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What Is an Instructional Coach?

Many educators may not know what an instructional coach is, let alone whether they want to be one. A name like an instructional coach is broad and could mean a lot of things. Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s “The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach” ascribes a variety of responsibilities to the role.

In general, instructional coaches tend to be teachers who seek out new paths while staying in education. “As teachers put their extensive knowledge to use in these positions, they can become effective change agents for their schools and districts,” explains Wolpert-Gawron.

The Roles of an Instructional Coach

In “Instructional Coaching in 20 Seconds or Less,” instructional coach Lisa Westman admitted that she could not describe the role before she landed the job. Yet, she knew she wanted to be one. Later, someone asked her to explain the role of an instructional coach. This time, she had an answer.

Instructional coaches form long-term, non-evaluative, mutually beneficial, partnerships with teachers and administrators to support the implementation of research-based best practices through coaching cycles focused on teachers’ goals,” Westman says.

This definition is broad enough to capture the many functions of an instructional coach including the following:

  • Proving credibility
  • Acting as a change agent
  • Mentoring teachers
  • Fostering relationships and partnerships with educators
  • Managing professional development
  • Researching instructional practices, strategies and technologies
  • Publicizing successes

The job description for instructional coach varies by location. But one thing they all have in common is that they act as a knowledge resource for educators. They go in search of answers they don’t have.

To be effective in their role as change agents, they need the support of their administrators and a school culture that embraces coaching. Once they obtain both, they can then support teachers and help them succeed in increasing student achievement.

How to Become an Instructional Coach

Instructional coaches take different paths to the position. Several teachers revealed they fell into the job when an administrator asked them to take on the role. At her school, Wolpert-Gawron gained a reputation for diving into new technology and developing curriculum. Teachers began approaching her for advice on alternative strategies.

For 15 years, master’s degree holder Lisa Westman studied and annotated the works of instructional coaching expert Jim Knight. Prior to moving into coaching, she taught for 12 years.

One of the first things she learned about being a coach is establishing credibility. Principals are not going to lend support and teachers are not going to listen to someone who lacks the credibility that goes beyond teaching experience.

Westman recommends building credibility through the following actions:

  • Share passion.
  • Demonstrate continued learning.
  • Stay consistent.
  • Be honest.

You may also search for a master’s degree program with a specialty in coaching. These programs aim to help students learn how to be a great instructional coach by maximizing student engagement and achievement.

Learn more about Emporia State University’s Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction — Instructional Coach/Teacher Leader PreK-12 online.


Education Week: Instructional Coaching in 20 Seconds or Less

Educational Leadership: The Many Roles of an Instructional Coach

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