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Two Approaches to Coaching

Instructional coaching increases the achievement and engagement of every student by bringing out the best performance of every teacher. Coaches use both student-centered and teacher-centered methods to help teachers improve the decisions they make about their instruction. Though driven by the same purpose, this document seeks to clarify the differences between two approaches to instructional coaching: teacher-centered and student-centered coaching (Sweeney, 2011).

Instructional Coaching and Student Achievement

The prevailing question in research about instructional coaching strives to answer the question, “Does instructional coaching have an impact on student achievement?” Despite numerous studies, a definitive answer is still elusive. So many factors are involved that it is difficult to prove a causal relationship between coaching and student achievement. What we do know is that teacher quality is one of the most important variables, if not the most important variable, affecting student achievement, and studies show that coaching increases teachers’ transfer of skills. (Cornett and Knight, 2008.) For these reasons, EL is committed to instructional coaching as a key strategy for improving student achievement. Also, though we use the phrase “student achievement” for the sake of brevity, it is important to note that EL defines “achievement” as strong performance in academics, character, and creating high quality work for authentic purposes.

In EL schools, the EL work plan usually guides the focus of coaching. Research indicates that coaching will increase the likelihood that teachers adopt new teaching practices, and they will do so with a higher degree of quality compared with teachers who do not receive coaching support following professional development. (Knight & Cornett, 2008). Thus, when school-based professional development is also supported by coaching, improved student achievement is more likely.

Two Approaches to Instructional Coaching: Teacher-Centered Coaching and Student-Centered Coaching

The aim of all instructional coaching is to improve student achievement. However, there are different approaches for coaches when working with teachers. One approach is to coach teachers through the lens of their instructional practice (teacher-centered coaching). Another is to coach teachers through analyzing student work to gauge student progress toward one or more specific learning targets (student-centered coaching). In both cases, student data (student work, student conversations, student questions, etc.) should be at the heart of every coaching session. However, the role that data play is different depending on whether a coach decides to use a teacher-centered or student-centered approach.

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