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What Is Instructional Coaching? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

What Is Instructional Coaching? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

Learn what instructional coaching is and how educators help each other improve teaching and incite change. Plus, discover how to become one.


Learning never stops –– not even for teachers. 

Generally, during holidays in schools and colleges, educators take up alternative roles to continue building their knowledge base, and one such career is instructional coaching. But before this role starts to sound like a sports coach, let’s clear the air. 

Instructional coaches support teachers in educational settings, as teachers, in turn, support students. They help mentees set and achieve goals, work toward professional development, and learn co-teaching, dismantling inequities in curriculum and school policies. 

Here’s all you need to know about what instructional coaching is, how coaches benefit educational environments, and how you can take on this inspiring role. 

How do instructional coaches work?

Every day is different for an instructional coach. They may observe a class one day and model a class another. But most coaches follow these general instructional coaching strategies:

  • Goal-setting: Instructional coaches assess policies, curriculum, and instructional practices and observe teachers in the classroom. Then, they identify areas for improvement and guide teachers to introspect. Once educators reflect on their work and recognize inequities and obstacles in the workplace, coaches help them chart student-focused goals.
  • Assessment: Whether implementing a more inclusive school-wide learning strategy or helping an individual educator apply a new effective teaching method, instructional coaches use metrics to determine a plan’s success and rechart as needed. Coaches glean information for these adjustments by researching strategy implementation or sitting down with teachers for feedback before continuing to iterate the instructional coaching cycle.
  • Partnership: There’s no hierarchy between teachers and instructional coaches. Both professionals have meaningful roles to play and support one another. Teachers have niche knowledge and a special gift for pedagogy, and instructional coaches honor this expertise. Instructional coaches are strategists who guide teachers through self-analysis and implementation. 

3 benefits of effective instructional coaching

As academic and support leaders, instructional coaches help teachers improve students’ learning experiences. Remember, if a teacher seeks coaching, it doesn’t mean they fail. Instead, they aim to accelerate learning and meet students’ unique needs. Here’s how successful instructional coaching helps teachers achieve these goals:

  1. Empowers teachers: There’s no denying educators are superhumans. Instructional coaches recognize teachers’ strengths and help them leverage their skills to advance students’ development. Coaches also help teachers understand and practice self-restraint to avoid extreme reactions during frustrating situations in the classroom. 
  2. Promotes self-introspection: Instructional coaches encourage teachers to reflect on their strengths and areas for opportunity. Coaches also ask educators to consider how their background and identity inform their worldview and how this outlook or life experience may differ from that of students. These reflections help teachers find new approaches to delivering high-quality lessons and empathetically interacting with students.
  3. Helps make changes: Instructional coaches also focus on institutional change. They interrogate policies and curricula affecting the whole school, seeking a more enriching and inclusive approach to teaching and learning as well as recording improved student results. The student-centered coaching approach acknowledges that not all learners process information the same way or come to the classroom with similar background experiences. Coaches show educators how to implement teaching strategies that accommodate this challenge. 


How to become an instructional coach

The instructional coaching model is unique. Most coaches in specialty areas, from business to fitness, meet with clients one-on-one or in groups to help them uncover inner motivations, strengths, and obstacles. Rarely do they make institutional changes or assist clients in implementing practices in everyday life through a partnership approach. 

Thus, the route to becoming an instructional coach also looks different from the trajectories professionals in other coaching niches forge. In many niches, aspiring coaches chart their education courses, becoming subject matter experts and seeking professional certification to validate their practice. But to be eligible for many roles, instructional coaches must have a specific degree and experience. Here’s what an aspiring instructional coach can do to prepare for a successful career: 

  • Earn a teaching degree (or two): Aspiring instructional coaches should start their educational journey by earning a bachelor’s degree in teaching and becoming certified educators. Later, they should work hands-on in the classroom, becoming an experienced teacher. Before transitioning to a coach, a professional should earn a master’s degree in teaching to become highly qualified and credible.
  • Become a certified coach: Professionals can supplement their pedagogical knowledge with a general coaching certificate. This helps hopefuls learn goal-setting, reflection, assessment, and communication skills, which they might not learn in teaching programs. To-be instructional coaches can also pursue a targeted certificate program, such as the one from PLACE, which focuses on dialog and professional development within a coaching role.
  • Gain experience in instructional coach jobs: Post-education, instructional coaches should gain hands-on experience in the field. Thanks to this profession’s longevity and instructive experiences, an instructional coach can walk into a school prepared on day one while still having many valuable learning moments ahead. 

What makes a great instructional coach? 

Education prepares a coach well for their job. But what contributes to that X-factor an exceptional instructional coach possesses? Here are some traits of an excellent educational mentor and partner:

  • They work with teachers as teachers: Due to instructional coaches’ education and experience as certified teachers, they empathize with educators. Instructional coaches understand a teaching role’s nature and demands, which informs realistic goal-setting. 
  • They’re realists and idealists: Instructional coaches assess a situation in an educational environment for what it is instead of imposing a glossier version of reality. Once they identify system, teaching practice, or curriculum flaws, they chart a route toward a realistic but impactful goal. 
  • They coach educators to be independent: While empathetic to teaching demands, good instructional coaches remind educators that their role is to take charge of situations and craft solutions. Coaches guide reflection, model new teaching methods, and provide educators with the tools and information to grow professionally. Instructional coaches don’t work on behalf of teachers. 

Find the right coaching role for you

If you aim to help people around you, be a part of the coaching world. There’s a niche for every expert. Find the right role by reading up on what different coaching professions entail

Head to The Practice Blog, where we have a wealth of articles and case studies for to-be coaches. Learn how a motivational coach helps others empower themselves and how a performance coach guides clients to break their own glass ceilings. Plus, find out about proven coaching models and how coaches can adopt more effective practices. Try us today.

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