'Getting Granular' with Instructional Coaching

June 8, 2018

Amy Bates

Training Manager, Transforming Teaching

Amy Bates explains 'Instructional Coaching' - a key component of our approach to teacher development. How do we apply it on our Transforming Teaching programme?

Coaching at the Institute for Teaching

When I joined the IfT as a Training Manager I was excited to explore how the teaching faculty use coaching in their teacher development programmes. Coaching combines three of my favourite activities – watching lessons, drilling down to the nuts and bolts of great teaching and discussing it with like-minded colleagues. Two months in, I can confirm that the IfT’s approach to instructional coaching didn’t disappoint – it’s an extremely enjoyable process for teaching and learning geeks like me!

‘Getting granular’ & the importance of practice

On our Transforming Teaching programme we draw on Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s instructional coaching model, outlined in his book Get Better Faster (2016). Bambrick-Santoyo notes that although well-intended, in his experience feedback to teachers is often too vague to be helpful. Examples like ‘make sure students follow instructions’ just can’t be translated into actions and improvements!

At first glance, it seems quite easy to make this feedback more specific by adding more detail, perhaps saying: ‘use your voice to ensure students follow instructions’. However, this still isn’t anywhere near bite-sized enough.

Amongst our teaching faculty we talk a lot about ‘getting granular’ – something that we learn to do as instructional coaches. This means breaking down feedback into its tiniest components so that a single, clear and observable action step can be determined. In each feedback cycle the action step chosen should also be the highest leverage – i.e. the smallest change in practice that will have the biggest impact on teaching and learning.

At the IfT, we place huge value on practice. As our Director Matt Hood says, teaching is a performance profession, and we need a dress rehearsal before we ‘go live’. These ‘dress rehearsals’ are a powerful part of the instructional coaching process. Although it’s great to discuss the action step and its mechanics, nothing beats standing up and acting it out, so each action step also needs to be easily repeatable to bring about improvements.


Learning to be a great coach

Identifying the highest leverage action step in each session is my favourite part of the instructional coaching process, and it’s been such a useful way to reflect on my own teaching and classroom experience. I have to admit though – it can be challenging!

As we all know, so much can happen in just 10 minutes of a lesson, so there’s a huge amount of teaching and learning that needs to be unpicked to determine the right action step. Sometimes apparently useful action steps are just too specific to a certain lesson and can’t be easily repeated in future; such steps are therefore often not the highest leverage. On the other hand, action steps that could have a large impact – and help a teacher in all of their future lessons – are mostly not bite-sized enough to easily act on. I’ve really enjoyed narrowing down the highest leverage action steps so we can work with our teachers to tackle them, and I can often hear my IfT colleagues reminding me to ‘go granular’!

Improving teaching

Following the lead of experts in fellow performance professions like elite sports and medicine, instructional coaching moves away from evaluating teachers and instead focuses on improving them – skill by skill, week by week.

I see this as a really exciting paradigm shift; in the words of Dylan Wiliam:

"Every teacher can improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better."

- Dylan Wiliam

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Teaching. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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