Great Questions for Instructional Coaches
Written by Jim Knight.

For the past few years, I’ve been asking people for their metaphor for coaching, and I’ve heard a number of different suggestions, including a sherpa, sour dough yeast, and the gobstopper that Violet eats in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Two metaphors have been particularly powerful for me. On one hand, coaching is similar to improvisational comedy. It’s a living, back-and-forth interaction. When I’m coaching, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until my partner in the process says what they have to say. I ask a question, they say something, I respond, and so on. It’s also a bit like tennis. I can only do what I’m going to do once I’ve seen where my conversation partner hits the ball. Similarly, my partner’s responses inform what further questions I will ask in the coaching cycle.


When I wrote The Impact Cycle (2018)I included questions to go along with the stages of the process, but the more we have seen the Impact Cycle in action, we have discovered that coaching is an even more dynamic process than originally described in the book.

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With the help of our colleagues at Growth Coaching International and others, we’ve revisited the questions for each stage of the Impact Cycle: Identify, Learn, Improve. The questions we’ve listed can help guide your own questions as well as, we hope, inspire your unique adaptations and additions to the list. Memorizing the questions is not as important as keeping the process in mind in each conversation.




In the Identify stage, you will discuss a teacher’s clear picture of current reality. They have either watched a video of their classroom, looked at student work, or some other form of data. Identifying how they see reality is the first part of this stage, called Reality. This will lead to the Change they would like to see, followed by the Options they have for reaching those goals. These questions (and the others you may come up with in the moment) can lead through each part of this stage.




Since the Learn stage of the cycle focuses on the coachee learning strategies for reaching their goals, questions in this stage can be limited. However, it can be helpful if they are posed as variations on how you are presenting the strategies. Such as:

  • “What would you like to change about how I’ve described this strategy?”
  • “Will you still achieve your goal if you make those changes?”




In the Improve stage, our questions should prompt a review of the progress made so far and a plan for the future. This includes exploring what has been learned since the beginning of the process as well as improvements for the future. Lastly, this is a great opportunity to ask, “When should we meet again?” and “How committed to your goal are you at this time?”

Asking questions is a crucial task for any coach. However, every teacher, coach, and situation is unique, and they each have their own needs. There will never be any one set of predetermined questions that will be perfect for every coaching situation. But hopefully, these questions will help set you on the right course and inspire your own improvisations.

What are some of the most effective questions that have helped move you through the coaching process?


  1. Steve Barkley

    It is improvisation. When I am scheduled to do some live distance training for coaches I often ask for a volunteer to model a coaching conference with me. I’ve received notes asking for my questions in advanced. Folks are surprised to learn that I need to hear a response from the first question before I know the next one.

    • Jim Knight

      Glad you commented Steve. It was really you who helped us rethink the way we do questioning within instructional coaching.

  2. Linda

    I’m a fan of “What’s the real challenge here for you?” from Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. As he explains, this question focuses (and slows) the discussion on solving the problem at hand. When framed with the “for you” part, the coachee is forced to internalize and narrow their thoughts to what they need, and this hopefully eliminates, as Stanier says, “overworking the wrong problem.”

    • Melanie Meck

      Thank you! I needed to read this today.

  3. Marty Conrad

    JayHawk Jim, Thank you!!



  1. What I’ve read and Learned: October 2019 – EduTechnicallySpeaking - […] Great Questions for Instructional Coaches - this list from Jim Knight gives a starting place when you're coaching and…

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