Instructional Coaching a Pedagogy for Learning

by | Aug 30, 2023 | Coaching, Curriculum, Leadership

Instructional Coaching – a Pedagogy for Learning

“Instructional coaches partner with teachers to analyse current reality, set goals, identify and explain teaching strategies to meet goals and provide support until the goals are met.”
Jim Knight The Impact Cycle

Instructional coaching as a way to improve pedagogy

Instructional coaching is becoming an important part of the coaching philosophy in schools. It is an oxymoron. To instruct is to tell someone what to do to solve a problem or resolve an issue. Coaching is about creating the dialogue that supports another person to find their own solution and does not provide them with the answers to their problem.

It is however, a phrase that is now clearly embedded as a part of the coaching continuum for experts such as the coaching team here at Learning Cultures. Instructional coaching now forms part of a journey towards true facilitative coaching and is a powerful model for creating the professional dialogue between coach and teacher and subject leaders and their teams.

Approaches to Instructional Coaching – Personalising CPD for teachers a live webinar

Instructional coaching is a form of coaching that originated in the USA and its main protagonist is Jim Knight who has supported the development of a very clear set of parameters linked to his model of instructional coaching. It is easy to see why the words instruction and coaching are now coupled together. The word instruction in the USA is synonymous with our use of the word pedagogy here in the UK.

So, instruction in this context is about teaching and learning and creating opportunities for a coach to work with teachers to support them in their journey towards improved classroom practice, high quality learning outcome and feeling confident to take risks and be creative in their planning and implementation of the curriculum.

Several studies suggest that instructional coaching has a better evidence base than any other form of CPD.  Instructional coaching is about partnerships in pursuit of deliberate practice that is agreed where the coach and teacher share a journey towards sustained improvement. Through this process the teacher moves away from embedded paradigms and finds new ways with their teaching. In order to ensure success with this process the coach is there to support them through positive feedback and time for reflection outside the classroom.

This approach is much more likely to succeed in building strong pedagogy because it is not about judgement of a teacher’s performance which is often the case with current approaches to lesson observation. It is about a deep focus on how teachers can make changes to their teaching through an analysis of areas where improvement would enhance their potential and where they can practice new approaches over time with the non-judgmental support of a coach.


Partnership principles

An instructional coach is looking to work with the teacher as a partner in the process of professional development. It is the philosophy of partnership that is possibly why instructional coaching is gaining popularity with the teaching profession. Teachers work predominantly alone in their classroom; lesson observation is not a regular occurence and provides a simple snapshot where the teacher is judged as part of a checklist linked to teacher effectiveness. Feedback often says what should change but not how that change can happen.

Positive Lesson Observation for Constructive Change and Challenge – on demand course or a live webinar

Instructional coaching creates opportunities for the coach and the teacher to reflect on pedagogy and areas for improvement, determining a set of steps that will lead to opportunities for the teacher to practice and reflect on change in their practise and its impact on learning. The coach has a role and the teacher has a role in a shared conversation ensuring equality and a dual commitment, teachers choose what they want to work on as part of their own professional development, they have a voice and know that their coach is a listening partner.

It is the dialogue that allows for a shared approach to innovation and creativity in the teacher’s pedagogical practices. Reflection is an essential part of the process and it is the symbiosis between the coach and the teacher that allows for honest and positive reflection to take place. The teacher becomes more confident and can add a new approach to their existing repertoire as a result of the shared interaction with their coach, there is trust and a growing understanding between coach and teacher that leads to sustained improvement in pedagogy and learning.

Curriculum Quality

The impact cycle

The partnership principles that Jim Knight highlights are, equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflection, praxis and reciprocity are at the heart of the impact cycle that he defines as the way to plan to introduce instructional coaching into the CPD model for the school or college.

Identify    …….          Learn   …….       Improve

There are three elements to the impact cycle. Firstly, that the coach and teacher work together through observation and dialogue to share their understanding of the realities of classroom practice and where agreed improvements or changes can be made. We then move onto the process of learning where the teacher is given time to practice new or revised approaches to their pedagogy and to have the time for a shared dialogue with their coach and for any training they may need. Finally, the cycle leads to lasting improvement where the teacher can see the difference the coaching partnership has had on his or her teaching and on pupils’ learning as a result of a commitment to change practise and the shared dialogue with the coach.

Embracing Instructional Coaching

Embedding the principles of instructional coaching as a powerful way to create a sustainable and cost-effective whole school strategy for ongoing professional development cannot be underestimated. The simple cycle of identify, learn and improve has many other elements to it but they provide a flexible and adaptable framework for creating a CPD model where there is trust and a deep commitment to continuous improvement over time. Commitment suggests,

  • Senior leaders know what their priorities are in relation to improvements in pedagogy and learning they want to see over time
  • Senior leaders know what good and outstanding teaching looks like
  • Coaches need to have the skills to facilitate deliberate practice of new approaches linked to whole school priorities
  • Coaches need to build a repertoire of coaching skills to use as they develop their partnership with their assigned teachers
  • Teachers should have autonomy over the focus of their coaching and how what they want to develop is linked to the identified whole school goals for improvement
  • Senior and subject leaders need to share with all staff that this approach is about incremental improvement that is the joint responsibility of the the teacher and the coach
  • There must be a commitment to ensure time is given to coaches and teachers to work together and to reflect and share their successes and the improvements they both see in pedagogy and learning

Instructional Coaching CPD

Instructional coaching is about improvements in teaching and learning. Facilitative coaching is much more about a coach supporting another individual to achieve their own goals, their role is not to share expertise but to have the skills to create for others the potential for change. In the instructional coaching model the coach is there to share with the teacher, their coachee their expertise when it is appropriate and to support incremental change over time.

The coach and the teacher are thinking partners and the coach acts as a critical friend. Both facilitative and instructional coaching have their place in a school but the whole essence of the instructional coaching approach is that it focuses on supporting deliberate change to pedagogy that leads to improvements that impact on how the teacher develops and grows in their role and how this in turn has a measurable impact on learning and pupil outcomes.

The coach needs to have been trained as a coach, understand the principles and the theory of instructional coaching and also have a deep expertise in relation to the philosophy of learning and the principles of effective pedagogy, deliberate practice and curriculum design and delivery. The team here at Learning Cultures are deeply committed to how CPD can be shaped to support schools to develop an instructional coaching model.

For me, I have struggled with the term instructional coaching, as I said at the beginning of this article, it is an oxymoron and does not sit well if, as I am, a qualified and seasoned facilitative coach. I think it would be good to see it as pedagogical coaching, but the term has gathered momentum so instructional it is. Why not give me a call to discuss how instructional/pedagogical coaching can be the catalyst to ensure your plans for a CPD strategy will lead to sustainable and cost effective whole school or college improvements, build highly successful partnerships and give you the evidence so that you can say with confidence what is needed to deliver the highest quality of education.


My contact details are Glynis Frater, email: telephone: 07974 754241 


New Books


The book ‘Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery by Glynis Frater‘ has now been published.

Find Out More

Other Articles You May Like

My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.