The key to instructional improvement is through developing teachers. Despite all of the other initiatives and priorities “there is widespread agreement now that of all factors inside schools that affect children’s learning and achievement, the most important is the teacher-not standards, assessments, resources, or even the school’s leadership, but the quality of the teacher” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). There is also a great deal of data that addresses the high impact of low quality teachers: “For example, Tennessee students who have three highly effective teachers in a row score more than 50 percentile points above their counterparts who have three ineffective teachers in a row – even when they started with the same score.27 An analysis in Dallas found essentially the same pattern” (Peske & Haycock, 2006). Clearly, in order to have quality student outcomes, excellent teachers need to be in place. To that end, I believe that it’s the school leaders job to address instructional improvement through coaching, oversight, and evaluation.
Instructional coaching should focus on four areas as outlined by Knight in “Focusing on the Big Four”: behavior, content knowledge, direct instruction and assessment (Knight, 2007). Beginning with behavior we have to make every classroom a place where learning can occur. While it might be argued that behavior is not part of instruction, I strongly disagree. It has been convincing argued that non-cognitive skills such as perseverance and self-control correlate higher with success (as measured by college graduation, income, jail time and more) than academic or cognitive level (Tough, 2012). In a successful school, non-cognitive (or executive skills) are explicitly taught. Also, the approach to behavior is non-punitive, skills-focused and proactive. Untimately this leads to a greater amount and high quality of instructional time.
Coaching to content knowledge, direct instruction and assessment follow behavior. Using the guides from “Focusing on the Big Four” each area can be addressed to increase the level instruction. Coaching to content knowledge involves emphasizing “enduring understanding” which involved determining what is most important for the student to learn about a particular concept and “choose activities that zone in on how to get students to learn that knowledge” (Knight, 2007). Sitting down with teachers to work on this is essential.
Direct instruction coaching involves organizing the beginning and end of lessons, encouraging high quality questioning, ensure that modeling is occurring and supporting the creation of high quality assignments. Assessment is related to this in that quality instruction includes both formative and summative assessments, ensure that essential questions are addressed, involve effective feedback and involving students in the assessment process. This can be supported by school leadership.
Making sure school leadership is spending time in classrooms, has communicated the specifics of quality instruction that are being looked for and provided feedback and coaching where needed are key components of instructional improvements. This does not need to be a heavy handed process with the threat of evaluation hanging over teachers but quality instruction does need to be tied to teacher evaluation. Administrators cannot be afraid to remove teachers who do not perform well after being given support and opportunities to improve. Instructional improvement should not occur primarily through change in the staff in most cases. Rather, coaching and access to professional develop is the way to develop excellent teachers who will then have the greatest effect on student achievement.
Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: NSDC.
Teaching inequality: How poor and minority students are shortchanged on teacher quality : a report and recommendations. (2006). Washington, D.C: Educational Trust.
Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character.