In 2007, Jim Knight, an authority on instructional coaching, wrote the very first book on the topic. In his book, Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction, Knight opens with a rationale for instructional coaching that was born from finding no evidence of practices being implemented after traditional teacher professional development. According to Knight, there are many reasons why traditional professional development fails. He references what Michael Fullan and Andy Hangreaves (1996) call “pressing immediacy”. This describes how teachers often have more pressing concerns than new practices from teacher professional development that require their immediate attention. For example, tasks like developing lesson plans, grading papers, making parent phone calls, and writing reports. Knight explains that even if teachers have the desire to implement new practices, they may not have the energy to do so.
Scholars and practitioners have found success engaging educators in implementing new practices through instructional coaching. This is because the primary goal of instructional coaching, according to Jim Knight (2007), is to enable teachers to implement research-based instructional practices that respond directly to teachers’ immediate needs (pg. 17). Instructional coaches do this by adopting a partnership approach with teachers. This approach rests on the belief that instructional coaches and teachers are of equal importance and that instructional coaches must do everything within their power to promote respect and equality throughout the partnership. In “Jim Knight: The Secrets of Great Instructional Coaching Webinar” Knight (2019) discusses how the mind-set is built around the principles of equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflection, praxis, and reciprocity. The difference between a partnership approach and a traditional approach to professional development is in the implementation of the seven principles outlined here:
Partnership Mind-set Principles
There are also a series of actions an instructional coach can do to engage and accelerate teacher learning. Knight (2007) highlights five activities that are particularly effective: collaborating, modeling, observing, providing feedback, and providing support.
Knight shares several reasons why collaboration is the key to successful coaching. First, coaches make it possible for educators to take time out of their busy day to engage in meaningful conversations around teaching and learning. Second, the partnership approach is made possible through collaborative conversations where ideas are exchanged and explored. Finally, when instructional coaches and educators are engaged in meaningful collaboration, solutions to complex problems emerge.
For an educator to adopt a new practice, observing another educator model the new behavior in practice is invaluable. Knight (2007) argues that the importance of modeling goes beyond simply providing a visual example--that modeling provides educators with an opportunity to see what an instructional move looks like when a practitioner puts their personality into teaching to fully engage students.
Simply knowing that a new practice is linked to improving the quality of teaching and learning does not negate that educators will implement the practice. For this reason, Knight (2007) explains that the instructional coach's job is to make it as easy as possible for the educator to implement new practices with high fidelity. Support can take many forms. The instructional coach may find that they are modeling new practices when asked, making instructional videos, suggesting relevant content to extend thinking, and providing research as a rationale for educators to buy into a new practice.
The Impact Cycle
The impact cycle provides a step-by-step process for instructional coaches to bring the partnership principles that are at the foundation of coaching to life. In Seven Factors for Success: The Definitive Guide to Instructional Coaching, Knight (2021) provides a detailed definition of the work that needs to take place in preparation of step one and what each step entails for the instructional coach and the educator. The process begins with what Knight calls the “Pre-Cycle Conversation.” Here, the instructional coach has a brief conversation with the educators they are partnering with before they dig into the coaching cycle. Knight explains that engaging coaches will make a strong first impression if they listen with empathy, affirm rather than judge, and communicate that they believe in the educator and truly want what’s best for them (pg. 86). To maintain engagement and create psychology for the educator, the instructional coach should pause to ask if the educator has questions throughout.
Following the pre-cycle conversation, the instructional coach engages the educator in the first stage of the impact cycle--Identify. Knight (2021) says that there are several reasons educators have a skewed sense of what is happening in their classrooms. Whether it be confirmation bias or defense mechanisms, the human brain is not hardwired to construct a clear picture of reality on its own. Knight recommends four ways instructional coaches can engage educators in developing a clear picture of reality--watching video recordings of the educator teaching, interviewing students, reviewing student work, and gathering observational data (pg. 88).
Knight (2021) expands on the potential power of goal setting, by introducing the idea of PEERS goals in the context of the partnership approach to instructional coaching. PEERS goals are powerful, easy, emotionally, compelling, reachable, and student-focused (pg. 91-92). Powerful goals will make a significant impact on students’ lives. Easy does not mean that the goal itself is easy, but rather that the instructional coach and the educator find the easiest way to reach the PEERS goal. Emotionally compelling goals will be important to the educator and to the affected students. Reachable goals will be measurable. And finally, student- focused goals will provide an objective standard for measuring how well a teaching strategy is working in a teacher’s classroom.
In the first stage, the instructional coach and the educator also identify a strategy. The strategy is essentially the strongest route to meeting the goal identified in the previous step. The instructional coach needs to be mindful of the temptation to tell the educator the best path forward because in doing so the core principles of the partnership approach are at risk. Should the educator truly not know what to do to reach his or her goal, the approachable voice coupled with tentative language and probing questions should be used to facilitate collaborative decision making (Knight, 2021). In the next stage of the impact cycle--Learn--it is assumed that the educator has identified a clear picture of reality, a goal based on their reality, and the most viable strategy for reaching their goal. If the educator has fully engaged in each of these steps, they are ready to learn. This entails the instructional coach explaining and modeling strategies. After implementing the strategy, the instructional coach works with the educator to adapt the strategy for the needs of the classroom, review progress, invent improvements, and plan next steps (Knight, 2021, pg. 101). This stage of the impact cycle is aptly called--Improve.