skill, and insight that, when valued and respected, can make the difference between a teacher being open to trying new approaches or counting the hours until a workshop they are required to attend is over.    

In February 2019, EdVisions announced a grant award from the Bush Foundation to help schools redesign themselves.  The Midwest School Transformation Project will work with its partner schools to embed EdVisions’ Ed°Essentials framework into their program.  Key features of the framework will include student agency and ownership, relevant project-based learning, authentic assessment, and teacher empowerment.  The primary vehicle for collaborating around this shared endeavor is a coaching team model.

EdVisions is onto something good.  Just as we want to personalize learning for students, coaching personalizes learning for teachers.  To further quote Elena Aguilar, “Coaching can build will, skill, knowledge, and capacity because it can go where no other professional development has gone before: into the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values, and feelings of an educator.”²  That’s saying a lot.  At a time when new demands on teachers outstrip most schools’ capacity to keep pace with the rate of change we find in today’s classrooms, high-impact approaches that leverage meaningful results are critical.       

Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers were the first to recognize coaching as a viable model for professional development as far back as 1988. In their research, they found that when coached by peers or experts, teachers were more likely to be open to and adopt new strategies (as cited in Galey, 2016).³ Scant information was available at the time regarding the efficacy of coaching.  But that didn’t keep educators from trying it on for size, and coaching began to surface as a potential means to a better end for students.

Three decades later we know more about what kind of professional development works best.  In 2017, Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner identified seven characteristics of effective professional development.⁴  In their meta-analysis of 35 different studies that showed a positive link between professional development and teaching and learning, professional development is deemed effective when it:

  1. Is content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and expert support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration

It’s easy to see why EdVisions elected to utilize a coaching model for the Midwest School Transformation Project  Coaching arguably hits all seven points identified by Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner. The coaching model EdVisions has devised is straightforward.  Through coaching, they intend to:

  • Provide real time, on-going support;
  • Adapt to individual school and teacher needs;
  • Personalize professional development; and
  • Create space for practitioners to reflect on their own practice and drive their own learning

EdVisions plans to go a step further by leveraging the experience and expertise of practitioners that currently serve students in the kind of learner-centered environments the project is seeking to create as their coaches.  The coaching team includes K-12 teachers and administrators who have charter and/or district experience. They represent a broad geographical area and work in schools that serve different student demographics, all of which bring a level of credibility to the conversation between a coach and his or her mentees.  When EdVisions’ coaches work with teachers in the project, teachers will know the coaches have been in their shoes and understand the unique challenges and opportunities they face.

Will coaching make a difference in transforming schools?

If done well, we have reason to be hopeful.  In a recent meta-analysis by Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan that included 60 studies on coaching, researchers were able to identify an effect size of 0.49 for instruction and .18 for student achievement.⁵  Those effect sizes grew by .31 and .12 respectively when coaching was combined with group training.  In short, what the researchers found was when coaching followed learning a new skill in a group setting, the new skill was more likely to be applied and more likely to have an effect on instruction and achievement.  The other good news in this study is that it didn’t take a lot of coaching to have an impact. In their analysis, however, the authors found that the effect size went down the larger the group being coached. In other words, working in small contexts appeared to be advantageous.  

Which is exactly EdVision’s plan.

So what can traditional schools learn from charters?  Conversely, what can charters learn from traditional schools?  And how will EdVision’s cadre of coaches build the capacity in their partner schools to sustain the work that will extend beyond the life of the project?  I’ll talk more about this in the second post in this series.

CITATIONS:

1. Galey, S. (2016). “The Evolving Role of Instructional Coaches in U.S.Policy Contexts. The William & Mary Review: Vol.4 : Iss. 2, Article 11.  Retrieved at https://scholarworks.wm.edu/wmer/vol4/iss2/11

2. Edutopia. (2013, March 25). How coaching can impact teachers, principals, and students [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/coaching-impact-teachers-principals-students-elena-aguilar

3. Galey, S. (2016).

4. Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_REPORT.pdf

5. Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D. (in press). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research. Retrieved from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraft_blazar_hogan_2017_teacher_coaching_meta_analysis_wp.pdf