All Articles Education Voice of the Educator PLC coaching: 12 ways to achieve effective results

PLC coaching: 12 ways to achieve effective results

Integrating Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle and Solution Tree's PLC framework can help educators with effective PLC coaching.

8 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

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“If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” – Dylan Wiliam

Donna Spangler measuring coaching impact

Some things are good on their own but better together because of the synergistic effect when combined: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, and peanut butter and jelly, to name a few. But these combinations don’t only apply to food.

When schools look for interventions to enhance teaching and student learning, two approaches schools often ask instructional coaches to support are utilizing coaching cycles with individual teachers and supporting the professional learning communities of instructional teams. Two of the most effective stand-alone approaches to do this are Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle and Solution Tree’s All Things PLC with their four PLC questions. Individually, they each have a lot of strengths.

Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle

Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle is a coaching framework designed to support teacher professional growth and improve student learning outcomes. His cycle consists of three stages — identify, learn and improve — and it has many features that spell success for a teacher coaching cycle.

This coaching cycle is effective for several reasons:

  • Focused improvement. The cycle requires participants to set a PEERS goal based on a picture of reality, identifying an area for improvement by selecting a strategy form of measurement, learning about effective strategies and applying them to create a positive impact on student learning. This cycle ensures continuous learning where educators refine their practice based on feedback and data.
  • Data informed. Data analysis and evidence-based strategies ground the cycle to ensure student outcomes inform instructional decisions.
  • Collaboration. The cycle promotes collaboration between coaches and educators, fostering a partnership that supports professional growth and targeted improvements.

Solution Tree’s professional learning communities

Solution Tree’s professional learning community model is an approach to school improvement that emphasizes collaborative professional learning and data-driven decision-making. It involves educators working together to enhance teaching practices and student achievement and a constant focus on continuous improvement.

Solution Tree’s PLC model emphasizes:

  • Collective inquiry.  Educators engage in collaborative inquiry, using data analysis and evidence-based practices to identify student needs, monitor progress and make informed instructional decisions.
  • Results orientation. The ultimate goal of PLCs is improved student outcomes, so PLCs use data to monitor progress and assess and adjust the effectiveness of their instructional interventions.
  • Collaborative teams. Educators collaborate to plan, discuss and analyze teaching practices. These teams provide a structure for sharing ideas, strategies and resources and continuously reflect on their practices, adjust strategies and seek out growth opportunities.

Integrate the Impact Cycle and PCL framework to maximize PLC coaching benefits

In addition to supporting these approaches separately, instructional coaches can combine them to create a comprehensive approach to professional learning and instructional improvement. 

Identify stage with PLCs

PLC Question No. 1: What do we want students to learn?

This question aligns with the identify phase of the Impact Cycle, and, in this stage, coaches and PLC members collaboratively identify goals, instructional needs and areas for improvement.

Identify activities with PLC coaching

1. Goal-setting sessions are collaborative sessions where the coaches and teachers set specific instructional goals aligned with student needs and PLC objectives.

    • Coaches facilitate discussions about areas for improvement, help educators formulate SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) and provide ongoing support to track progress.

2. Data analysis meetings are collaborative meetings where coaches and teachers analyze student performance data to identify trends, challenges and areas for improvement to help educators make informed decisions about their teaching practices and students’ needs.

    • Coaches guide teachers in interpreting data, identifying patterns and discussing potential instructional adjustments based on the data insights using data digs and data dives.

3. Lesson study groups are collaborative groups that observe and analyze lessons to improve instructional strategies. Lesson study promotes a deep understanding of effective teaching practices and encourages educators to experiment with new strategies.

    • Coaches facilitate the selection of lessons, provide observation protocols, guide discussions on observations and encourage educators to implement learned strategies.

4. Learning walks with focus are collaborative walks through classrooms with a specific instructional focus, such as a teaching strategy or student engagement, providing a nonevaluative opportunity for educators to observe and learn from each other’s practices.

    • Coaches guide participants in setting the focus, develop an observation protocol and facilitate debrief sessions to share observations and insights.

Learn stage with PLCs

PLC Question No. 2: How will we know if they have learned it? 

This question aligns with the learn phase of the Impact Cycle. In this stage, coaches and PLC members engage in professional learning activities and implement strategies that enhance their skills and knowledge.

Learn activities with PLC coaching

1. Targeted professional learning workshops are short professional learning segments or targeted professional development opportunities led by educators or experts focusing on best practices and innovative instructional strategies to expose educators to new ideas and approaches.

    • Coaches arrange or prepare learning sessions, encourage active participation and facilitate discussions on how to adapt workshop content to the classroom.

2. Articles, strategies or book study involves collaborative reading and discussion of educational articles, strategies or books to gain insights into effective teaching strategies to highlight research-based practices and encourage thoughtful reflection on their teaching.

    • Coaches help select relevant articles/strategies/books, facilitate discussions, guide participants in extracting key takeaways and encourage brainstorming ways to apply the concepts.

3. Collaborative reflection sessions are structured discussions where educators share their experiences implementing new strategies and reflect on outcomes to promote deeper understanding, self-awareness and refinement of instructional practices. 

    • Coaches create a safe space for sharing, guide discussions using reflective prompts and encourage participants to consider successes and challenges.

4. Action research groups involve collaborative educator groups conducting small-scale action research projects to investigate instructional practices, allowing educators to take ownership of their professional learning and add to evidence-based teaching practices. 

    • Coaches guide educators through the research process, help formulate research questions, provide research methodologies and support data collection and analysis.

Improve stage with PLCs

PLC Questions Nos. 3 and 4: How will we respond when some students do not learn? and How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?

This question aligns with the improve phase of the Impact Cycle. In this stage, coaches and PLC members work collaboratively to implement strategies to address the needs of struggling students and refine instruction to challenge and engage high-performing students.

Improve activities with PLC coaching

1. Data-informed adjustment meetings use continuous data analysis results to make informed adjustments to instructional strategies and student groupings, ensuring that teaching practices are responsive to students’ evolving needs.

    • Coaches guide educators in interpreting data trends, identifying patterns, grouping students and collaboratively designing strategies to address identified areas for improvement.

2. Collaborative planning sessions run coordinated planning sessions where teachers collaborate to design lessons and units, ensuring that effective instructional strategies are shared across classrooms and leverage the expertise of all educators.

    • Coaches facilitate the planning process, provide templates and encourage educators to integrate identified best practices into their plans.

3. Modeling lessons involve either PLC members or coaches demonstrating effective instructional practices in real classroom settings to allow teachers to see new strategies in action and provide concrete examples for implementation.

    • PLC members or coaches plan lessons aligned with identified needs, invite teachers to observe (or video record the lesson segment) and facilitate discussions about how to adapt the strategies

4. Feedback loops establish a continuous cycle of practicing feedback and reflection among the PLC members to foster a culture of growth and support educators in refining their instructional approaches over time.

    • Coaches help create protocols for sharing feedback, encourage regular reflections and guide discussions on how to apply received feedback.

Integrating Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle and PLCs leverages the strengths of both approaches, resulting in a dynamic and holistic strategy for improving teaching practices and student outcomes. It creates a structured, evidence-based, collaborative environment that fosters continuous improvement across the entire educational community. This integration maximizes impact and helps establish a coherent and comprehensive framework for professional development and instructional coaching instead of the two processes being separate. 


Donna Spangler, a 35-year education veteran, is the former K-12 instructional coach department chair for Derry Township School District in Hershey, Pa., from which she recently retired. Spanger 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. She also is an instructional designer for Edjacent and a virtual coach for Sibme.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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