"If we already have a team of educational coaches on staff (literacy coaches, STEM coaches, Technology coaches) why would we need Insight ADVANCE? Or if our school decided to use this service, would my role as a technology coach become unnecessary?" - Technology Coach at an International School
It’s never crossed my mind that leveraging technology would eliminate the need for coaching -- or coaches. In fact, quite the opposite. With the right technology and thoughtful implementation, coaching can actually become a game changer for educator growth.
I’ve spent much of my career coaching teachers, leading district-wide coaching initiatives, and building technology aimed at providing a platform that facilitates more effective and efficient teacher coaching. And in all of these roles, never have I thought that the coach can (or should) be replaced. Rather, my ongoing question is: How can we continue improving our professional learning systems to get better and more frequent feedback into our teachers’ hands?
The challenge of existing coaching and support models is that they’re clunky. They’re generally expensive, time consuming, hard to scale, and rarely as effective as we hope. Why? For starters, schools aren’t really structured to support the growth of the adults in the building. Teachers spend most of their time with kids. And from what I’ve experienced, coaches necessarily spend a good amount of time with “management and logistics” of their coaching role, but far less time actually coaching. Additionally, since so many PD models are built on the assumption that the teacher needs time outside of the classroom to learn, we’re already setting ourselves up for failure. Now, while I’m not suggesting that teachers should spend less time with students, I am suggesting that there are better ways to structure how we coach teachers.
I’m optimistic that the field is heading in a more productive direction when it comes to professional learning. The rise of “job-embedded” PD offers promise. Recent research suggests that one-on-one coaching programs “hold real promise for improving teachers’ instructional practice and, in turn, students’ academic achievement.” We’re also learning that the most effective coaching efforts are individualized, intensive, sustained, context-specific, and focused . In other words, they need to happen as close to classroom practice as possible, and they need to be continuous. A single coaching event, or even a few of them over the course of a year, won’t impact classroom teachers’ practice substantially enough to change outcomes for kids. Leveraging technology, and video in particular, helps us get into the classroom in ways that were never possible before -- and we’re already seeing the impacts.
Another challenge is the cost of coaching efforts. In addition to having a coach, we know that teachers grow when engaged in examining both their own practice and the practice of their peers. But to do this, we generally pay for subs -- which gets really expensive really quick. (And let’s be honest, if you’ve ever been a teacher, you know that having a sub in your room amounts to preparing a lesson for someone who rarely teaches it!) This inherently limits the amount of collaboration and often means that the budget drives the amount of interactions/observations that teachers can have with each other. We can now leverage video technology in ways that allow teachers to watch themselves and others teach without the need for pulling them out of their classrooms. So we’re saving money, and our students don’t lose out.
Fewer Logistics, More Feedback
This is where the coach comes in. Simply having teachers watch each other teach doesn’t lead to growth. It’s the process of talking about what was seen, providing feedback relative to the practices observed, and facilitating and supporting changes in practice that lead to results. The coach’s role then shifts. Rather than spending a good deal of time on logistics, the coach can remove the burden of scheduling and simply focus on facilitating feedback and dialogue. A skilled coach is critical to this process. After all, a coach’s value is helping facilitate a reflective conversation about shifts in practice needed to improve effectiveness. And while self-reflection or peer observations may allow for some of these reflections to come to the surface, a coach can support the ongoing process and ensure that professional learning is sustained.
So when it comes to the job of a coach, technology can bring efficiencies to the coaching process that allow two things: Coaches can provide more formative and frequent feedback to those they support; and they can likely coach more individuals because they’re spending less time on management and logistics and more time doing the part of their role that matters most -- observing and providing feedback.
 Kraft, M.A., Blazar, D., Hogan, D. (2016). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Brown University Working Paper. http://scholar.harvard.edu/mkraft/publications/effect-teacher-coaching-instruction-and-achievement-meta-analysis-causal