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Friday, December 1, 2017

Walk through the doors of any Wisconsin school today and you will see educators working long hours to improve outcomes for their students. When presented with the task of incorporating new initiatives and practices, even after significant professional training, those same teachers often feel overwhelmed. Moving from training to successful implementation is unlikely if teacher support stops with learning about a new practice.

Most educators are familiar with the seminal work of Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002), who found even with practice and feedback, when learning new skills only 5% of teachers actually continued to use those skills when they returned to their classroom. Yet, when coaching was provided, implementation improved to 85-95% of participants. Since this initial research, the work of Elena Aguilar, Jim Knight, the National Implementation Research Network, and others has found the conclusions of this research hold true across classrooms, schools, and districts. Coaching accelerates the implementation of the innovative practice. But most importantly, coaching promotes and increases the fidelity of implementation. And it’s that part which leads to the intended outcomes for students.

While much of the coaching research has centered on instructional coaching and work with individuals, there has been growing attention to systems or transformational coaching of teams and organizations. Given the potential impact of coaching, administrators are increasingly interested in providing quality coaching support. Yet, even an informal survey, across the state or the nation, will find that coaching has come to be defined in many different ways depending on who you ask, where you look, or what practice the focus of coaching supports.

If coaching means different things to different people in different settings, we do not have fidelity to coaching. If we don’t have fidelity to coaching, we cannot ensure the outcomes promised by the research.

The Wisconsin State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) is a federal grant awarded through the Office of Special Education Programming (OSEP). Its focus is developing professional learning communities (PLCs) as an enabling context for any innovation or evidence-based practice intended to improve outcomes for students with IEPs. Participating schools have been supported by coaches for the entirety of the project’s duration, initially providing training in PLC practices, and then shifting to coaching the schools as they moved from exploration to installation and implementation.

It was during this shift from trainer to coach that the SPDG project staff recognized the overwhelming need for a common understanding and definition of coaching. The SPDG coaching team shared exceptional education credentials, strong leadership skills, extensive experience as school administrators and CESA trainers, but they followed the national trend in interpreting their role as coaches in very different ways.

A diverse group of stakeholders convened to develop a common understanding of coaching that would be applicable to all types of coaching: individual, classroom, leadership, systems, transformational. The goal was to use research from the field of coaching to determine the essential components critical to anyone who served in a coaching role. Representatives from the RtI Center Leadership and Coaching Team, the DPI Special Education Team, the DPI Literacy and Mathematics Team, the DPI Title I Team, WCER Grant Evaluators, and DPI Implementation Science Specialists joined the SPDG staff to develop a Coaching Competency Practice Profile (CCPP).

The process of developing and using practice profiles was pioneered by the National Implementation Research Network. A practice profile is a way to allow practices in the field to be teachable, learnable, and doable. A practice profile includes the what and the how. It also specifically identifies the why and the how not.

The Coaching Competency Practice Profile (CCPP) describes the essential functions that allow coaching to be teachable, learnable, and doable in educational settings. It consists of measurable, observable, and behaviorally-based indicators for each essential function and promotes consistency across practitioners at the level of service delivery. The CCPP provides a common definition and understanding of coaching. It serves as a launching point for individuals to inform coaching practices and consider when developing a coaching system that integrates methods for selecting, training and coaching coaches. The practice profile is not intended to be used in an evaluative manner for individual coaches, but rather to inform a comprehensive coaching system that supports individual coaches.

This tool may be used in potentially four ways:

Informing practices of coaches
As individuals who identify as a coach or serve in some sort of coaching capacity, this tool may serve as a self-reflection tool, a guide to set personal growth goals, and to further develop the capacity and scope of individual coaching practices.

Selection of coaches
As teams consider selecting individuals to engage in the important work of coaching, this tool may serve as a guide in creating position vacancy descriptions and other job selection tools such as interview questions, exam questions, and candidacy qualifications in the hiring process.

Training of coaches
As teams cultivate the capacity of identified coaches, this tool may be used as a coaching self-reflection instrument and can support self-development and goal setting activities. Individuals or teams may also find this tool helpful when identifying, selecting or developing training within a comprehensive coaching system. This tool may inform conversations with supervisors about ways to further develop the capacity and scope of the coach. Conversations should in no way come from an evaluative position.

Coaching of coaches
As teams strive to increase the capacity of coaches, this tool may inform conversations with peers and coaches about ways to further develop the capacity and scope of the coach. This tool can provide insight into an overall comprehensive coaching system and how it is structured to support and develop coaches.

Currently, the SPDG team is testing CCPP supportive tools in the field with the SPDG coaching team. These include tools for coaches to self-assess, set goals, reflect on their coaching sessions and receive feedback from the teams they support. There is also a tool to observe coaches based on their personal goals and the umbrella goal set by the project team. This allows the SPDG staff to have dialogue grounded in a common understanding of their roles when working with school teams. It also encourages conversations between the coach and their team about how they can support implementation of PLC practices while maintaining fidelity to their role as a coach.SPDG coaching diagram

The work that has started with the SPDG staff is ongoing and will be part of a continuous improvement cycle. We welcome and encourage thoughts and questions from the field as schools and districts consider the CCPP while developing coaching systems and coaching service delivery plans.

More information about practice profiles can be found at the Active Implementation Hub , which is developed and maintained by the State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-Based Practices (SISEP) and the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). Resources can also be found on the Department of Public Instruction’s website at


Subscriber submission: Written by Debra Ahrens. A similar version of this story was published in the AWSA newsletter.