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What It’s Like to Be an Instructional Coach


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It was only a few years ago that I first heard the term instructional coach. When I was in the K-12 setting, we had no such thing, at least as far as I knew. But it seems lately I hear more and more people describing themselves that way, so clearly this is a role that’s growing in many schools. I thought it was time for me to take a closer look at the work instructional coaches do.

What is an Instructional Coach?

The Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching defines an instructional coach as “someone whose chief professional responsibility is to bring evidence-based practices into classrooms by working with teachers and other school leaders.” Coaches are usually experienced teachers who have moved away from full-time teaching to work directly with other teachers and help them improve their practice.

Within that broad definition, roles vary from district to district and coach to coach: Some coaches refer to themselves by specific content areas—titles I hear most often are literacy coach or math coach—and other coaches focus on general instruction. Some coaches work exclusively one-on-one with teachers who have identified needs, while others may demonstrate strategies for large groups before going into the classrooms to coach individual teachers.

The path to hiring a coach can also take many forms. Coaches may be directly employed by a school or district, like Eric Sandberg, who is one of three coaches employed full-time by a single school. Other coaches, like Gretchen Schultek, work for nonprofit organizations that contract out their coaches to schools as needed. And there are other coaches who work entirely on their own, marketing their services online and building relationships with schools in their local area or even at great distances, serving clients by traveling directly to them or through online coaching.

Interviews with Two Instructional Coaches

To learn more about what coaching is like from the inside, I interviewed two instructional coaches for my podcast.

Interview #1: Gretchen Schultek Bridgers


Gretchen Schultek worked as an elementary teacher for eight years before venturing into coaching. As a coach for The New Teacher Project, she works in a variety of schools whose administrators have requested coaching services for new teachers. She also offers advice and encouragement to teachers through her blog, Always a Lesson, and her podcast of the same name.

What advice does Gretchen have for other coaches? “It’s all about how you relate to one another,” Gretchen explained. “You could be sharing the best piece of advice. It could be gold, but if you don’t have a relationship they’re not going to hear it from you and they’re not going to apply it. So it’s just wasted time and energy. So focus on those relationships. Also, listen more than you speak. You’re going to find out a lot about someone just by listening to them. So instead of coming into a meeting ready to get right to it and share everything you planned to share, give them a minute to just share whatever it is that’s on their mind because that could really be integral to their improvement.”

Listen to our interview:

Get Transcript


Interview #2: Eric Sandberg


Eric Sandberg is an instructional coach employed by a district in Erie, Pennsylvania. His blog, Your Instructional Coach, offers tips for coaches and tackles some interesting dynamics related to coaching.

When discussing how he approaches coaching, Eric used a toolbox metaphor. “The tools in your toolbox as a coach help teachers come to that next step, but not just always in an enforcement mode of, you know, I’m the hammer. I’m going to smash if you don’t fix. So it’s to be more sophisticated with your methods as a coach. Because just like in the classroom, telling is not teaching. If I just tell you, ‘Oh you should really do this…’ that’s not teaching you in the classroom if you were the student. And it’s really not very good coaching either.”

Listen to our interview:

Get Transcript


What I have learned from my brief study of instructional coaching is that there’s plenty more to learn. As a relatively new field, coaching has lots of room to grow, offering educators a more refined menu of coaching services from which to choose, and giving experienced teachers the opportunity to apply their skills and expertise in new roles. ♦


Learn More about Coaching

When I looked for more information on coaching, two names came up repeatedly: Elena Aguilar and Jim Knight. If you’re interested in learning more about coaching, their resources would be a great place to start.


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Art of coaching

Elena Aguilar’s blog on Education Week, The Art of Coaching Teachers, contains several years’ worth of in-depth advice and information on instructional coaching. She also has a fantastic collection of coaching resources on her own website, and her book, The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation, is a best seller on Amazon.



Jim Knight is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, whose mission is “to study factors related to professional learning and how to improve academic outcomes for students through supports provided by instructional coaches.” The site offers resources and forms for coaches, videos, and research on coaching best practices. Check out his latest book, Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected.


Keep in touch.
I would love to have you come back for more. Join my mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration—in quick, bite-sized packages—all geared toward making your teaching more effective and joyful. To welcome you, I’ll be sending a free copy of my new e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half. I look forward to having you join me.



  1. Subhalaxmi Iyer says:

    Hi Jennifer. I am Subhalaxmi (Subu, in short, if the former is a tongue twister). I am what you would call an Instructional Coach at my School here in India. I train teachers who have classroom management challenges. I’d like to know more about this field if you have any material – Podcasts, videos, articles anything.
    Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Christina says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I stumbled upon your website after googling Instructional Teacher Coach. I am a teacher looking to branch off into the area of coaching but I want to market myself and not be affiliated with schools/districts in my area. I would like to provide local and worldwide coaching, virtually or by phone. Do you have any great resources or other names of coaches who market themselves who are not hired by schools? I would like to read more about how to market myself as a business. If you have any other tips, please share.

    Thank you so much in advance!

    • Hi Christina, I work with Cult of Pedagogy and wanted to let you know that Jenn put out a tweet about this. (If you aren’t yet on Twitter, it’s something you probably want to do as it’s a great way of making contacts.) Here’s the link to Jenn’s tweet — so far there are lots of people who seem to be able to help you out! Yea!

  3. I’ve been an instructional coach since 2012 and I love it! It’s very rewarding to assist teachers in their practice and work together to problem solve classroom/instructional issues.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Diane Sweeney’s student-centered coaching books have also been valuable resources in my coaching experience.

  5. Susana says:

    I found your interview with Gretchen on Instructional Coaching to be be refreshingly invaluable. Your questions were superbly attuned to what new coaches wonder and as all good teachers know, it’s the details that do matter. For example, asking “where do you put your things when you enter a space,” to me, was as important as “what questions do you ask teachers in the relationship building phase.” Thank you so much for the excellent work and the additional resources. Very helpful and very high quality.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Susana! Jenn will be so happy to know how much you enjoyed the interview — I’ll make sure she heads on over to see this.

  6. Poorti says:


    Can you guide me as what course should I persue as I wish to upgrade myself as Instructional coach…with having 22 yrs being educator

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Poorti,

      If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Jenn’s post, What It’s Like to Be an Instructional Coach to learn about the various coaching roles, what it takes, and paths to getting hired. At the bottom of the post are links to other coaches you can learn from, one of whom is Jim Knight. I reached out to an instructional coach friend, and she too brought up Jim’s name. You can look him up and follow him on Twitter @JimKnight99 – he does a lot of instructional coaching work out of KU.

      Having said that, in general, having lots of classroom experience (especially in a variety of grade levels) and coaching strategies are going to be important.

      Hope this helps – maybe others will see this and be able to jump in as well.

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