The role of the instructional coach in schools

October 15, 2018

Just as executive coaches have become a familiar presence in the corporate world, instructional coaches have become valuable change agents in K-12 schools.

Carrie Fruin, 20 year lead teacher and coach, now Program Manager for Capella University’s School of Public Service and Education, recently discussed the ins and outs of instructional coaching.

Q. What is an instructional coach?

    A. An earlier term for an instructional coach was “mentor teacher,” but that was more of an evaluative role. Today’s instructional coaches are not there to evaluate teachers, but to collaborate with them on a wide variety of school issues, including everything from professional development to IT implementations and training.

    Who takes on the role of instructional coach varies from school to school. In some places, you’ll find coaches in classrooms earning a stipend for this additional work. Or it might be a teacher who has stepped out of their own classroom for a full-time special assignment, or an actual full-time permanent position. You might find there’s one coach for an entire school district, or one for several elementary schools within that district, or one per high school. It depends on the needs of the districts and the schools within them.

    An instructional coach is most often identified within the district itself, rather than brought in from the outside. The latter does happen, but it’s rare.

Q. What does an instructional coach do?

    A. The role of the instructional coach can vary quite a bit, depending on the need at that particular school. One very common subject area for coaching is instructional technology. An instructional coach can oversee the implementation of new learning management or student data systems, as well as help with training and coaching for staff on how to use those systems. Given the critical role that technology plays in today’s education and how fast that technology changes, the need for instructional coaches for digital initiative implementations is likely to remain.

    But not all coaches work with technology. Some may coach teachers on new curricula a district may have just purchased, how to embed Common Core outcomes, or how to strengthen instructional techniques through professional development.

Interested in an introduction to instructional coaching? Discover Capella University’sprofessional development course offering.

Q. What value does an instructional coach offer?

    A. The instructional coach role has a great value in being proactive rather than reactive. Their role is to:

  • help reflect on instruction and collaborate as teachers
  • encourage positive change in the school culture
  • promote the use of data analysis to inform teaching practice
  • promote two way accountability
  • promote supportive, connected environments

    There’s another benefit, too. Offering this type of role could be a way to help retain teachers. Teachers who have been in the classroom for 10 to 15 years are often looking for new challenges and opportunities to contribute in a greater way. Offering them a leadership role where their expertise and experience can be used to help others lets them take a breather while still staying active as a classroom practitioner.

Q. How do you become an instructional coach?

    A. For teachers who are interested in moving into this kind of role, the first step is to see what kinds of opportunities are available in their building or district. By starting this conversation with a school leader, it may be determined that an instructional coach is exactly what is needed if there is not one already in place. Capella recently partnered with EdModo at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference to share information for educators interested in instructional coaching. Capella and EdModo also provide three summer Digital Academy courses available for those interested in learning more and getting to know others in an online professional learning community. 

Learn more about Capella University’s onlineeducation degrees and certificates.

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