Breaking the Mold with Blended Coaching - ASCD
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November 27, 2019

Breaking the Mold with Blended Coaching

The rapidly changing nature of our world is having a dramatic impact on the learning landscape. As educators, we must prepare students for a future in which 36 percent of today's jobs will no longer exist. To navigate an uncertain future, students must develop the skill of generativity, which Dr. Arnetha Ball of Stanford University describes as continuous growth through self- and shared reflection. What problems are they trying to solve? What do they already know? What do they need to know? What resources can they access to bridge this gap?

If we want students to develop these skills, we must model them as educators. Unfortunately, most traditional professional development (PD) does not teach the skills necessary to engage in this generativity cycle. Traditional PD assumes a universal pedagogical problem exists and perpetuates the sit-and-get knowledge transfer of information, which is an ineffective learning paradigm. If we want to see innovative, dynamic, and personalized learning in the classroom, we must embrace this type of professional learning for teachers. Blended coaching is one method of achieving this.

Blended Coaching in Action

Blended coaching expands the domain for coaching across face-to-face and digital interactions. For example, in a face-to-face session a coach might help a teacher co-plan a lesson. Coaches can use these sessions to highlight issues the teacher should consider as they plan dynamic learning experiences:

  • How will they differentiate the parts of the lesson for learners at different levels?

  • Where in the lesson do students have agency?

  • When will the teacher work with individual students or small groups?

  • To what extent are students reflecting on and making decisions about their learning?

When teachers implement these lessons, they may encounter bumps, lose instructional minutes, and become frustrated. Without support, teachers may abandon a new strategy. However, if a coach is present during implementation, they can provide real-time coaching using a pause-discuss-adjust strategy. Real-time coaching transforms a lesson into an opportunity to learn. This sends a powerful message to students that learning is happening at all levels, especially if students are encouraged to provide feedback during the lesson. When we empower students with agency in this manner, we increase student buy-in, model generativity, and create a learning community in which everybody is expected to learn and grow together.

Expanding coaching into the digital realm solves key resource challenges in implementing a sustainable coaching model. Using a digital PD platform with embedded coaching provides access to tools and support at just the right time for teachers as they attempt to solve unique pedagogical problems. It can also create a peer-to-peer support community, building the capacity of the team to support each other despite having a limited number of designated coaches.

Further, digital coaching connects teachers with specialists beyond the school community, which can be more affordable and sustainable than hiring onsite consultants. Perhaps most importantly, digital coaching helps teachers drive the personalized learning and agency they are aspiring to create for students. Through digital tools, teachers can experience anytime-anywhere learning, choose from different professional learning pathways, and engage as learners with coaches who are not in the same room as they are.

Digital coaching can be synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (occurring at different times). Synchronous coaching sessions typically involve a video call, a live chat using a tool like Slack, or a coach chat feature in a professional learning platform, like LINCspring. Asynchronous coaching is an ongoing stream of communication between coach and teacher or PLC group via messaging, comments in shared documents, online discussions, or recorded videos.

Digital and face-to-face coaching can be blended at different stages of the coaching cycle. A coach that sits to co-plan with a teacher can observe the class in action via video and provide written feedback in a shared document. The unique opportunity of blended coaching is the shift from PD as a periodic event to PD as an ongoing and embedded practice.

Toward a Culture of Teacher Generativity

Breaking from traditional forms of PD and embracing blended coaching helps create a culture of teacher generativity. This requires schools to make several shifts, from

  • Leader-Driven PD to Teacher-Driven PD

  • Periodic PD Days to Ongoing Blended Professional Learning, Coaching, and Participation in PLCs

  • PD Hours by Seat Time to Continuous Learning & Competency-Based Credit

  • Culture of Teacher Evaluation to Culture of Coaching & Formative Assessment

  • Rewarding "Best Practice" Exemplars to Rewarding Risk-Taking & Innovation

  • Teacher as Content Expert to Teacher as Pedagogical Problem-Solver

Only in a culture of generativity can teachers continuously solve the inevitable and evolving challenges in the classroom, and most importantly, empower their students to be generative problem-solvers who can thrive in a rapidly changing world.

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