From trainee teacher to tech problem solver – one man’s plan to use instructional coaching to build an army of expert teachers

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Date published 22 July 2021

Last updated 21 March 2024

When Josh Goodrich first stepped into the classroom back in 2009, he knew he had a lot to learn.

Like many early career teachers, he recalls his first year as a painfully difficult time, getting to grips with his new profession and learning the ropes. He felt demoralised and frustrated by slow progress.

Josh admitted: “I knew quite early on that I wasn’t very good at teaching. But I didn’t know how to get better at it. As a trainee, I knew I was ineffective and struggling. The solution was obvious to me even then – I wished someone would just come into my lesson, tell me exactly how to be better and then help me to do it through practice.

“At the time I trained, this wasn’t available so I had to learn for myself. I worked out the mechanics of teaching pretty much on my own, which meant that my progress was slow.”

Eventually, Josh did get better. As an experienced teacher with more than a decade in the classroom, he rose through the ranks to become Head of Teaching and Learning at Oasis Academy South Bank and later took responsibility for Teaching and Learning across the whole Oasis trust.

"The solution was obvious to me even then – I wished someone would just come into my lesson, tell me exactly how to be better and then help me to do it through practice."

Those early days in the classroom made their mark though. Josh has now made it his mission to help schools deliver highly effective professional development for all teachers, so that no-one has to feel the same sense of frustration and failure as he did.

Josh partnered with edu-tech coding whizz Ben Abelman and together they built Steplab – a tool to support teachers and mentors to keep getting better through instructional coaching.

Ambition Institute has now rolled it out to thousands of teachers on our DfE-funded Early Career Teachers programme.

Teachers at laptop

So what is instructional coaching and why is everyone talking about it?

Instructional coaching involves a more experienced ‘coach’ helping another teacher to develop their practice with individualised teaching feedback. They focus on bite-sized, manageable steps that teachers can take to improve. The coaches use modelling and deliberate practice to ensure that teachers are supported to make powerful, lasting changes that benefit their students.

There is a significant evidence-base to show that instructional coaching has a substantial impact on teacher development. For example, in randomised control trials of different professional development techniques, instructional coaching saw the greatest impact on informing teaching behaviours and improving pupil attainment.

Josh, who lives in London with his wife and fellow educator Lisa, added: “Instructional coaching can be really challenging for schools to get right, there are so many moving parts! Trying to make it work without the right tools is a major challenge.

“You need a huge team of coaches who have a granular knowledge of teaching and a knowledge of how to help that teacher get better through modelling and through deliberate practice.

“There are very few people who possess that body of knowledge. Being an expert teacher doesn’t mean you are an expert coach.”

There’s also a transition away from a traditional model of chalk-and-talk professional development.

Josh said: “When you move to everyone getting weekly training, there are suddenly lots of things that can go wrong. How do you make everyone in your team accountable for giving and receiving coaching? And how do you ensure that the quality of feedback is high?

“That’s what Steplab does – help school leaders have those things at their fingertips.”

Steplab – engineering simple solutions to complex problems

Steplab is a piece of software designed to improve teaching and support powerful mentoring. Teachers and mentors can access bite-sized, scheduled content and precise teaching targets that teachers can master alongside their busy working lives. Its clean, mobile-friendly design means you can learn anytime, anywhere and on any device.

Steplab is used across many of Ambition’s programmes, including our Early Career Teachers programme. As a lead provider of the Early Career Framework, Ambition Institute has more than 30,000 teachers and their mentors on the programme who are currently using Steplab. They benefit from a variety of tools such as 10-minute videos of effective practice, concise evidence summaries, and quizzes and reflection prompts to deepen learning.

But it didn’t start out as a high-tech solution.


Josh said: “When I started as teaching and learning lead looking after 12 coaches, I found it useful to give them access to the component parts of good teaching.

“I wrote a set of action steps that I felt underpinned great teaching and gave that to the coaches. It had an immediate impact on the quality of their feedback.

“Then when we grew the system, things got harder. When you have 60 teachers all receiving weekly coaching, we weren’t able to see what they were learning about or whether or not any of it was good quality, so we developed an online system to get access to what teachers in my school were doing.

“Ben and I developed the first iteration of the product, at quite a small scale – and so the technology side of things is just a solution to a problem.”

“I wrote a set of action steps that I felt underpinned great teaching and gave that to the coaches. It had an immediate impact on the quality of their feedback."

A move away from the classroom

Josh’s passion for instructional coaching and Steplab has seen him temporarily step out of the classroom to devote himself full-time to the project.

He said: “I was teaching English full-time, running teaching and learning at a school which really excels at it, which took a lot of time and effort, and I was doing the whole-trust role 1.5 days a week, and running my online platform at the same time.

“I felt at the time that I wasn’t able to focus on any of that in the way that I wanted, so I essentially made the decision to step away from the classroom, teaching and trust leadership for now because I think that setting up Steplab will help me to have a wider impact across the sector.

“Ambition has supported Steplab and supported me to make that transition. We wouldn’t be able to do it without Ambition, who believed in us and could see that what we were doing didn’t exist in the world yet and had the potential to be transformative.

“It feels crazy. If we tally the numbers of people who are using it, it’s way over 10,000 and maybe even 20,000 next year. It’s very exciting to know that this approach that I’ve been tinkering away it for so many years is now helping other teachers.”


Building the engine room

So what’s the next step for Steplab and for Josh?

He said: “We want to help develop more teaching expertise across the country. The way we think we can do that is by putting instructional coaching into every UK school.

“Equipping schools with the means to make their own teachers better is how to build strength in the sector. Schools can be overly reliant on other people to do their training for them – using consultants – but what I think that schools should be doing is strengthening their own teacher educators.

“We give the coaches the tools and the power to become better at their job, they learn by using Steplab and then they become better able to make the teachers in that school better.

“By training coaches, we are basically building the school engine room. And we want to have that in every school because we think that’s how we are going to help schools address educational disadvantage.”

If you'd like to learn more about instructional coaching, you might like to read Steplab's Guide to Instructional Coaching written by Peps McCrea.

More on Instructional Coaching

Josh has written the foreword for Ambition Institute’s Expert Edit on Instructional Coaching – a handrail for those wanting to find out more about the practice.

Download it here