Academic Coaching: Making it Work!

By  Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D.

Are you working as a coach? Are you a classroom teacher who receives coaching? If so, you are part of a growing trend! Many schools today have coaches who work with their teacher colleagues to help improve the academic and behavioral outcomes of students. Academic or instructional coaches work in the areas of reading and math, as well as science, social studies, history, etc.

Coaching is becoming widespread, even in these challenging economic times. This may be due to the fact that teachers are being asked to significantly raise the bar on student achievement with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), or to help schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), or simply because educators are deeply committed to helping every student be as successful and ready as possible for college or a rewarding career. Regardless of the reason for the growing popularity of coaching, teachers need support to achieve these ambitious goals, and coaching is acknowledged as a process that can bring effective professional development into the classroom with individualized and sustained support (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2005; 2010).

However, coaching is not always successful. Some teachers resent having someone in their classroom “telling them what to do.” They might be concerned that a coach could be serving as “a spy for the principal.” Coaches have expressed concerns and even discomfort about their role: should they be acting as supervisors and evaluators of their colleagues? Is it their job to “fix” teachers who are struggling?  In my work with coaches over the past several decades, I have found a key to making coaching work is to carefully define the role and the tasks that a coach should undertake (and—those they should not!).

Role definition for coaches begins with getting clarity about what kind of coaching is going to be implemented. There are many models for coaches to follow, such as Cognitive Coaching™ (Costa & Garmston, 1997), peer coaching (Showers & Joyce, 1996), and instructional coaching (Knight, 2007). Some coaches may approach their work using models that originated in school psychology (consultation) (Kampworth, 2003) and special education (collaboration) (Cook & Friend, 2003).  Although they may use different strategies, the purpose of all these models is to provide effective professional development and support to teachers with the ultimate goal of improved outcomes for students.

To create the coaching model that I developed with Dr. Carolyn Denton—called Student-Focused Coaching or SFC—we drew on the research on coaching, collaboration, and consultation, as well as on our own practical experiences in the field.  SFC is an eclectic, responsive model in which coaches work to provide services by taking on three key roles: (a) Facilitator, (b) Collaborative Planner, and (c) Teacher/Learner.

The coach as facilitator literally helps “facilitate” or support the work of skillful and successful teachers. And as we all know, there are a lot of them out there! When coaching is viewed simply as a process to “fix teachers” what would a teacher likely start to think when the coach walks into her classroom? “Uh, oh…what have I been doing wrong?” and perhaps resentful that “the coach thinks she knows more than I do.” Coaches who help and support teachers are both valued and valuable!

SFC coaches also learn a process called “collaborative planning” where they work shoulder-to-shoulder with a peer colleague to help them devise a successful strategy to help a student (or group of students) with academic and/or behavior concerns. Coaches in this role are truly partners with teachers, sharing a focus on student success.

All teachers need to have the most up-to-date and effective strategies available to them. They need both the knowledge of these tools and the support to learn how to implement them effectively in their classrooms. A coach, serving in the role of Teacher/Learner can design and provide trainings to their fellow teachers (as the “teacher”) and provide follow-up support in the classroom, but should remain open to acquiring new information and widening their own set of effective teaching tactics by continuously looking for ways to be a “learner.”

What are some of the things that a SFC coach should not do in their role? The primary restriction is that no SFC coach should ever be involved in the evaluation of their peers—in any way, shape or form. Coaching must be kept completely separate from supervision and formal evaluation in order for it to be fully effective. Making this separation clear to all parties (the coaches, the teachers receiving coaching, and the principals) is an essential but too often neglected step in defining the role of coaches in the classroom.

Coaching is very challenging, and, when someone is asked to take on this role, it is essential that they have clarity about what the role entails. Teachers who receive coaching also deserve to know what the role of the coach is and what their own role is when they work with a coach.

When we keep our focus on the success of every student, we can achieve great things.


Cook, L. H., & Friend, M. (2003). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Costa, A., & Garmston, R. (1997). Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools, 3rd Ed. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Hasbrouck, J., & Denton, C. (2005). The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Hasbrouck, J, & Denton, C. (2010). The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches.  Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Kampworth, T.J. (2003). Collaborative consultation in the schools: effective practices for students with learning and behavior problems. Upper Saddle River. N.J. Merrill.

Knight, J. (2007). Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press

Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (March, 1996). The Evolution of Peer Coaching.  Educational Leadership, 53 (6), p. 12-16.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Academic Coaching: Making it Work!

  1. Susan

    I was a literacy coach years ago, before the concept or position had been well defined or developed. It was DIFFICULT to walk the line…on one hand, a coteacher/colleague, on the other hand…something not quite clear, not quite comfortable. Glad we have come so far since then! Thanks for the tips and wise words.

  2. peggie

    Perhaps the one most vital person in establishing the role of a coach in a building is the principal. I believe it is the duty of the principal to clearly establish the role of a coach and be supportive. Without the principal’s support, the coach often is viewed as, as indicated in the article, a dreaded person instead of a supportive colleague!

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