Research School Network: Teetering Off Balance: Avoiding Wobbly PD Just because your PD has a balanced design, doesn’t mean it is stable


Teetering Off Balance: Avoiding Wobbly PD

Just because your PD has a balanced design, doesn’t mean it is stable

by Bradford Research School
on the

Mark Miller is Director of Bradford Research School

The EEF’s Effective Professional Development guidance report features 14 mechanisms, split into four groups: Building knowledge; motivating teachers; developing teaching techniques; embedding practice. It is recommended to aim for a balanced design’: Where professional development features a mechanism from each group, it may be more likely to be effective.”

But even when we feel we have achieved this balanced design, we need to be aware of where things could wobble. We’re going to look at the example of instructional coaching to see where the wobbles might appear.

Mechanisms of PD
The 14 mechanisms

Instructional Coaching: Balanced PD?

On the face of it, instructional coaching fits the criteria for a balanced design:

It builds knowledge by focusing on incremental steps.
It motivates teachers by setting goals and providing affirmation when those goals are achieved.
It develops teaching techniques through feedback, modelling and practice.
It embeds practice through action planning and context-specific repetition.


Without effective implementation, we may say our PD is balanced, but all we’re saying is that an ideal form of instructional coaching is effective PD, not our version. We could consider two main considerations for implementation:

  • Making sure the observations and meetings happen
  • Making sure the meetings follow an appropriate structure

Anyone who has led a whole-school instructional coaching programme will know the challenges of timetabling and staffing such a thing. And it is even harder to ensure that things take place as intended.

The Dixons version of an instructional coaching session tends to look like this:

DAT OS Who Instructional Coaching

Achieving fidelity to this requires training. If the structure becomes too loose, then perhaps we lose some practice and rehearsal. Perhaps the teacher doesn’t get a chance to see the technique modelled.

We also need our coaches to understand when this model is not appropriate. There are other forms of coaching that will work better in different contexts. 


Relationships are at the heart of coaching. When these relationships are not considered, feedback can be rejected. According to Kluger and DeNisi (1996), when teachers are given feedback that is designed to help them close a gap’ to meet a particular standard, there are four ways that they can attempt to do so.

  • They can focus their effort on improvement and addressing the feedback
  • They can abandon the standard
  • They can change the standard
  • They can reject the message

An easy way to reject the message from feedback is to dismiss the source of it. This could be dismissing the messenger or the rationale for the message.

This means that leaders of instructional coaching need to consider who gives the feedback: the expertise of the person giving feedback; the relationship e.g. peer, line manager, more senior colleague, an external colleague; the context of the feedback – low stakes is probably best.

Relationships can also suffer if the school doesn’t create those conditions for coaching to happen regularly. If, for example, a coach has no capacity to visit a lesson, or they are taken for cover whenever the meeting takes place.

This is a blog about PD that turned into a blog about instructional coaching, that is really a blog about implementation. If you want to find out more about the EEF’s newly updated Implementation guidance, why not join the Yorkshire Research Schools Network for our free webinar.

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