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Essential Components of Successful Instructional Coaching Programs

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Tuesday, December 1, 2:00–2:45 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 2 of 2
Other presentations:
Teaching in Crisis: Teachers' Voices During COVID-19

Dr. Mahsa Bakhshaei  
John Seylar  
Jason Ravitz  

Findings from two continuous years of an instructional technology coaching program in 100 elementary, middle and high schools across seven U.S. states have identified components of a successful coaching program. Join us as we investigate the trust, guidance and support necessary for effective coaching.

Audience: Coaches, Principals/head teachers, Professional developers
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Coaching & mentoring
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Inservice teacher education
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Teaching, Learning and Assessments
  • Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences.
Content Knowledge and Professional Growth
  • Engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management and adult learning to improve professional practice.
For Education Leaders:
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have skilled teachers who actively use technology to meet student learning needs.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary


Relying on a constructivist approach where change and growth are the goals (Jewett & MacPhee, 2012) and using an evidence-based framework of PD (Kraft, Blazer & Hogan, 2018; Desimone & Pak, 2017), we investigate instructional coaching through the lens of four features of effective PD (Darling-Hammond, Hyler & Gardner, 2017):

- Collective participation: Helps teachers actively work and exchange ideas with a collaborative community and become advocates of their own learning.

- Active learning: Facilitates direct engagement of teachers in designing and/or trying teaching tools and strategies.

- Coherence: Explicitly links activities to the curriculum teachers use and are aligned with teaching standards and goals.

- Sustained duration: Provides teachers with sufficient time to learn and practice new strategies.

For each feature, we use empirical evidence from the Program to establish coaching as a valuable PD opportunity for teachers and explore the conditions that allow coaching models to create rich classroom experiences (Desimone & Pak, 2017, p.9).


We collected quantitative and qualitative data throughout both years of the Program.

Quantitative data collection consisted of one beginning-of-year survey and one end-of-year survey administered to all principals, coaches, and teachers - regardless of their participation in the Program - in each participating school. Survey questions included the following main thematic areas: Teacher and student use of technology, respondents’ opinions about available PD opportunities, respondents’ roles in the Program, and perceived impacts of coaching. Shorter “snapshot” surveys were also periodically administered to gather participant feedback surrounding implementation of the program and its impact. For this presentation, we reference 2018-2019 principal, coach, and teacher surveys as well as snapshots among coached teachers, building from findings from our previous work (Author et al., 2018). Descriptive and inferential data analysis was conducted.

Qualitative data was collected from six volunteer case study schools. When selecting case study schools, diversity in geographic region, socioeconomic status, access to technology, school size and school level were considered. At each case study school, 2-3 visits were conducted and principals, coaches, and 3-7 volunteer teachers were interviewed throughout the year. At three of these case study schools, students of coached teachers participated in focus groups. A coding scheme was developed throughout the course of the Program. Multiple coding passes of focus group and interview transcripts were conducted to serve as a reliability check. Researchers then synthesized findings across interviews and schools. Qualitative data is referenced in this paper as it corresponds to the findings from the quantitative surveys.


Coaching Can Help Teachers Improve Their Practice

Our data shows that participating in the Program is associated with a significant increase in frequency of teacher and student use of technology (Chart 1). More than 70% of teachers who received coaching reported using technology for more hours and for more days each week in their classrooms than they had in the previous year - compared to 57% and 60% of their colleagues who did participate in the Program. Moreover, 61% of teachers who received coaching reported increased technology use in more courses/subjects in comparison to the previous year, compared to 46% of their peers who did not receive coaching.

Chart 1 - More coached teachers reported increased technology use this year compared to last.

The Program not only helped teachers and students use technology more frequently, but also helped them use technology in more impactful ways (i.e., ways that develop students’ 21st century skills). As shown in Chart 2, participating teachers reported feeling more confident in their ability to use technology in impactful ways.

Chart 2 - More coached teachers agreed that they were able to use technology in impactful ways.

Increasing confidence among coached teachers is reflected in more frequent impactful use of technology by their students (Chart 3). For example, compared to non-coached teachers, coached teachers reported higher rates of technology used to have students collaborate in small groups or to have students create an original project incorporating their ideas.

Chart 3 - More coached teachers reported at least monthly impactful technology use by their students in each skill area.

This more frequent impactful technology use is reflected in more student engagement and learning. Chart 4 shows that compared to non-coached teachers, more coached teachers reported that their student technology use had a positive impact on engagement and learning.

Chart 4 - Participating teachers see more positive impact on student engagement and learning from using technologies to develop these 21st century skills.

What Makes Effective Coaching Programs

Based on our data, we identified five aspects of the Program that account for its effectiveness.

1. Voluntary and non-evaluative partnership

Our data suggests that one of the elements that make effective coaching programs is understanding and implementing the program as a partnership. Over the course of both years of the Program, all principals and coaches agreed that coaching is a teacher-coach-administrator partnership with shared responsibilities. They were also successful in transferring this mindset and attitude to their teachers. At the end of year 2, more than 82% of coached teachers also reported that they felt they were involved in a partnership. Correlation analyses show a positive significant relationship between teachers reporting coaching as a partnership and their impactful technology use (r = between .17 and .21; p < .001).

According to our data, part of what defines coaching programs as partnerships is that teachers voluntarily engage in coaching. Nearly all coached teachers reported participating in the Program willingly. One reason that teachers were willing to volunteer was that admins and coaches created a safe, non-judgemental environment where teachers felt comfortable trying new practices without fear of evaluation. Both of these aspects of the Program, voluntary and non-evaluative collaboration, were positively correlated with teachers’ improvement in their impactful use of technology (respectively r = 0.17 p < .000 and r = 0.5, p < .001).

2. Personalization

Our data suggests that another element that makes coaching programs effective is the ability of coaches to tailor their pacing, approach and type of classroom support to meet each individual teacher’s unique needs. One third grade teacher shared that through classroom visits, the coach is able to “be in my shoes and see the problems that come up.” Consequently, the coach is able to make targeted suggestions and discuss what would work best for the students in that teacher’s classroom. 85% of teachers participating in the Program reported that their PD was a good fit with what they needed or wanted in their current teaching assignments, compared with 70% of their colleagues who didn’t participate in the Program (Chi-Sq p < .001).

3. Active learning

Another key element of effective coaching programs is that they provide opportunities for teachers to engage in active learning that is relevant and directly applicable to their classroom and students. “Active learning” in the context of the Program involves teachers collaboratively working with their coach by identifying identifying, tackling and reflecting on their classroom challenges. The Program’s coaching model encourages frequent 1:1 formal and informal meetings between the coach and teacher, classroom visits by the coach for the purpose of data collection, co-teaching, and modeling, as well as coach-facilitated group PD. Almost all coached teachers reported that these opportunities for active learning helped them address their classroom challenges. One eighth grade English/language arts teacher explained that she has “been able with [the coach] to get down to the nitty gritty, the little tiny details that you usually don’t have time for in regular PD (...) With [my coach] it was immediate application, which was wonderful.”

4. Sustained support

According to our data, a fourth element that leads to effective coaching programs is that coaches and teachers collaborate over time. Teachers who reported more hours of coaching were more likely to see improvement in addressing each of their teaching challenges (r = 0.5, p < .001). Sustained support, delivered over a series of weeks and months, allows for relationship building, which yields increased comfort between the coach and teacher. This level of comfort that arises from sustained collaboration goes hand in hand with the non-evaluative nature of the Program. It also provides the coach with more knowledge with which they can tailor their support and create opportunities for sustainable change in their teacher’s practice.

5. Mentorship for coaches and admin

Beyond the four evidence-based features of evidence-based PD used in our theoretical framework, our research also suggests that mentorship for coaches and admin can play a crucial role in the success of coaching programs. Coaches described the mentor as an accessible guide who can share expertise, objective feedback, and encouragement, and serve as a thought partner. The majority of coaches (87%) and principals (90%) agreed or strongly agreed that the mentor’s role is essential for implementing an effective classroom coaching program.


Today, there is no longer a question of whether classroom coaching programs support teacher learning. However, there is a continued need for empirical data exploring how coaching programs can effectively improve teacher practices with a focus on the end result, improving student achievement. This research study is among the very first initiatives working to fill this gap in the literature. Participants will learn about the attributes that make effective instructional coaching programs for transforming teacher practice.


Author et al. (2018).

Darling-Hammond, L., Zielezinski, M., & Goldman, S. (2014). Using technology to support at-risk students’ learning. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Desimone, L. M., & Pak, K. (2017). Instructional coaching as high-quality professional development. Theory Into Practice, 56(1), 3-12.

Galey, S. (2016). The evolving role of instructional coaches in US policy contexts. The William & Mary Educational Review, 4(2), 11.

Jewett, P., & MacPhee, D. (2012). A dialogic conception of learning: collaborative peer coaching. International journal of mentoring and coaching in education, 1(1), 12-23.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from

Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D., & Hogan, D. (2018). The effect of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 88(4), 547-588.

NEA. (2012). Preparing 21st century students for a global society. National Education Association.

US Department of Education. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan update. Retrieved on September 25, 2019 from:

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Dr. Mahsa Bakhshaei, Digital Promise
John Seylar, Digital Promise
Jason Ravitz, Evaluation by Design

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