The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education in multiple ways—from lagged academic progress and social-emotional growth to teacher burnout. Strengthening the role of instructional coaches is one way education leaders across all levels and content areas are taking on the challenge. But what role can administrative leaders play to support both the coach and teacher?
Recent evidence indicates that while students have fallen behind in both math and reading, declines are greater in math subjects (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2021). Given the critical role educators have on student achievement, many states are strengthening instructional coaching to improve teacher practice (Darnell, 2020), which can lead to improved student achievement (Kraft et al., 2018). For example, Alabama recently passed the Alabama Numeracy Act, highlighting the critical role of mathematics coaches, particularly for low-performing schools. Additionally, the act aims to add hundreds of math coaches to classrooms. Efforts such as those in Alabama bring a renewed focus to the system of support necessary for effective instructional coaching in mathematics.
The skill of the coach is vital, but “the school leader is just as important to get the job done” (Sweeny, 2017, para. 4). One central goal of instructional “coaching is lifting the learning of every member of the school community,” which is difficult to achieve without the support of leadership (para. 4). Everyone within the school must be committed to the coaching process and work together to ensure its success. It goes without saying that leadership buy-in of an initiative and the support they provide is strongly related to successful outcomes. School leaders are the driving forces for change in their schools and student achievement, second only to classroom instruction (Leithwood et al., 2021).
State and local education leaders are planning ways to support school leaders to ensure effective instructional coaching. For example, the Alabama Numeracy Act calls for a workgroup to create an Alabama Instructional Leadership Framework applicable to all K–5 administrators. This framework will help school leaders establish “norms for participation and collaboration in coaching cycles and professional learning to strengthen teacher practices” and provide “feedback for school-based academic coaches in meeting the vision and support set for quality professional learning” (Alabama Numeracy Act, 2022, Section 15).
Region 7 Comprehensive Center’s brief, Considerations for Developing Effective Math Coaches: A Content-Driven Perspective, provides key points for administrators and math coaches to consider when developing a math coaching program. Content-specific understanding is a critical part of leading improvement efforts in math. This understanding can help shape the roles and responsibilities of the leader to establish a culture of coaching and instructional improvement. School leaders should utilize this math-specific lens while emphasizing the following strategies:
- Establish communication, distributed leadership, resources, scheduling, and relationships necessary for students to achieve the best outcomes in math.
- Commit to establishing a collaborative learning process with coaches and teachers (Alabama State Department of Education, 2020).
- Focus on personal and team growth, holding one another accountable for growth, and building and supporting a culture of continuous improvement (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014).
- Develop strong and collaborative relationships with math coaches to better provide leadership for the school’s math program (Alabama State Department of Education, 2020).
- Develop and implement a shared vision of high-quality math instruction and increase staff confidence in providing instructional guidance (Inge et al., 2014).
As educators across the country strategize to mitigate the decline in math learning, one of the actions administrators can take is to set the stage for content-rich math coaching.
Authors: Lauren Jetty, Lori Vandeborne, and Sarah Hughes, Region 7 Comprehensive Center
Alabama Numeracy Act, SB171. (2022). http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/ALISON/SearchableInstruments/2022RS/PrintFiles/SB171-enr.pdf
Alabama State Department of Education (2020). The Alabama Coaching Framework. RMC Research Corporation.
Darnell, R. (2020). The effects of instructional coaching on student performance in reading and math of elementary students at a selected school district. [Doctoral dissertation, Milligan University]. Milligan Digital Repository. https://mcstor.library.milligan.edu/bitstream/handle/11558/5100/Darnell_ Rachel_20200508.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
Inge, V., Hodges, V. & Robertson, P. (2014). Principals Partnering to Build a Vision for School Mathematics. The Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, (14). https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1348&context=jmsce_vamsc
Kraft, M. A., Blazar, D., & Hogan, D. (2018). The effect of teaching coaching on instruction and achievement: A meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 88(4), 547–588. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraft_blazar_hogan_2018_teacher_coaching.pdf
Leithwood, K., Louis, K.S., Anderson, S., and Wahlstrom, K. (2021). How Leadership Influences Student Learning.Wallace Foundation. https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/documents/how-leadership-influences-student-learning.pdf
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to Actions Executive Summary.
Sweeney, D. (2017). Leading student-centered coaching. https://www.dianesweeney.com/leading-student-centered-coaching-2017/
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2021). Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/20210608-impacts-of-covid19.pdf