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Five tips for better Instructional Coaching

Nothing has boosted my ability to help teachers to get better faster than watching Josh Goodrich in his coaching element. Josh, the founder of Steplab, is the best instructional coach I've seen in action and when I saw him do his thing during my 2022 trips to the UK, I knew I wanted to share his approach with ERRR Podcast listeners.

That's why I'm really excited to announce our January double-barrel ERRR episodes on instructional coaching. In part a, Josh and I talk the nitty gritty and the ins and outs of IC theory. In part b, Josh coaches me through two coaching cycles, and we get really concrete about what the real deal looks like!

There were countless insights shared by Josh during this podcast. In fact, it's one of my faves, because it paints a really clear picture of how a school can rapidly and effectively build a powerful culture of pedagogical improvement.

But in today's email, I simply wanted to share with you five insights that I gained from my chat with Josh. (but I can highly recommend checking out the full two episodes too!)

Takeaway 1. Rehearsal plays a key role in habit breaking and formation: As Hobbis, Sims, and Allen (2021) have written, habits in teaching form fast and are hard to break. Thus, ‘professional development should involve repeated practice in realistic settings in order to overwrite and upgrade existing habits.’ (Hobbiss et al., 2021)

Often too much coaching emphasis is placed on discussion. We need to get more serious about rehearsal. This means getting in character, getting in context, and practicing until better habits start to become permanent.

Takeaway 2. Peer-coaching builds culture: Some schools allocate a select few staff members to coach many others, other schools use a peer-coaching approach. Whilst the ‘select few' approach can lead to rapid improvement through expert coaches, a peer approach has many overlooked benefits. One of these is that through peer-coaching, everyone is coached. Therefore, coaching is normalised, it becomes ‘just part of what we do here'.

A second benefit of peer-coaching is that it avoids one of the biggest downfalls of a ‘select few' approach. With peer-coaching, nobody feels left out, and nobody feels targeted.

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, a peer-coaching approach builds huge organisational strength. With a ‘select few' approach, those ‘select few' may choose to move on to greener pastures, which can quickly drain your school of vital expertise.

Through peer coaching, every teacher is continually improving both as a teacher, and as a coach. The team is stronger and culture and knowledge can compound more powerfully and sustainably over time.

Takeaway 3. Seek pivotal evidence through observations: Observations are hard because there's so much going on in a classroom and a coach can only make note of a few things at a time, it's impossible to capture everything.

Our task becomes clearer when we realise that a key goal is to identify a pivotal piece of evidence. A pivotal piece of evidence is the piece that leads both coach and coachee to agree on a key action step to work on together.

A quality piece of pivotal evidence is concrete, like a quote, tally, or video timestamp. Concrete is helpful because it's a foundation, it acts as a backstop and justification for a proposed step. Pivotal evidence is a springboard for improvement.

Takeaway 4. Present your bid as a hypothesis: The bid within a coaching conversation is the moment when the coach transitions the conversation from praise to a suggested area for improvement. It's the crux of the conversation, and the moment when things are most likely to go wrong.

One of the best coaching moves that a coach can make at this moment is to draw on Viviane Robinson's ‘open to learning' framework and present a suggested action step as a hypothesised avenue for improvement.

In the form of a hypothesis, an action step is free to be critiqued, modified, rejected, or adopted by coach and coachee together.

A hypothesis provides space for a coach to share their insights and for a coachee to exercise their autonomy, that is, to ‘act in accordance with their own reason'.

Takeaway 5. It's powerful to be directive and responsive: Directive coaching is when a coach comes into the coaching conversation with a clear vision of what a coachee can do to improve (which they can then present as a hypothesis).

One key benefit of a directive approach is that the coach can come to the post-observation discussion prepared with a set of high-quality models and a planned high-value rehearsal tasks to ensure that best practice is being drawn upon for classroom implementation.

Responsive coaching is when a coach makes space to adapt to the expertise, insight, and suggestions of the coachee. Pairing these 2 orientations makes the most of both coach and coachee's skills and knowledge, and can support rapid improvement and super efficient coaching convos.

The above only scratches the surface of the goodness shared by Josh Goodrich in ERRR #74.Hope you enjoy it!

You are reading an instalment 131 of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, an (aspirationally) weekly email in which I share some personal thoughts on teaching and learning, as well as great resources from others. Subscribe here, view all back issues here.

Announcements and Opportunities

  • The chap who shared the above insights in ERRR #074 is coming to Australia and will be running, alongside Peps Mccrea, Dr. Mark Dowly, and Myself, Australia's premier Instructional Coaching event for 2023. On March 6th the Steplab Instructional Coaching Intensive will be a day of in-depth advice, insights, and practice on effectively improving teaching and learning in your school. To find out more, and to book, see the event page.

Takeaways (TOT131)


  • For an excellent guide covering what Instructional Coaching is, a summary of the research evidence for Instructional Coaching, guidance for how to set up coaching in a school, advice on how to select and train great coaches, and more, check out the Steplab Beginner's Guide to Instructional Coaching.


  • ‘teaching is highly conducive to habit formation… teachers display characteristic features of habitual behaviour.'‘teachers’ behaviour becomes automatic around the time that teacher effectiveness begins to level off'(therefore) ‘professional development should involve repeated practice in realistic settings in order to overwrite and upgrade existing habits'

– The three above quotes come from Hobbiss, Sims, & Allen (2021)