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November 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 3

Research Alert / Instructional Coaches Got Game

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Professional Learning
Instructional Strategies
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Credit: Johnny Greig
Does one-to-one coaching—helping a teacher set goals and providing tailored feedback to enhance teaching—improve teachers' practice? Researchers Matthew Kraft and David Blazar examined what 60 studies showed about the efficacy of coaching for strengthening teachers and lifting student achievement. The two-word conclusion of their meta-analysis: "coaching works."
Kraft and Blazar's analysis, which they discuss in the Fall 2018 issue of Education Next, found that coaching improves the quality of an educator's practice as much as a decade of experience in teaching. Coaching, they estimate, has a more positive effect—in terms of improving teachers' abilities to deliver content and concepts—than traditional PD methods.
But the elements of a coaching effort that do and do not make an impact are surprising, Kraft and Blazar found. Neither whether coaching happened face-to-face versus online nor the "dosage" (number of teacher-coach meetings) affected how successful a program was. On the other hand, how many teachers participated did: Initiatives involving fewer than 100 teachers proved more potent. Kraft and Blazar speculate that larger programs were less powerful because being bigger affected the quality of the coaches (since so many would be needed) or negatively impacted teacher engagement, or because the programs were more standardized—and being able to individualize guidance is crucial to coaching helping each teacher. Those who want to expand coaching throughout a district, for instance, may need to pay special attention to these factors, especially keeping the individualized aspect intact.
It behooves educators to explore coaching's effectiveness, the article notes, because instructional coaching is becoming more mainstream. By the 2015–16 school year, 27 percent of U.S. public K–12 schools reported having a reading coach on staff and 18 percent had a math coach. Findings suggest that administrators might also discover it helps to develop an effective program if they clarify what they mean by "coaching." The meta-analysis found "conflicting definitions of teacher coaching" in the studies; some defined "coaching" as a way to help classroom teachers discover and practice new strategies to benefit their students. To others, coaching meant guidance to ensure that new practices or curricula that an entire faculty was adopting were enacted with fidelity.
"Taking Teacher Coaching to Scale" by Matthew Kraft and David Blazar is available in the Fall 2018 issue of Education Next.

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