Receiving new information can be a bit overwhelming. In the context of instructional coaching, it can feel especially intense for teachers because there are often many factors at play: the complexity of their students’ needs, building a working relationship with the coach, challenging preconceived notions, etc. This is why providing resources for teachers to help implement new teaching strategies is an essential part of a coach’s work. In The Impact Cycle, Jim Knight describes one of the most effective tools for implementing new strategies: the instructional playbook.

An instructional playbook is a simple resource made up of the following three parts:

  • a one-page list of high-impact teaching strategies
  • a one-page description for each of the strategies
  • checklists coaches need to use to describe the teaching practices contained in the playbook

Keeping the playbook concise is important to maintain focus. The components do not have to be exactly one page long, but anything beyond that length runs the risk of overly complicating a resource meant to cut to the core of a coach’s task. The purpose of the playbook is to provide a succinct document containing strategies that have clearly shown their effectiveness.

Checklists, in particular, offer a useful tool for both coaches and teachers to ensure they are reaching their goals. For coaches, checklists help keep explanations of teaching strategies organized and prevent them from overwhelming teachers. They also provide coaches with a means of assessing the effectiveness of their coaching by confirming that the teacher understands each item on the list. Sometimes, it may be easy for a coach to forget what it was like before they knew the strategies they are communicating, and this could cause a coach to believe they are being more clear than they actually are. A checklist can help coaches sidestep this tendency and ensure thoroughness in their approach.

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For teachers, a checklist can provide a valuable reference point. When trying to absorb a large amount of new information all at once, it is likely to reach a point where it becomes near impossible to permanently retain the information. With a checklist, teachers have a reliable way of solidifying their understanding. Well-crafted checklists cut through complexity to the essential elements of the strategies a coach is describing. They are also designed for action, enabling a teacher to process, remember, and implement the new strategies.

As Atul Gwande states in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, “under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, but they are required for success.” Good checklists do not attempt to spell out everything a person must do, but rather give precise detail about only the most essential steps in a complex endeavor. The person performing the task will be the one to decide their actions, and the checklist is simply a tool to ensure nothing crucial is overlooked.

It is always important for coaches to maintain a dialog with teachers instead of telling them what to do. A dialogue will create more possibilities for understanding and growth for both teachers and coaches. One way for coaches to achieve this is to be provisional while going through a checklist, frequently asking the teacher whether or not they want to modify the checklist for their specific classroom. Asking questions about the teacher’s thoughts on strategies often leads to a greater understanding of their needs as well as improved strategy implementation. The focus is on helping teachers reach a goal, and as long as a strategy helps them do that, then it is successful.

For a more detailed examination of instructional playbooks, check out Jim Knight’s The Impact Cycle and watch for a new book on Instructional Playbooks, coming out in October!

For an example of an instructional playbook, click here!

For further online resources related to creating effective checklists, click here.