Thursday / April 25

Tips for Coaches from Research on How Teachers Learn New Practices

For years, with our colleagues, we have studied teachers as they have endeavored to learn models of teaching that are new additions to their repertoires. Their needs are guides to the design of professional development—whether workshops on site, courses, or online and mediated programs. Here we consider whether the information on how teachers learn new practices can also be useful to coaches.

As literacy coaches work with teachers and administrators, they are constantly helping their colleagues identify aspects of teaching and curriculum they would like to improve. Then, the coaches reach into their own instructional repertoires to find practices that might help. Next comes the hard part—how to enable those colleagues to picture the new practice clearly enough that they can try it out. Just saying “Why don’t you try this?” followed by a brief description usually doesn’t work very well. But what does?

Judging from the research, the new practice needs to be demonstrated along with a rationale about why it might work. Video demonstrations are very useful. They can be watched, discussed, watched again. If the new practice is very different from someone’s usual practice, a half-dozen demonstrations may be needed.

What now? Most often, planning lessons or units where the practice is embedded is necessary. Helping with planning is something the coach can do and is a valuable part of support.

Now comes the work of trying out the new practice in the classroom, judging how it works and discussing the experience with the coach, who becomes a companion as the process of developing skill takes place.

Again and again, demonstration, rationale, support in planning, regular practice, and companionship have turned out to be what folks need as they try to improve.

All of these contribute, and without them, learning and implementing something new is quite difficult for most people.

Here is a simple example. Getting students who are not accustomed to composing on a regular basis to begin to write frequently (think daily) is a familiar problem. Journal writing has only modest effects. Providing the students with prompts can help more, but finding and generating prompts is a new practice for some of us. Even more, finding dramatic prompts like film clips—ones that will get the students thinking—is often a new practice. And, even farther out, demonstrating for the students—showing them ways of opening a description of a person or place, is new practice for many teachers.

But, if we provide demonstrations and rationale, help with planning, and provide companionship, we can ease the way to improve our learning and that of our students.

Related Reading and Guides to Research

Joyce, Bruce & Calhoun, Emily. (2010). Models of Professional Development. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Joyce, Bruce, Weil, Marsha, & Calhoun, Emily. (2015). Models of Teaching. Boston: Pearson.

Joyce, Bruce & Showers, Beverly. (2003). Student Achievement through Staff Development: Alexandria: ASCD.

Joyce, Bruce, & Calhoun, Emily (2012) Realizing the Promiseof the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Written by

Bruce Joyce grew up in New Jersey, was educated at Brown University, and, after military service, taught in the schools of Delaware. He was a professor at the University of Delaware, the University of Chicago, and Teachers College, Columbia University, where he directed the laboratory school and the elementary teacher education program. His research, writing, and consultation are focused on models of teaching, professional development design and implementation, school renewal, and programs for K12 beginning readers and Grade 3-12 struggling readers. Primary topics of his speaking and consultation include Teaching Methods, Curriculum and Content, Staff Development, and 21st Century School Renewal. He lives in Saint Simons Island, Georgia, and can be reached via e-mail at With Emily Calhoun, his most recent book is Models of Professional Development (2010). Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Emily Calhoun currently focusses on school improvement and professional development, where she combines practice and research. She specializes in the language arts, particularly the teaching of reading and writing in the elementary grades and literacy development K-12, including programs for struggling readers.

She writes and consults on action research, The Picture-Word Inductive Model of Teaching, and ways of incorporating digital technologies into K-12 learning environments through the development of hybrid courses. She lives in Saint Simons Island, Georgia.

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