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The need for purposefulness in instructional coaching

The need for purposefulness in instructional coaching

A central tenet of instructional coaching is to always be purposeful. Learning does not happen by accident, either for students or teachers. If there is an instructional target for a lesson, it must be abundantly clear to everyone involved. Not doing so often leads to minimal or disastrous results.

Recently I was in an elementary language arts classroom. In the midst of independent student work, the teacher engaged me in a conversation about her students’ writing. While her students wrote fluently, they rarely used punctuation. She showed me sample after sample of student compositions that rambled without any sentence boundaries whatsoever. She wanted to know if I had any ideas about how to get her students to write with punctuation. 

After probing the subject briefly, I realized that the teacher needed more than a suggestion or tip. She had tried everything she could think of and nothing seemed to work. For this situation, we determined that a modeled lesson would be most effective. We set up a day and time the following week for me to return with a 45-minute lesson. I created my lesson plan using a gradual release model and sent it to the teacher. I itched to deliver a powerful lesson, educating both the teacher and the students on the intricacies of subjects, predicates, and punctuation. Ordering my thoughts, I made an anchor chart for student reference. I did everything I needed to do except for the most important part – set a purpose for the teacher. (Top)


I waltzed into the classroom the following week with my PowerPoint and my anchor chart, ready to move education forward in that classroom. As I began engaging the students, the teacher pulled her lowest student to the teacher table. I assumed that she would be providing personalized support during the lesson. Much to my astonishment, though, she used the lesson time to help the student with her reading practice. While the class may or may not have learned something that day, the real target of the modeled lesson, the teacher, was distracted.

I do not say this accusingly because the fault is my own. In my haste to provide a powerful instructional strategy, I assumed. I assumed that the teacher would watch the lesson structure in order to replicate it later. I assumed that the teacher would also pick up on some secondary student engagement strategies to enhance her own pedagogy. While assuming is nice, it doesn’t get the job done. My assumptions made the experience entirely forgettable because I didn’t set a purpose for her. The students, struggling with the concept of complete subjects and complete predicates, are unlikely to get further support because the teacher was not involved in the learning. I fell far short of my goal because, in essence, I acted as a highly-paid substitute rather than an instructional coach. (Top)

Look fors

Looking back, I would do several things differently. First and foremost, I would take some time to verbalize my assumptions to the teacher. Actions such as watching the lesson, jumping in if necessary, and setting up a debrief time afterward would have been beneficial for both of us. More importantly, I would have had a brief pre-conference with the teacher to set “look fors.” After agreeing on three to five actions to look for that would be embedded into the lesson, I should have provided a simple note-taking sheet with these “look fors” to the teacher. During a post-conference, then, we could have discussed the “look fors” and examined their impact.

Purpose is essential to instructional coaching. When teachers are not clear about their expectations during an observation or modeled lesson, the entire instructional purpose might be missed. Assuming is a dangerous strategy to employ. Just because you know what is expected doesn’t mean others share the same understanding. Being purposeful benefits both the coach and the teacher because it clarifies what everyone should be doing and watching for. (Top)

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