Activity Guide

Teacher to Teacher—Instructional Coaches

As the demands on and complexity of the principalship continue to increase, principals may find themselves feeling harried and overworked. In small or rural schools, this problem is compounded by a lack of support personnel. Too frequently, these increasing demands result in the principal’s diminished role as an instructional leader who works directly with teachers to build their capacity to improve student learning.

To help keep a sharp focus on instruction while juggling multiple roles, many principals are developing teacher leaders among their staff members to take on the role of instructional coach. These coaches, whether part-time or full-time, are teachers who work with other teachers to facilitate professional learning. By exploring with faculty the concept of peer coaching, principals can begin the collaborative task of developing strategies to help ensure that teacher-to-teacher supported professional learning becomes a school norm.

This activity explores the definitions and possible roles of the instructional coach, the viability of using some variation of instructional coaching in your school, and a possible next-step strategy. This activity can be used in a leadership team meeting, a grade level meeting, an interdisciplinary team meeting, a department meeting, or a general faculty meeting.

Reading: “Instructional Coaches: Lessons from the Field,” Principal Leadership, October 2008, pp. 16–19.


Pre-reading Activity

Define Instructional Coach

  • Create a chart with two columns. Write the word “Instructional” at the top of the first column. Ask participants to brainstorm synonyms for “instructional.” List words as they are offered. When you have a rich list of words, write the word “Coach” at the top of the second column. Ask participants to brainstorm synonyms for “coach.” List words as they are offered.
  • When you have rich lists of synonyms for both words, ask each participant to reflect on the words in each list and write a definition of “instructional coach” using the words from the lists. The definition should be one that fits into the context of your school.
  • Allow two or three minutes for individuals to craft definitions. Ask each participant to pair with another, share their definitions, and craft one definition from the two that both can live with. Allow three to five minutes for pairs to develop one definition.
  • Ask each pair to join with another pair, share their combined definitions, and craft one definition that all four can live with.
  • Finally, ask each group of four to join another group of four, share their combined definitions, and craft one definition that all eight can live with. (You will need to adjust the number of steps based on the number of participants in your group.) If you have multiple groups of eight, ask each group to post their definitions on chart paper or interactive media.
  • Ask each group to read its definition. Ask other groups to listen for and make notes about ideas in each definition that are similar to, different from, or extend those in their definitions.
  • After each group has read its definition, facilitate a discussion about the notes participants made regarding similarities, differences, and extensions of ideas in the definitions. Are there ideas in any of the definitions that anyone in the group cannot live with in terms of application of the definition for improved instruction in your school?
  • Ask participants to reflect on the definitions within the context of your school. To what degree are any of the ideas in the definitions common practice in your school? To what degree should they be common practice?

Reading Activity

  • Ask participants to read “Instructional Coaches: Lessons from the Field.” If you do not use instructional coaches in your school, ask them to highlight or make note of ideas in the article that reinforce the definitions created.
  • Ask participants to gather in the same groups that formed at the end of the first part of the activity. Explain that the article is written from the perspective of providing assistance to the principal in accomplishing his or her instructional leader responsibilities. Ask them to list other people who benefit from instructional coaching as much or more than the principal and be prepared to explain how they benefit.
  • Ask each group to discuss and record ideas about how the structures described in the article might be put into place in your school. If you currently use instructional coaches in your school, ask how the article and the definitions developed earlier can serve to enhance or improve current practice.
  • When groups have completed their reading and discussion, ask each group to report to the whole group. Facilitate a discussion around the group reports with a focus on moving to next steps to include or enhance instructional coaching to foster teachers’ capacity to improve student learning. Ask questions to explore the mindset of the group regarding serving as a coach or receiving coaching as described in the article. Explore readiness of the group to begin building individual and collective capacity to engage in teacher-to-teacher coaching.

Extend and Apply

During the discussions, identify leaders who might be valuable contributors to a collaborative planning effort to develop and implement a coaching model in your school. Teacher leaders can serve in many areas, including on curriculum committees, school improvement teams, and leadership teams; in professional learning communities; and as instructional coaches. Include leaders who would be proponents of as well as resisters to the concept of peer coaching. Utilize the planning tools with this discussion guide as needed. Present your plans to the leadership team and discuss possibilities for implementation.