“Know thy impact” –– John Hattie, author of “Visible Learning”
In recent years, many school districts have hired instructional coaches to personalize professional development and meet professional learning needs within districts. Spurred on by No Child Left Behind, the staffing rate of coaches doubled from 2000 to 2015.
At the time of my retirement from public education in June 2023, my school district had five buildings, approximately 3,400 students, around 275 teachers and 11 coaches (e.g., reading, math, social and emotional learning, special education, para-professional, instructional and technology). That is a significant number of coaches for a relatively small district.
Two primary goals for effective instructional coaching are to create meaningful change in teachers’ instruction and positively impact the school building and system. When you ask coaches how they know they are being effective, coaches will often talk about activities they are doing. However, busyness isn’t necessarily productivity, and activity doesn’t necessarily equate to a positive impact.
Schools rarely require or train coaches on how to collect any data to assess the effectiveness of coaching programs. In addition, schools often don’t have coaches collect formative data to ensure the coaching being provided is responsive to the needs of the teachers. When coaching programs and coaches don’t track coaching impact, you cannot ensure that coaching is effective and aligned with the goals of improving teaching practices and student learning outcomes.
While there is no single way to measure coaching impact — and it can be challenging — it is something that all coaching programs and coaches need to consider if they are serious about providing coaching that works.
What is coaching impact?
Coaching impact refers to positive and measurable outcomes that result from coaching interventions and coaching strategies with educators. It represents how much coaching contributes to improved teaching practices, enhanced student learning, teacher professional growth and positive organizational change.
Why is measuring impact important?
Defining and defending coaching impact is critical for many reasons, and both the district and a coach or the coaches should be concerned with measuring their coaching impact.
- Accountability. When a district hires a coach or coaches, it cuts into the limited resources of a district and the schools’ need to appropriately allocate limited resources of time, money and effort. Coaches who measure data can provide tangible evidence to stakeholders (i.e., administrators, teachers, parents and the school board) of the value and impact of coaching on teacher effectiveness, student achievement and overall school improvement. It builds understanding, support and buy-in from stakeholders.
- Data-informed decision-making. Measuring coaching impact allows coaches to align their work with evidence-informed practices and research. Instructional coaches focus on ensuring their coaching strategies and interventions are grounded in research and create positive outcomes for teachers and students.
- Teacher professional growth and student achievement. Instructional coaching is ultimately about improving teachers’ instruction to increase students’ achievements and outcomes. By sharing data and evidence of coaching impact, coaches empower teachers to partner with them in using and implementing strategies and interventions to improve students’ learning.
- Continuous improvement. Defining and defending coaching impact promotes the professional growth of coaches themselves. Through the process of collecting and analyzing data, coaches gain insight into areas of strength and improvement with coaching strategies and interventions. Measuring coaching impact allows coaches to make informed decisions on refining practices, improving professional learning efforts, and adjusting their approach to better meet the needs of supporting teachers and enhancing student learning outcomes.
- Advocacy and support. Being able to demonstrate and show coaching impact helps coaches advocate for their role and show its value. It builds understanding, support and buy-in from stakeholders and can help secure resources for continued or increased investment in coaches or coaching programs.
How do you measure impact beyond return on investment?
The outcomes of instructional coaching are often complex and multifaceted. Simply calculating the benefits or effects of coaching against the costs associated with a coaching program as a quantifiable measure for ROI is challenging. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a system that shows the effectiveness and value of instructional coaching. Measuring impact goes beyond simply keeping track of daily activities through a shared calendar or a form.
While there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring coaching impact, whatever data is collected should encompass both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Relying on only quantitative or qualitative data has its shortcomings. If only quantitative data is collected, you will have limited insight into the experiences, perceptions, contextual factors or unintended consequences of the coach’s impact. Relying only on qualitative data may lack measurable outcomes, making it more difficult to identify data-informed decisions. Using both data types provides a more comprehensive and stronger case of coaching impact on staff, students, the building and the district.
7 ways to measure coaching impact
Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Student achievement data (quantitative). This is one of the most concrete measures of an instructional coach’s impact to show how coaching interventions have contributed to improved student learning.
Try this: Compare student performance before and after the coach’s intervention to look for positive trends and growth with pre- and post-assessment results or comparing student performance against benchmarks. You might also compare the students’ scores in coached classrooms compared to non-coached classrooms to see if the coach’s support positively impacted students’ achievement.
2. Teacher surveys and feedback (qualitative). This approach will result in valuable data regarding teachers’ experiences and perceptions regarding the impact of instructional coaching.
Try this: Distribute a survey to teachers to assess their level of confidence in implementing new instructional strategies in their classroom after receiving coaching support and their perceptions of the coach’s effectiveness, changes in instructional practices and satisfaction with the coach’s support.
3. Classroom observations (quantitative). Regular classroom observations allow the instructional coach to assess instructional practices, provide targeted feedback and track improvements over time. Coaches need to be where the instructional action is, and that is in teachers’ classrooms.
Try this: Conduct observations of a teacher’s classroom before, during and after (in person or through video) coaching support. The coaching cycle should have clear goals (i.e., student engagement, differentiated instruction, effective questioning, etc.). Throughout the cycle, the teacher and coach collect data on the frequency of teaching strategies or changes in the classroom to demonstrate the impact of coaching on teaching quality and/or student responses.
4. Teacher reflection and self-assessment (qualitative). Encouraging teachers to reflect on their coaching experiences and set goals can provide evidence of a coach’s impact.
Try this: The coach creates self-assessment tools, reflective prompts or a portfolio of teacher reflections to show progress towards goals. This can help paint a picture of how coaching has impacted a teacher’s professional growth.
5. Longitudinal data (quantitative). Assess longer-term impact of coaching on student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
Try this: Compare multiple months’ or years’ worth of data on the progress of teachers and students through benchmarks, local assessments or surveys, and/or standardized testing.
6. Peer collaboration and coaching feedback (qualitative). Using interviews, surveys and/or video, teachers share how peer collaboration has positively impacted their instructional strategies or classroom, leading to greater effectiveness and/or student learning with coaching feedback. This data demonstrates the coach’s impact on growing a culture of peer collaboration along with professional sharing and growth.
Try this: Create opportunities for teachers to engage in peer collaboration and/or learning walks to provide peer observation and feedback. The coach also provides support to teachers trying new things they saw from their peers.
7. Case studies of teacher growth through coaching cycles (qualitative and quantitative). Through qualitative data of interviews, observations and artifacts and quantitative student work samples before and after coaching interventions, the coach captures the growth journeys of the teacher and their students. This illustrates the coach’s impact on professional learning, instructional effectiveness and students’ achievement.
Try this: Select a few teachers to conduct in-depth case studies on their growth trajectory with the coach’s support through a six- or 12-week coaching cycle. Collect data through interviews, observations and artifacts along with student work before and after coaching interventions. Analyze the student work samples to identify improvements in student understanding, skills and achievement.
As the field of instructional coaching continues to grow and evolve, it is critical that educational organizations and coaches recognize the importance of measuring coaching impact. Remember that measuring instructional coaching impact requires considering multiple data sources, perspectives and indicators. It is essential to use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to have a comprehensive view of the coach’s impact and how coaching has or has not impacted teachers’ practice and students’ outcomes.
Donna Spangler retired in June 2023 after 35 years of public education and most recently served as the K-12 instructional coach department chair for Derry Township School District in Hershey, Penn. She served as past co-president of the board for the Learning Forward PA, ran a school induction and mentoring program for six years and has co-authored a book. If you would like to learn more about coaching impact, you might want to access the 27-page “Coaching for Impact” resource from Learning Forward or Jim Knight’s “Evaluating Instructional Coaching: People, Programs, and Partnership.“
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.