Is Virtual Instructional Coaching Support for Teachers Effective?

by | Mar 8, 2021


Evidence suggests that teacher coaching is an essential component of effective job-embedded professional development for educators. Traditional workshops can expose and help teachers learn new skills, but instructional coaches provide vital one-on-one support after this group instruction to ensure teachers can implement successfully implement the new content and skills to improve the outcomes of their students. The power in coaching after teachers have attended traditional workshops is the opportunity that this process provides for planning how to implement and execute the newly learned instructional practices and strategies, side by coaching and modeling, reflection and motivational feedback.

But in the age of remote work and virtual learning, how can school leaders plan effective instructional coaching support? Is coaching in a virtual learning environment a viable alternative to in-person boots on the ground coaching?

How Does Instructional Coaching Work?

With an estimated 55.1 million students impacted by COVID-19 learning loss nationwide, teachers need more support than ever to improve student achievement. The Learning Policy Institute explains that instructional coaches improve teacher practice by:

  1. Helping teachers identify specific instructional areas to target professional growth.
  2. Coaching conversations to plan virtual classroom observation sessions.
  3. Providing debriefing sessions that allow teachers to reflect on the instructional strategies they implemented to inform the coaching motivational feedback to plan next steps.
  4. Providing further job-embedded professional development learning opportunities and resources to help teachers expand their knowledge about the research and evidence-based practices and instructional strategies to raise student achievement.

Studies find that teachers who engage in job-embedded instructional coaching opportunities increase their capacity to implement effective instructional practices that significantly increases student achievement.  The research also points out that teachers who are not provided with job-embedded instructional coaching opportunities students do not make the same amount of progress and students with learning gaps fall further behind their same aged peers.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic creates challenges for principals who want to provide job-embedded instructional coaching support to their teachers. The US Census Bureau reports that about 93% of households with students have engaged in distance learning during the pandemic. Many school leaders are experiencing a variety of challenges which has a direct impact on their ability to effectively plan for the reentry of staff and students to recreate instructional classroom environments to support in person learning.  This includes when and how to plan the job-embedded professional learning opportunities to support and equip teachers to address the learning loss, skill regression and recovery for some students who have fallen behind.

Potential Benefits of Instructional Coaching in Virtual Classroom Environments

Instructional coaching in virtual classroom environments may provide principals an opportunity to offer remote job-embedded professional development during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research blog outlines some of the potential benefits of virtual instructional coaching:

  • More access to specialists — One of the challenges associated with in-person instructional coaching is the limited availability of content specialists. For example, you may struggle to find an instructional coach who specializes in elementary school math and is available to travel to your school to provide job-embedded instructional coaching support. The benefit of receiving virtual instructional coaching is that you can access content specialists who are located anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Ability to scale — As the number of teachers who need instructional coaching support rises, so does the difficulty in scaling an effective instructional coaching support strategy. When content specialists provide coaching in-person, instructional coaches must build in time to transition between classrooms or even travel between different schools. Virtual instructional coaching support helps eliminate time that is lost with travel and other distractions.
  • Same effectiveness as in-person instructional coaching support — Teachers with virtual instructional coaches can experience the same gains as those who receive in-person instructional coaching support, if virtual instructional coaching support is provided as consistently as in-person instructional coaching support.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make virtual instructional coaching support effective.

Virtual Instructional Coaching Support Model

Simply budgeting for virtual instructional coaching support and technological tools is not enough to develop an effective virtual instructional coaching support program for your teachers. Your virtual instructional coaching support plan should include the following elements:

  • Relationship building and consistency — With traditional, in-person instructional coaching support, instructional coaches and teachers have the chance to meet one another and build a rapport as they work together. Unfortunately, the Center for Global Development finds that with virtual instructional coaching support, schools can become too dependent on technological tools and fail to prioritize the relationships between instructional coaches and teachers. When virtual instructional coaching support focuses more on technology than on the coaching relationship, teachers lose interest in using the professional development tools. School leaders should provide adequate time for virtual instructional coaches to build relationships and trust with teachers. Leaders should also mandate consistently scheduled instructional coaching support sessions to ensure teachers are held accountable for their professional growth.
  • Personalized motivational feedback for teachers — Most coaching models actually begin with group instruction for teachers before teachers work individually with their instructional coaches. For instance, a principal may lead a school-wide training on how to plan hybrid learning lesson plans. Next, instructional coaches follow up on this group training by scheduling regular one-on-one instructional coaching support sessions with each teacher. The instructional coach observes the teacher executing a hybrid learning lesson. Then the instructional coach and teacher engage in a reflective coaching conversation to debrief together, and the instructional coach provides personalized motivational feedback about the implementation of new practices and evidence of student learning. This personalized motivational feedback session addresses the teacher’s individual strengths and areas for opportunities to refine new evidence-based instructional strategies and practices.
  • Teacher reflection — Teachers rely on instructional coaches for their ability to see things through a different lens and areas of content expertise. However, The Learning Policy Institute emphasizes that personal reflection is also an important factor in the coaching process. Coaches should prompt teachers to reflect on their performance and share “both positive and constructive reactions” to their observation sessions.
  • Clear expectations for instructional coaches Digital Promise finds that many schools and districts give instructional coaching responsibilities to internal team members who already have a large number of other responsibilities, such as teachers and administrators. School leaders should ensure instructional coaches have sufficient time to work one-on-one with teachers, and clearly define expectations for their work as an instructional coach.

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions provides expert support for principals and district leaders who want to incorporate job-embedded instructional coaching support for their teachers as part of a comprehensive professional development plan. We work with school leaders through every step of the planning process, whether you need support in just one specific area or need help creating your professional development strategy from scratch to improve teaching and learning to raise student achievement. Schedule a free call with one of our consultants to start planning your teacher development now.

Resources to Support Your Virtual Instructional Coaching Support and Job-Embedded Professional Development Strategy

We’ve compiled some of our most recent articles about job-embedded professional development learning opportunities for teachers as we continue to navigate instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click each title to read the full article:

We would also love to hear from you! What challenges are you facing as you create a job-embedded professional development plan for teachers? What questions do you have about providing job-embedded professional development learning opportunities through a virtual platform? Schedule a call with us or send us an email to get feedback on your plans.