ICG has created a series of free webinars to help provide resources in the increasingly virtual world. Last week, we went through Ann Hoffman’s free webinar on Better Conversations, which discussed the beliefs and habits essential to having effective and meaningful conversations. Today, we’re featuring Michelle Harris’ webinar on The Impact Cycle, based on Jim Knight’s book of the same name.


The Impact Cycle has three stages: Identify, Learn, and Improve. However, this is not a simple process and is about deep coaching and learning rather than directive or conversational coaching. But with the process in place, coaches can help teachers set and reach powerful, student-focused goals. Michelle uses three guiding questions to take us through the Impact Cycle:

  • How do instructional coaches identify goals with teachers?
  • How should instructional coaches go about explaining and modeling teaching strategies?
  • How do coaches partner with teachers to make adaptations until goals are met?


How do instructional coaches identify goals with teachers?

The Identify stage begins with getting a clear picture of current reality. Because classrooms are so complex, it is very difficult to know exactly what is happening all the time. The best and most simple way to confront such a complex reality is through video recordings. However, no one likes to see themselves on video, so there are ways to help guide the use of video to make it more of a learning experience:

  • The teacher and coach should each watch the video on their own and then come back together.
  • Use survey forms like the ones below to use as a third point of focus in the conversation to help guide the experience.
  • Some teachers are not ready to use video, so there are some other ways to observe the current reality:
    • Interviewing students
    • Reviewing student work
    • Observation data

Once a clear picture of current reality is established, the next step is to set a student-focused goal. We use PEERS goals:

  • Powerful
  • Easy
  • Emotionally Compelling
  • Reachable
  • Student-focused

Using these guidelines ensures that the goals being set are impactful, give the teacher autonomy, measurable, and remain student-focused instead of teacher-focused. To help teachers set these kinds of goals, we use a set of questions:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how close is the lesson to your ideal?
  • What went well? Why did you give it that number?
  • What would have to change to make it closer to a 10?
  • What would you see your students doing differently? Describe what that would look like.
  • How could we measure that?
  • PAUSE! Paraphrase all you’ve heard. Then… Should that be your goal?
  • If you could reach that goal, would it make a difference in your classroom? Would it be a good use of your time?
  • What teaching strategy would you like to try to achieve your goal?


How should instructional coaches go about explaining and modeling teaching strategies?

The Learn stage is all about the strategy, and the coach is the chief explainer. Our newest book, The Instructional Playbook: Translating Research Into Practice, explains in detail how to create an instructional playbook – a collection of high-leverage strategies and the “why” behind each one. Coaches who do not use an instructional playbook should have some kind of collection of go-to strategies.

We recommend starting with a checklist. Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, explains the benefits of using checklists – they are tools to make experts better, not recipes for how to do something.


“Checklists remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They…instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.”

-Atul Gawande


The product that comes out of the Learn phase is a precise but provisional checklist to be used during modeling and teaching like the ones below.

Click to download Click to download



How do coaches partner with teachers to make adaptations until goals are met?

What should coaches do when they sense teachers are starting to lose hope? There is research behind why this happens, and sharing that with teachers can help guide them through the hardest and lowest point of the process to success and fulfillment.


“The people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world.”

-Seth Godin


The Improve stage includes at least four categories:

  • Confirm Direction
  • Review Progress
  • Invent Improvements
  • Plan Next Actions

These areas of focus reinforce the autonomy and expertise of the teacher, allow for reflection and improvement, and keep the momentum going in the future. While the Impact Cycle is made up of only three stages, they each contain a great deal of nuance and deep examination. To help guide you through the whole process, it can be helpful to use an Impact Cycle checklist like the one shared here (click to download).

The Impact Cycle is about taking one small piece of teaching and improving it. Small changes that the teacher can see make a huge difference in the classroom. And while COVID-19 may keep teachers and students out of the physical classroom, the Impact Cycle is designed to be tailored specifically to the students’ and teacher’s needs so there’s always room to adjust to fit into our new, virtual normal. By using this process, we hope to celebrate the growth teachers experience and demonstrate the many benefits of coaching.



Watch Michelle’s full webinar and leave your comments below.