The Learn Stage: Modeling Teaching Strategies

Written by
Jim Knight

The Learn Stage: Modeling Teaching Strategies

January 24, 2024
Written by
Jim Knight

Early in our studies, teachers told us that it was not enough to hear about strategies; they also needed to see them in action.

As I explain in Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction, teachers told us that they found modeling to be very helpful. Many teachers said that they would have "sunk" if their coach hadn't modeled the teaching strategies they were to learn.

In Instructional Coaching, I describe modeling as coaches going into teachers' classrooms and demonstrating teaching strategies in front of teachers' students. Over time, we have learned from our coaching research partners in Oregon and Washington that coaches often need to adapt the way they model to better respond to the unique needs of teachers and their students. Specifically, we have found that modeling can occur in at least five ways:

  • in teachers' classrooms with their students present
  • in teachers' classrooms without their students
  • co-teaching
  • visiting another teacher's classroom
  • watching video

In Teachers' Classrooms with Their Students Present

Instructional coaches model teaching strategies so that teachers will be able to implement them easily and effectively. For that reason, coaches do not need to teach an entire lesson; they only need to model the strategy the teacher is learning.

Modeling focused on a single teaching strategy feels completely different from a model lesson because it is usually only a small part of a lesson. To prepare for the model lesson, coaches need to have a deep understanding of the teaching practice they are going to model.

Before the model lesson, the coach and teacher should discuss a few issues. First, review the teacher's behavioral expectations. Confirm who will control students' behavior if students violate the expectations. Finally, coaches should ask the teachers about any students who have particular learning needs.

During the model, I like to go out of my way to honor the collaborating teachers, complimenting them in front of students and deferring to their expertise throughout the model. I also like to video record modeling and share the video with teachers in case they wish to review the video before they implement the practice. If time permits, I get together with the teacher to watch and discuss the model lesson.

Watch Jim Model Using Response Cards in Crysta Crum's class »

Watch Jim Model Using Open, Opinion Questions in Cat's Class »

In Teachers' Classrooms Without Their Students Present

In some instances, teachers and coaches might agree that modeling should not occur in front of students. The most obvious reason might be that teachers are not ready to have a coach model in their classrooms and that they would be more comfortable watching the model without students in the room.

We have found that modeling in front of students is not effective when the teacher is working to meet a behavioral goal. When it comes to behavior, the most effective modeling might be some of the other approaches described, especially visiting another teacher's class or watching a video.

One of the advantages of modeling without students in the classroom is that the coach can stop at any time so the coach and teacher can discuss the model. Pushing the "pause" button, so to speak, can provide an opportunity for both the teacher and coach to deepen their understanding by talking about why and how a checklist would be translated into action in the classroom.

Coaches can also stop and redo the model if they are not confident that they modeled something effectively or stop to allow teachers to ask clarifying questions and take notes as they think about what the strategy will look like when they implement it.

To decide whether to model with or without students in the room, coaches and teachers need to consider one basic question: Will the advantages of watching students respond outweigh the advantages of being able to stop the model and discuss it?


Coaches also may not want to model in teachers' classrooms in front of students when they do not feel they have enough knowledge of the content students are learning. Co-teaching, in this case, allows you to model a teaching strategy and also provides an opportunity for the teacher to ensure that the correct content is taught.

To ensure that co-teaching succeeds, the teacher and coach need to plan carefully what will happen during the lesson. I suggest erring on the side of too much planning rather than too little, maybe even using a simple form to plan their lesson, such as this one:

Click here to download this form

When coaches model through co-teaching, they are engaging in a special form of collaboration.

Visiting Another Teacher's Classroom

Another way for teachers to see new teaching strategies in practice is to observe teachers in their school who are already teaching the strategies effectively. Visiting a colleague's classroom has many benefits:

  1. Helps teachers master all kinds of strategies
  2. Helps teachers understand how to implement broader approaches to learning
  3. Helps teachers implement instructional programs

Ideally, a coach and teacher will visit a model teacher together and then meet afterward to talk about what they saw, preferably with the model teacher as well. I suggest that coaches clarify that the visit is just to see a particular teaching strategy so that teachers can get the most out of their visit by focusing on that particular strategy.

Finally, coaches should carefully consider which teachers they will propose as model teachers. Model teachers are:

  1. Able to masterfully demonstrate the strategies
  2. Confident about their skills
  3. At ease discussing what happens in their classroom
  4. Positive and emotionally intelligent people
  5. Encouraging

Watching Video

Watching a video of a lesson is not the ideal way to see a new teaching strategy in action, but it still can be a useful aid for learning new strategies. It's a good idea to ensure that the model lessons that are recorded are exemplary.

For most teaching practices, modeling is critically important. And when it comes to learning new teaching practices, in general, more is better than less. If time permits, there is great value in seeing a model lesson carried out in different ways.

What matters with modeling is that the teachers learn what they need to learn so that they can confidently implement a new teaching strategy. Coaching doesn't start to have an impact until teachers change the way they teach and students improve how they learn.

Partner with an ICG Consultant to customize professional development at your school and/or district. If you're new to the Impact Cycle or want to go deeper and learn how to implement, our consultants can help you move coaching forward in your schools and make student gains.

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