The beginning of the new school year starts another cycle of learning and growth for students. Just as importantly, this time marks a new cycle of professional growth and development for classroom teachers; but will the growth that educators realize by June match beginning-of-the-year expectations?
This in no small way depends upon both the nature of professional development teachers experience, and the manner in which those learning experiences are supported. Compounding evidence highlights an important, yet often overlooked trend: teacher professional development that is complemented by classroom coaching activities have a higher probability of yielding significant improvements in the quality of classroom instruction.
Far too often teachers endure daylong “sit and get” training sessions in which some pedagogical authority transmits new knowledge towards them. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely those teachers will actually apply what they learn during such passive professional development experiences.
The concept of knowledge transfer is critical here: a key factor contributing to the disappointing results of teacher training (TNTP, 2015) may be in the lack of elements supporting initial teacher training—specifically, whether structures are in place that support the transferability of knowledge and skills learned in teacher trainings into actual classroom instructional practice.
While much of the research literature on teacher training focuses on skill acquisition, few studies have actually measured transfer effects from the training room to the classroom (Joyce & Showers, 1988). Improving the extent to which teachers transfer newly gained skills into their instructional practices holds much promise for improving instructional quality and student achievement. Joyce and Showers (1988) report that:
In studies that have asked the transfer question (e.g., did participants use new skills in the classroom, did they use them appropriately, did they integrate new skills with existing repertoire, was there long-term retention of the products of training), several findings emerge. First, the gradual addition of training elements does not appear to impact transfer noticeably (ES [effect size] of .00 for information or theory; theory plus demonstration; theory, demonstration and feedback)…however, a large and dramatic increase in transfer of training (ES 1.68) occurs when in-class coaching is added to an initial training experience comprised of theory explanation, demonstration and practice with feedback. (pp. 71-72)
I also recently completed a study of archival qualitative data to better understand teachers’ and administrators’ perceived effectiveness of the Enhancing the Art and Science of Teaching with Technology (EASTT) professional development model (Magaña & Marzano, 2014). The EASTT model was designed to enhance how teachers integrate classroom educational technologies in the service of improving their implementation of the highly reliable instructional strategies articulated in The Art and Science of Teaching (Marzano, 2007). This qualitative study provided a unique contextual layer to a prior quantitative study that reported significant student achievement gains when the EASTT model was implemented in a diverse, high-needs, low-performing urban elementary school in Southern California (Haystead & Magaña, 2013).
One of the most important findings that emerged from this analysis is teachers’ and leaders’ perceptions of the high amount of value added by the instructional coach—a peer serving as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA)—who was present at each of the EASTT professional development workshops. The school’s TOSA did not participate in classroom teaching during the school day and so was readily available to help teachers implement the strategies from the EASTT professional development workshops into their instructional practices in “real time” during the school day. The TOSA helped teachers resolve issues, problems, and obstacles that may have otherwise impeded them from transferring the knowledge, skills, and competencies gained during the professional experience into their regular classroom instruction.
The impact of an instructional coach on knowledge transfer is so dramatic that classroom coaching should be considered a necessary complement to teacher professional development. Classroom coaches can help ensure that teachers are able to transfer the skills, knowledge, and competencies gained during professional development training sessions into their actual classroom instruction.
When planning for professional development for the upcoming school year, consider the evidence for including classroom coaching into your plans. Doing so will both complement these offerings and enhance your well-intentioned efforts to improve teaching and learning through professional development.
Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (1988). Student achievement through staff development. New York, NY: Longman.
Magaña, S. (2016). Enhancing the art and science of teaching with technology: A model for improving learning for all students. (Doctoral dissertation). Seattle University, Seattle, WA.
Magaña, S., & Marzano, R. J. (2014). Enhancing the art and science of teaching with technology. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
TNTP (2015). The mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. Washington, DC: Authors.
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