It's All About How you Frame It: A Sensemaking Perspective on the Instructional Coach Role

McGraw, Jillian, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Brighton, Catherine, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

In an effort to improve students outcomes in U.S. schools, many educational policies have turned their attention to professional learning for teachers. Many of these policies have introduced support for coaching initiatives. Coaching is broadly defined as a form of job-embedded professional development aimed at helping teachers improve the quality of their instruction. Initial evidence suggests coaching may support teacher learning and transfer of knowledge to classroom practice. However, there is no standardized approach to coaching, and, consequently, coaching practices vary across schools. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, because there is no statewide coaching program, local school divisions are responsible for training and support individuals who take on coaching responsibilities.

To support these efforts, the annual Curry Leadership Academy – a three-day professional development workshop offered by the University of Virginia – provides training and support for individual taking on coaching responsibilities. The purpose of this study was to explore how instructional coaches and their colleagues in one participating school division conceptualized the instructional coach role.

This study was structured as a mixed-methods investigation. A survey was administered to Curry Leadership Academy participants to assess the perceptions of the utility of the academy immediately following its conclusion. Follow-up interviews were conducted with academy participants from Caldwell, which recently adopted the Jim Knight instructional coaching model. Snowball sampling was used to identify additional interview participants who did not attend the academy.

Findings based on survey and interview data are presented in this capstone. The four findings from this case study are as following;
1. Earning buy-in from teachers was a gradual process. Several factors – consistency in personnel, the structure of the coaching program, and individual characteristics of coaches – influenced the degree to which teachers engaged in coaching work.
2. Administrators were central to the way coaching was conceptualized and enacted in schools. Coaches and principals worked collaboratively to determine priorities, though ultimately principals set the instructional vision for the school. In years prior, several administrators in Caldwell treated their coaches as an extension of the administration, thus blurring the line between coaching and evaluation.
3. Coaches had to balance demands from division leaders, school leaders, and individual teachers. Coaches felt overwhelmed by these competing priorities and did not have enough time to meet all of their coaching goals.
4. Division support facilitated coaching work in schools. This support took the form of monthly coach meetings, on-site visits from division specialists, and resources to support the implementation of new curricula. Division leaders also reinforced messages about coaching during on-site visits with principals.

Based on the findings, I have made several recommendations to Caldwell:
1. Help instructional coaches understand their roles as intermediaries.
2. Provide joint training for building leaders and instructional coaches.
3. Ensure coaching remains voluntary for teachers.

These findings may also have implications for the training and support provided to coaches and their colleagues. For this reason, I have also made several recommendations to the Curry Leadership Academy:
1. Increase opportunities for collaborative planning and problem solving among academy participants.
2. Offer breakout sessions differentiated by role (i.e., central office administrator, principal, instructional coach)
3. Facilitate ongoing opportunities for learning after the conclusion of the academy.
4. Conduct yearly evaluations to identify local needs and align the academy curriculum.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
coaching, instructional coaching, professional development
Issued Date: