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Definition of an Instructional Coach

Instructional coaches are on-site change agents who use professional development and differentiated coaching to increase teacher effectiveness by teaching educators how to successfully implement effective, research-based teaching techniques and practices. Like differentiated instruction, differentiated coaching means tailoring coaching instruction to meet the individual needs of teachers. Instructional coaches apply a variety of professional development methods that encourage high-quality implementation of interventions, leading to sustainability of the newly acquired skills. Instructional coach’s use guided reflective practices and a partnership approach to accelerate each teacher’s professional learning.

Definition of Instructional Coach
Change Agent

The instructional coach, as a “change agent,” must:

  • Unfreeze current behavior—create disequilibrium with the current state as an impetus to explore change
  • Cognitively restructure—help teachers build new skills, strategies, methods, and behaviors using coaching strategies and professional development
  • Refreeze—provide opportunities for teachers to practice the new skills until they are comfortable
  • Create a culture of trust—a psychological safety net is developed, so teachers feel comfortable failing and retrying  (Edgar Schein, 2008).

An intentional, meaningful, consistent, and reflective coaching process is an effective way for coaches to support teachers as they implement and sustain new instructional practices. For high-quality, effective coaching to occur, specific coaching skills and protocol must be learned and practiced continually with Master Coaches in the field of education. For sustained change to occur in the classroom, coaches need an opportunity to network with one another and learn from experts.

This is why the Instructional Coaching Innovations program was established by OU’s Center for Early Childhood Professional Development. The foundational training program for coaches with options for follow-ups and booster sessions will benefit all coaches.

Professional Development (PD) Models

Typical professional development models include more than one component and work in tandem to produce optimal outcomes for teachers and children. The model below is based on research conducted over an eight-year period at OU. It includes: 

  • Appropriate classroom environment
  • Research-based curriculum 
  • Content knowledge (consistent, ongoing professional development opportunities)
  • Progress monitoring (leads to differentiated instruction)
  • Instructional coaching

Coaching is the key that provides rigor and accountability to the model.

Professional Development Model
Coaching Protocols

Coaching Protocols

  • Instructional coaches follow a routine protocol when working with teachers—observation, pre-conference, demonstration, and reflection/post-conference. This continuous cycle affords the teacher time to observe demonstrations and practice the new skills. In addition, the coach and teacher engage in reflective discussions and plan action steps for growth and change. It is a partnership based on trust. 

  • An instructional coach must be an expert in building relationships, even with those teachers who resist change. Providing continuous assistance until the skill has been learned, practiced and sustained is essential. A coach’s interaction with a teacher occurs for short periods of time. Such interaction provides help and assistance based on information gleaned through assessing and observation where teacher behavior is changed. 

  • Coaching should be regarded as process that empowers teachers with reflective problem-solving skills. Fullan (1991) notes that we over-assume the capacity of teachers to move actively into implementation without a substantial amount of help and assistance. The approach to teacher development should be long-term and continuing over time in order to respond to teachers' needs as they are changing from novices to experts. An instructional coach bridges the gap, thus increasing teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.