Research School Network: Instructional Coaching and Early Career Teachers Case study: an approach to instructional coaching


Instructional Coaching and Early Career Teachers

Case study: an approach to instructional coaching

by Huntington Research School
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Teaching is extremely complex, even for the most experienced practitioners. Training to teach and the subsequent NQT year must be one of the most exhausting and cognitively demanding experiences a person can choose to put themselves through. The only other activity that I can liken it to is learning to drive. I remember my first driving lesson distinctly; sitting in the car, thinking about the plethora of things I had to remember, knowing that they all had to be performed in the right order, at the right time, to even have a chance of getting the car off the driveway. I also remember watching my Dad drive and thinking how effortless he made it look, with one arm on the steering wheel while simultaneously singing along to Bonnie Tyler. I remember thinking that I would never be able to do that!

It is easy to forget that trainees can often feel the same way when they start their teacher training and watch experienced teachers at work for the first time. Teachers can make up to seven decisions per minute in the classroom (Borko and Shavelson, 1979) and Danielson (1996) estimates a teacher can make up to 3,000 non-trivial decisions every day. Expert teachers are able to divert their attention to the most important factors, using knowledge and experience to inform decision-making (a process that often appears effortless to novice teachers). Therefore, it is clear that early career teachers (ECTs) face significant challenges early in their teaching and are unlikely to learn the new skills necessary to overcome these challenges if their learning is left to chance’ (Deans for Impact, 2016). However, evidence suggests that ECTs actually receive less support than their more experienced colleagues (Casperson and Raaen, 2014). This is something we must change. Learner drivers do not leave their learning to chance, they employ the services of experienced driving instructors to guide them and support them through their learning. Luckily, the introduction of the ITT Core Content and the Early Career Framework (ECF) will go some way to demystifying effective teaching and breaking down these complex components for ECTs and ensure they have high quality CPD and mentoring to support them on their journey.

Our approach will combine evidence-informed CPD, with instructional coaching to support ECTs to translate knowledge and skills into actual classroom practice. Instructional coaching derives from the principles of developing expertise through the process of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is described as practice that is purposeful and designed to maximise improvement’ (Deans for Impact 2016). Instructional coaching can, therefore, support new teachers to establish effective classroom practices with the support of an expert mentor/​coach. The approach is supported by evidence from replicated randomised control trials, meta-analysis, A‑B testing, and evidence from systematic research programmes, albeit mainly in US schools. As Sims (2019) states I cannot find another form of CPD for which the evidence is this strong…It would be hard to justify the use of alternative approaches in the face of the existing evidence.’

Instructional coaching differs from other forms of coaching by assuming that the mentor/​coach has greater expertise and will directly guide the improvement of the ECT in a systematic and targeted way. The coach will give clear and specific guidance as part of instructional coaching, which the ECT practises away from the classroom in carefully selected drills and activities. They will receive feedback and refine their actions before implementing them in their classroom. This is in sharp contrast with current approaches to lesson observations in many schools; in traditional models, observation feedback given can often be highly generic, specifying what needs to change but not how the change can happen. When discussing instructional coaching, Ambition Institute make a direct comparison to other performance professions. They explain how if a teacher receives feedback saying, you need to improve your questioning’ that this is the equivalent of a footballer being told you need to score more goals.’ It is assumed that a footballer knows that they have to score more goals, but they struggle to work out what is holding them back.

Instructional coaching of teachers seeks to fulfil a similar function: ECTs will follow a carefully sequenced curriculum of CPD and mentors/​coaches will observe lessons and select the area they think will most improve the teacher’s practice in relation to the CPD they have received. They then identify how the teacher can improve in this area, creating manageable, bite-sized steps for improvement. Vitally, they design practise for teachers and give them feedback in controlled conditions before the teacher attempts the new technique in their classroom. One example of this process might be a teacher whose classroom entry routines are inconsistent and, thus, starts to lessons are unfocussed and inefficient. The mentor/​coach would then breakdown the different elements into bite-sized steps for the coachee and design activities for the ECT to deliberately practice; these could be methods for handing out books/​equipment, positioning in the classroom and scripting the initial instructions for pupils. Designing these practise opportunities sit central to the role of the mentor/​coach, but it can be difficult to get right. We use a range of resources to supplement our feedback and provide actionable advice to support sustainable change. Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion’ is an invaluable resource for our CPD provision, but also to support our coaches. We have also used the ECF early release materials produced by Ambition Institute, available through the DfE portal, to provide all ECTs and coaches with a handbook to guide the development process. We have found these invaluable and we have been encouraged by the early findings of the Education Endowment Fund’s evaluation of the two Ambition Institute pilot programmes (and that of Chartered College of Teaching support programme) that suggest, although disrupted by COVID-19, these approaches show some evidence of promise’ and were perceived to be high quality and impactful by participants.’ This is certainly corroborates the feedback we have had from our ECTs over this first half term.

Our approach to instructional coaching is still in its infancy, but we are pleased with its impact so far. ECTs have said they find the structured and incremental approach to their development as highly valuable through our staff survey and we have seen them make great strides so far, this first term. We feel that this academic year will provide us with the opportunity to refine and reflect, ready for the ECF and ITT core content implementation in 2021. This will ensure that our ECTs get the best possible support as they start in this fantastic profession.

Stuart Voyce is a Deputy Headteacher at a secondary school in West Yorkshire

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