ICG Coaching Certification: New, Improved, and 10 FAQs

November 5, 2020
Written by
Sharon Thomas

ICG Coaching Certification: New, Improved, and 10 FAQs

July 19, 2023
November 5, 2020
Written by
Sharon Thomas

Back when I was a new teacher, the National Board Certification process was still new, too. I knew that someday I would take part in that process because, from day one, I wanted some outside agency, some impartial jury, to answer two questions that worried me day and night:

  1. “Am I doing all of the things that students need me to do?”
  2. “Am I any good at teaching? Are we sure?”

To me, the National Board process felt like a “seal of approval,” if you will. A few years later, once I became a National Board candidate, I saw that the process was not exactly as I thought it was. Scorers did not just want to know that I was hardworking teacher using the “right” methods; they wanted to see evidence that what I did in the classroom worked for students.

The process assumed that I was a good person, that I was a hard worker, that I cared. What the process wanted was evidence—“clear, consistent, and convincing evidence” (not just test scores or any other single measure of success) that the hard work had paid off, that students and the wider school community were better off after having been in my classroom.

Years later, when I first started working for the Instructional Coaching Group (ICG), Jim Knight asked me to manage a new certification process for coaches, one that would apply some of the same assessment principles to instructional coaching that the National Board process applied to teaching and that seeks to answer similar questions for coaches like those I had about my teaching:

  1. “Is my coaching having a positive, demonstrable impact on teachers and students?
  2. “Am I an accomplished instructional coach?”

We already know what dedicated and hardworking people coaches are. We want to see how coaching is working in schools, and we want to provide coaches with a rigorous, meaningful “seal of approval” that shows that coaching is working for students as well.

When I came on board, Jim had already developed a draft of the process, and we started to pilot it that same school year (2017-2018). Over the past three school years, we have engaged two pilot cohorts of coaches in the process, and they are some of the most patient, flexible, and dedicated people you will ever meet. So far, 20 of them have become ICG Certified Instructional Coaches.

The submitted work, questions, and feedback from those pilot cohorts have led us to undertake a revision and relaunch of our certification process, one that we believe will be clearer for candidates, will make scoring more consistent, and will be even more convincing to educators that an ICG Certified Instructional Coach is a coach who not only skillfully supports teachers but also positively impacts students as well.



In this post, we provide an FAQ-style overview of the new process and our key findings from the pilot cohorts. Registration for our third cohort begins November 1, 2020, and ends January 31, 2021. This post and two future posts on the specifics of Entry 1 and Entry 2 of the candidate portfolio may help coaches, schools, and school districts determine whether ICG Coaching Certification is for you and/or your coaches.

FAQ1: What is the purpose of ICG Coaching Certification?

The ICG Coaching Certification process requires current, accomplished instructional coaches to demonstrate evidence of their skillful coaching practice around our research-based 7 Success Factors for Effective Instructional Coaching Programs, which serve as the "standards" for the process. The process

  • is not a training program for new coaches, it is not a “train the trainers” program, and it
  • is not a course on instructional coaching.

Rather, the process is a demonstration of excellent current coaching practice, similar in that regard to the National Board Certification process for teachers. The process is grounded by the research-based, dialogical, partnership model of coaching known as the Impact Cycle.

FAQ2: What are the differences among a “training,” a “course,” and a “certification process”?  

One of the most common misconceptions about the process that we saw during the pilot phase was a misunderstanding about what a “professional certification” is, perhaps because many education-related professional learning opportunities are labeled as “certification” processes but are actually courses or training programs. Here’s a quick explanation of the distinctions among those three concepts:

  1. A training is a professional learning activity in which employers provide employees with the tools and resources to perform a specific, required job task.
  2. A course is a program of study in which the learners have typically chosen (but are sometimes required by employers) to be exposed to and demonstrate some understanding of content in a particular area.
  3. A professional certification process is a demonstration of current, accomplished professional practice that is typically evaluated by an agency outside of the candidate’s employer. The candidate is seeking to demonstrate that they uphold the highest professional practice standards of that profession.

These distinctions are important when considering candidacy because our process is not a training (new coaches should not apply for candidacy), and it is not a course (candidates must demonstrate that they are implementing research-based instructional coaching, and that it is working for both teachers and students, not merely show an understanding of Impact Cycle coaching). Like National Board Certification for teachers, ours is a professional certification process intended for veteran coaches who want to demonstrate that they uphold the highest coaching standards in their current coaching practice.

"Ours is a professional certification process intended for veteran coaches who want to demonstrate that they uphold the highest coaching standards in their current coaching practice."

FAQ3: What are the requirements to become a candidate for certification?

To register as a candidate, we require that candidates

  • be employed full-time as instructional coaches for at least two full school years at the time of registration,
  • spend at least 60-70% of their work time on cycle-based, partnership coaching (versus administrative tasks, testing, intervention, or other non-coaching tasks), and
  • submit registration and portfolio requirements by the specified deadlines.

With the revised process, we have added the two-year requirement because so many new coaches were mistakenly enrolled as candidates in the pilot phase (because the process was perceived as a training program). Their candidacies suffered as a result. (Imagine asking a first-year teacher to register for the National Board Certification process.)

Another requirement that often generates questions is the “60-70% of their work time spent in cycle-based, partnership coaching.” That threshold can alert a prospective candidate to possible concerns. Our research shows that, for coaches to be able to demonstrate clear, consistent, and convincing evidence that they are having a positive impact not only on teachers but also on students, they need to be working in Impact Cycles with teachers for the majority (60-70%) of their work time.

Many educators who are in teacher support roles are labeled as “coaches,” but they are doing a variety of non-cycle-based-coaching tasks that, although helpful to managing a school, do not have research indicating that those tasks have a positive impact on students. We have written about this issue before on this blog, including here, and here. A “coach” may be doing a great job at those non-cycle-based tasks, but our process is focused on coaching that moves kids. Thus, that criterion is crucial.

We hope that this process can potentially serve as spark to ignite a conversation about a coach’s role and which tasks are most important for the coach to engage in to support teachers and students in situations where that conversation is necessary. Meanwhile, if a coach is not in a 60-70% cycle-based-coaching position yet, then candidacy is likely not a good fit until that percentage changes.

FAQ4: What do I have to do to become certified?

The revised process involves submitting two portfolio entries (the original process had seven entries), one focused on the coach implementing the Impact Cycle and one focused on the coach fostering a collaborative school culture. Newly updated Portfolio Directions are available here.

FAQ5: How long does it take to become certified?

The process can take between 1 and 3 years to complete, depending on candidate needs. For example, all candidates who register by January 31, 2021, may submit as many of the portfolio entries as they like (or none at all) during that first-year submission window of May 1-June 15, 2021. If they submit either Entry 1 or Entry 2 or both, they will receive scores for those entries by October 31, 2021. If they submitted both entries and the score for those entries meets the certification threshold, then they are ICG Certified Coaches. In other words, their process took 1 year.

If a candidate who enrolls by January 31, 2021 submits only one entry in that first year, then they receive the score for that entry by October 31, 2021. They must submit the other entry during their second-year submission window of May 1-June 15, 2022. Candidates who submitted nothing during the first year must submit both entries during the second-year submission window. All second-year submissions will be scored by October 31, 2022. If the scores for both of their entries meet the necessary thresholds, then they are ICG Certified Coaches. In other words, their process took 2 years.

If a candidate who enrolls by January 31, 2021, receives scores by the end of the second year that are below either the floor-score threshold or that don’t meet the overall score required for certification, then the candidate may submit retakes for qualifying entries during their third year of candidacy. They will submit those retakes during the third-year submission window of May 1-June 15, 2023. If the score for any retakes combined with any strong scores for an entry they may have “banked” meet the certification threshold, then they are ICG Certified Coaches. In other words, their process took 3 years. After three years, if a candidate has not attained certification, they would need to re-register as a candidate and start the process over again.

FAQ6: What kinds of “evidence” does the process require?

To revise this process, we sought out resources and advice from the assessment professionals at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). One key adage of theirs that helped us a great deal was this: “Not everything that is important can be assessed, and not everything that can be assessed is important.” We must focus certification evidence pieces on those elements of coaching that are both important to coaching and that can be assessed consistently and objectively. That means that this process does not assess every single thing that good coaches do; it measures everything that good coaches do that can be assessed consistently and objectively.

With those parameters in mind, we narrowed down our previous seven entries into two to encompass the two key desired outcomes of coaching: 1) student growth resulting from coaches working with teachers in cycles on their student-focused goals (what we term the Impact Cycle) and 2) the existence of a collaborative, partnership school culture in which cycle-based deep coaching can flourish and in which students, faculty, and staff are valued and treated with respect.

To aid coaches in understanding the facets of these two outcomes, we have created Quality Indicators for the existing seven coaching standards (the Seven Success Factors). Examining these standards and indicators is a great first step to understanding the foundation for the certification process.

From there, the Portfolio Directions provide the specific evidence pieces that the revised process requires. Many of these evidence pieces are the same as they were in the pilot process, but we have reorganized them and provided more specific directions for completing them.

Finally, the revised process has added Scoring Look-fors to help candidates understand even more fully what clear, consistent, and convincing evidence looks like in each area across a range of proficiency.  These “look-fors” constitute a rubric against which candidates can self-assess their work before submission to make sure that all required elements are there. After candidates receive a score for an entry, the look-fors can also provide a form of feedback to the candidate on how the scorers viewed the evidence. If the candidate needs to retake that entry later, viewing those scoring elements can help the candidate determine how to approach the retake to improve.

FAQ7: Who scores the entries?

During the pilot phase, scoring involved a mixture of scoring by myself (to determine scoring procedures and issues to address in the process) and a scoring team of instructional coaches who have been trained in the Impact Cycle and partnership coaching. Moving forward, scoring each year will continue to use a team of instructional coaches trained by ICG to score entries fairly and consistently. Entries are always scored by removing candidate names and other identifiers to avoid bias, by providing all scorers with scoring training and bias training, and by having each entry scored by more than one person to ensure consistency.

To develop our scoring procedures, we sought out advice from ETS, and they provided us with the resources to develop the Scoring Look-fors and to reinforce consistency and as much objectivity as possible throughout the entire process. Their support was invaluable.

FAQ8: How much does it cost to become certified?

The revised process costs $500 per candidate and is non-refundable. This fee is all-inclusive (and even includes any necessary retakes), and we have no hidden fees. Because the process is a demonstration of current practice and not a training module or course, no specific workshops or other professional development activities are required.

FAQ9: How do I apply to become a candidate for certification?

Registration for cohort 3 opens on November 1, 2020, and closes on January 31, 2021. If you decide to register for that cohort, go to this link on our website after November 1 and complete the form. The registration tool accepts a variety of payment options, including purchase order requests.

FAQ10: Is ICG Coaching Certification for me?

Only you can make that decision, but we recommend the following steps to be a part of that process:

  1. Read the Candidate Requirements
  2. Read the Standards and Quality Indicators
  3. Read the Portfolio Directions
  4. Read the Scoring Look-Fors

In fact, when you register, we will ask you to affirm that you have read all of those pieces, that your coaching role meets the requirements, and that you agree to all of the elements of the certification process. We want this to be a positive, practice-enhancing experience for everyone who undertakes it. Beginning the process by being informed is the best way to ensure that the process will be worth the time and effort for you.

Thank you to everyone who assisted me in revising this process: the instructional coaches in our first two candidate cohorts, Jim Knight, ICG Senior Consultants Ann Hoffman and Michelle Harris, Laura Hullinger and her colleagues at ETS, our scoring teams, our website designer Chase Christensen, and six ICG Certified Coaches who voluntarily read over the revised process and gave us their feedback. You all helped to make the process better for coaches worldwide. 

Up Next: In our second blog in this series, we’ll describe the new Entry 1: The Impact Cycle. Don’t miss it!

For further information on ICG Coaching Certification, contact certification@instructionalcoaching.com.

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