This post is Part II of a three-part blog series that looks back at how the Instructional Coaching Group developed and refined their model for instructional coaching through research spanning more than two decades.
My journey changed me from being a struggling teacher to becoming a researcher at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning looking for the best way to share proven practices with teachers so their students could experience better learning and better lives. To do this, I decided to study the “way of being” of professional developers.
I presented a study at AERA in Montreal in 1999 that compared a partnership approach to professional development (grounded in what I would later call the Partnership Principles) with a traditional approach (based on direct instruction emphasizing fidelity of implementation). Findings showed that participants achieved higher test scores and described themselves as significantly more engaged, happier, and more likely to implement a new teaching strategy using a partnership approach than a traditional one.
Around this time, I became the coordinator of a study known as Strategic Advantage funded by the U.S. Department of Special Education and directed by Don Deshler and Jean Schumaker at the University of Kansas CRL. The objective of the study was to assess whether inclusive teaching practices helped high school students with learning disabilities learn in technology classrooms.
While planning how to ensure teachers implemented the strategies in the study, someone said, “If we just do workshops, we won’t get implementation. We need to co-plan with teachers, model in their classrooms, and have follow-up conversations to ensure teachers have the support they need to implement.” Then another said, “If we know that is true for this project, why don’t we do it for all of our professional development?” This was the day my research into coaching truly began.
Irma Brasseur-Hock – my colleague on the project – and I knew that teacher support would be important, but we didn’t know what it would look like. We experimented with different kinds of collaboration, and in an article from 1998, I described “learning consultants” – an early term for what later became “instructional coaches.” I described these professionals as “part coach and part anthropologist,” adding:
Their “main task is to help teachers see how research-validated practices offer useful solutions to the problems they face” and make it easier for them to implement them.
Don Deshler made the important observation that the term “consultant” suggests an unequal power dynamic between professional developer and teacher, so I started using the term “instructional collaborator” instead of “learning consultant.” I finally arrived at the term “instructional coach” three years later, again at Don’s suggestion for refinement.
No model for anything similar existed at that time, so my colleagues and I developed and refined an instructional coaching model.
In 1999, funding from the U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP program (a grant designed to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education) enabled us to study onsite intensive professional development for a decade.
Although our early, informal studies may have lacked rigor, they nevertheless laid the foundation for what I believe was the first major article about instructional coaching (Knight, 2004) and, later, the first extended book on the topic, Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction (Knight, 2007). While my colleagues and I had made revelatory discoveries through our research and developed the first model for instructional coaching, there was plenty of more rigorous research ahead.
Part III of The Evolving Story of Instructional Coaching: A Summary of Our Research, will describe the evolution of our more rigorous work into what it is now.