Kentucky School Advocate
By Jennifer Wohlleb
Research has found that instructional coaches are a good investment for school districts to make, but like most investments, they need to be given time to grow and mature.
Dr. Maggie McGatha, a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville who is a researcher, author and trainer in the subject of instructional coaches, said research shows it may take two to three years for the full impact of this type of professional development to be seen.
“That’s really important because many times, administrators want to start a new program and they want to see results immediately,” she said. “And that’s just not going to happen with coaching because it takes time to build that trust and rapport and to understand that this person is a resource, not an evaluator.”
She also emphasized the need for instructional coaches to have their own professional development.
“Many times what happens is that they select the best teachers in the building, and I always say in my trainings, they sprinkle holy water on them , holy math water and say, ‘Go coach.’ And they get no training and they get no support,” McGatha said. “… across the country, when you look at the research, this is what comes out over and over: coaches need professional development. And just because you are a good classroom teacher doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good coach. It’s a different skill set. So it’s really important that coaches be supported with professional development.”
McGatha said the 2002 research done by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers is cited in most books on instructional coaching. It showed how coaching has a much bigger impact on instruction than the typical sit-and-get professional development that is common in most school districts. The research found that in a professional development session that was just lecture, the percentage of teachers who left with knowledge was just 10 percent, while zero percent were able to go back to their classroom and actually transfer, or do the new skill. Adding a demonstration of what the lecture taught did not help the transfer percentage and practicing the new skill increased that to 5 percent.
“The last thing they (Joyce and Showers) added was peer coaching,” she said. “They (teachers) went to training and then they came back and coached each other, ongoing, job-embedded professional development. And of course with that, the numbers went through the roof, to like 95 percent” transfer.
McGatha, who specializes in math, said coaches do not need to be content-specific to work successfully with teachers. She trains in Cognitive Coaching, which is non-content specific.
“In coaching, I’m in this non-judgmental role where I help another person be more self-sufficient,” she said. “But sometimes, new teachers or struggling teachers, or even a veteran teacher, will just get stuck, and you think, ‘I don’t know how to do this piece.’ And when they get stuck, I have the opportunity to go in for consulting, and I say, ‘Well, would you like me to share some ideas with you?’
“And I can do that in general when it comes to teaching. But if they ask me something specific about literacy education that I don’t know, then I’m not going to be the person to help them, but that doesn’t mean I can’t coach them. If they ask me something specific about how to teach literacy that I don’t know, then I’m going to go find the person to help them.”