The Lastinger Center for Learning’s Instructional Coaching Program provides an innovative method to ensure and increase student success. The program has illuminated how supporting teachers is vital to improving student achievement by identifying teachers needs and coaching them to use evidence-based instructional methods – teachers become agents of change for increasing student success.
They don’t look like a stereotypical coaches. They don’t pace the sidelines during football games or wear a whistle on a lanyard around their necks.
But Laura Tomas and Teresa Starbuck are coaches just the same.
Tomas, a veteran teacher at Orchard View Elementary in Delray Beach, and Starbuck, teacher at Lawton Elementary in Oviedo, are professionally trained to coach other teachers to up their game. And, they are among hundreds of Florida teachers who have learned the best practices of being teacher-coaches by completing a yearlong Instructional Coaching Program developed by the Lastinger Center for Learning, the education innovation incubator at the University of Florida College of Education.
The idea is simple. If athletes like NFL quarterback Tom Brady and tennis superstar Serena Williams have coaches why not teachers?
Teacher coaches meet regularly with their peers, observe them in action in their classroom and may even review video or audio recordings — as if they were going over a game film. They provide teachers all manner of support, such as modeling proven teaching methods, interpreting data like classroom metrics and test scores, and fine-tuning instructional strategies to spur student engagement and learning.
“I couldn’t imagine becoming effective without the coaching I’m receiving,” says Mike Fielder, who this fall began his second year as a second-grade teacher after switching careers. Once a week, Starbuck meets with Fielder for instructional coaching sessions. “I’d have fumbled through my first year without her assistance.”
The UF Lastinger Center has worked with seven Florida school districts – Alachua, Duval, Indian River, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Seminole – to implement formal peer-coaching programs.
Since 2013, when Palm Beach County partnered with the Lastinger Center to launch its peer-coaching initiative, roughly 190 coaches in 100 schools have become certified teacher coaches. Seminole County, which launched its peer-coaching initiative four years ago, is aiming to have four UF certified coaches in each of its schools, says Pam Ferrante, lead facilitator for the district’s teacher-coaching program. The district is using federal grants to pay for the coaching program and district funds to pay substitute teachers to cover for teachers when they attend training sessions.
Research has shown effective coaching can enhance a teacher’s practice, lessen teacher turnover and improve student learning. The best coaches are carefully selected for their skills and desire to teach teachers. And, they receive specialized training in proven coaching methods. One reason having a trained coach is effective, teachers say, is it’s a relationship completely separate from official performance reviews. In contrast, coaching is a collaborative process solely designed to improve a teacher’s effectiveness.
Unfortunately, a majority of teachers say they don’t receive regular professional coaching. Nationwide, slightly less than half of teachers reported receiving coaching and only 12 percent had weekly coaching sessions, according to a 2014 study conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Last fall, the Lastinger Center for Learning, Learning Forward and Public Impact jointly released the report, “Coaching for Impact: Six Pillars to Create Coaching Roles that Achieve Their Potential to Improve Teaching and Learning,” designed to develop a framework and conversation about the importance of teacher coaches.
To tap into the transformative power of coaching, leaders in districts and schools need to make instructional coaching an important part of their overall strategy for school improvement. This means selectively recruiting teachers to serve as coaches, ensuring coaches share the responsibility for student learning and providing coaches additional pay.
As we search for ways to better educate our children in an increasingly competitive world, we can’t afford to overlook providing teachers with the coaching support they need to improve their performance.
In the end, just as on the football field, success in the classroom takes practice, teamwork and good coaching.
Don Pemberton is director of the Lastinger Center for Learning; Phil Poekert is assistant director.
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