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Instructional Support vs. “Developmentally Appropriate” Coaching: Are They Really at Odds?

27 Oct 2014 by Ginny Vitiello

There is a new study out that suggests that teachers benefit from coaching that has an early and frequent focus on Instructional Support. Bob Pianta and his colleagues looked at teachers in MyTeachingPartner (MTP) Coaching and tried to untangle the effects of different components of the program.

(As a reminder, MTP Coaching consists of a series of 2-week cycles in which a teacher records herself teaching and sends it to her coach. The coach selects three short clips to highlight target dimensions, and the teacher is asked to respond to “prompts” about each clip. The teacher and coach then meet to discuss the responses and plan for the next cycle. Teachers also have access to the CLASS Video Library and are encouraged to watch videos between meeting with their coach. Learn more here.)

To summarize what the researchers found:

  • Gains in CLASS scores were most consistently associated with the number of Instructional Support prompts completed by the teacher.
  • Focusing prompts on Instructional Support was positively associated with gains in all three CLASS domains.
  • Time spent watching videos in the Video Library was effective when teachers watched Emotional Support videos.
  • Watching Emotional Support videos was associated with gains in Emotional Support and Classroom Organization.

In other words, teachers that responded to more Instructional Support prompts made greater gains across Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, and Instructional Support. Pretty interesting!

This is actually making us rethink how we advise coaches. We typically recommend establishing a solid relationship with teachers by starting with Emotional Support dimensions, and moving to Instructional Support once the relationship is strong. In light of this new research, we’ve had good internal discussions about the pros and cons of moving teachers to focus on Instructional Support earlier in the process, and I can’t say we’ve resolved it yet. Maybe it needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the teacher, the relationship, and the comfort level of the coach. But my colleague, Sheri Crump, said that these findings are in line with her own experience as a director and coach. She emailed me this:

When I was involved in the Early Reading First grants during my Head Start years, we informally observed the positive influences to Emotional Support, and Classroom Organization, even though our coaching efforts focused heavily on improving instructional strategies and child outcomes. We were convinced that we needed to move beyond the old stand-by of focusing on social-emotional issues first before we could even consider academic interventions. Instead, our mantra became that "we need to focus on both!" When children became empowered with new, exciting learning opportunities that really made a difference, the fall-out included a closer relationship with their teachers, and a reduction in major behavior issues. The children had higher language skills, and an increased interest in exploring the classroom.”

How does this research accord with your experiences? Is it “developmentally inappropriate” to start teachers with a focus on Instructional Support?