Wednesday / June 19

Six Moves for Coaching in the Classroom

Classrooms can feel like private spaces. And as coaches, we may find ourselves lingering on the threshold of classroom doors, unsure about how to proceed. We know that a significant amount of our time ought to be spent where the action is, with students and teachers. Yet we don’t always know what it looks like when we are in the classrooms of others.

As a coach, I used to undervalue the time I spent in classrooms. I thought that the reflective part of coaching took place before and after lessons. That’s when we would discuss how the lesson went and what we might do differently next time. Since then, I’ve learned that amazing insights and reflection can occur during lessons. Especially if we focus directly on student learning.

We can ask questions like, “How are the students engaging as learners? Is anyone confused? If so, why? How deep are they going with their thinking? Am I noticing any misconceptions? Are the advanced learners being challenged?” These questions create a new model for coaching in the classroom, a model where the teacher and coach work together to formatively assess and then use that information to inform the instruction that follows.

The Gradual Release of Responsibly Doesn’t Really Apply to Adult Learners

The idea of adult learners progressing neatly through the stages of “I do, we do, and you do” seems a bit too tidy in the real world of coaching. While the Gradual Release of Responsibility (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983) is an important construct for students, it’s less applicable to adult learners. One reason is teachers need a sense of autonomy (Pink, 2009). Without autonomy, they feel like their ideas aren’t being valued. Or even worse, they feel like they are being fixed. Thus if we find ourselves doing too much modeling (the ‘I do’ stage), then we run the risk of sending the message that the coach is the expert and the teacher has little to offer. If we spend too much time observing lessons (the ‘you do’ stage), then coaching begins to feel evaluative.

Lately, I’ve been trying to dwell in the “we do” stage. In this way I can focus more directly on student learning while also reinforcing the collaborative partnerships that I am trying so hard to build with teachers.

Six Moves to Use When Coaching in the Classroom

Partnering during lessons requires some initial lesson design. This may include: a clear lesson framework, a vision for the task that students will be engaging in, and the resources that will be used. These are fundamental aspects of most lesson planning sessions. But we must do more. We must define how the teacher and coach will work together to ensure that students will learn at the highest levels. Discussing what the coach will do, what the teacher will do, and what will be shared is an essential component of co-planning lessons. It provides the coach and teacher with a clear vision for what a ‘we do’ lesson will look like.

The following coaching moves bring home the notion that the teacher and coach are true partners. They are anchored in a philosophy of formative assessment, and they create many opportunities for the teacher and coach to develop and grow.

Noticing and Naming During the lesson, the teacher and coach focus on how the students are demonstrating their current understanding in relation to the learning targets. The teacher and coach record student evidence on a grid that is used to plan the next lesson.
Thinking Aloud The teacher and coach share their thinking throughout the delivery of the lesson. By being metacognitive in this way, they are able to name successes and work through challenges in real time. Thinking aloud may happen in front of students, or off to the side.
Teaching in Tandem The teacher and coach work together to co-deliver the lesson. The lesson is co-planned to ensure that the roles are clear, the learning targets are defined, and both the teacher and coach understand the intent behind each aspect of the lesson.


The teacher and coach sit side-by-side when conferring with students. In this way, they create a shared understanding of how the students are doing and what they will need next.
You Pick Four The teacher identifies approximately four students whom the coach will pay special attention to in order to collect student evidence. The coach keeps the learning targets in mind while collecting student evidence. This evidence is then used in future planning conversations.
Micro Modeling A portion of the lesson is modeled by the coach. The teacher and coach base their decision about what will be modeled on the needs that have been identified by the teacher. Micro modeling may occur during a whole group lesson, conference, or small group.

Coaching in the classroom requires some degree of audaciousness on the part of the teacher and coach. We bare our souls when we engage as learners. Yet when we set ourselves up for partnering while in the classroom, we create countless opportunities for reflection and growth.

For more on this topic, please read Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Sweeney and Harris, 2016).


Pearson, P.D. and Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The Instruction of Reading Comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Written by

Diane Sweeney has been a national consultant since 1999. After teaching and coaching in the Denver Public Schools, Diane served as a program officer at the Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC) in Denver. She has become a respected voice in the field of coaching and professional development. Diane is the author of Student-Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and PrincipalsStudent-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Leveland Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves.

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