Student Centered Coaching

11/20/2009  |  DIANE SWEENEY
educational coaching

Over the past two decades, school-based coaching has gone from being rare in the mid 1990s to commonplace today. Educators are in agreement that the goal of coaching is to improve student learning by providing continuous, relevant and job-embedded support to teachers. Now that coaching is more firmly rooted in many of our schools, and becoming newly established in others, we have to wonder about its impact. We have to consider whether coaching is improving student learning as we had hoped it would. And if it hasn’t, we have to reconsider the approach we’ve taken thus far so that we can ensure that coaching impacts student achievement in meaningful ways.

When I began my career as a fourth grade teacher I had little more than a vague notion of the complexities that I would encounter on a daily basis. Fortunately, I taught in a school that began providing literacy coaching support during my second year — an opportunity that enriched my life as a teacher in profound ways. It was this experience that led me to write Learning Along the Way, and also motivated me to spend the last 10 years working to develop systems of support for teachers so that our schools become a place where we come together to think deeply about how to best address our students’ needs as learners.

What is Student-Centered Coaching?
Most coaching models operate under the assumption that if we improve the teacher or teaching, then student learning will improve as well. Student-centered coaching focuses squarely on addressing students’ needs through teacher and coach dialogue. Targeting coaching on student learning is vitally important because, as coaches, we owe it to our teachers to help them reach their goals for their students. Key elements of student-centered coaching include the following:

The Focus is On a Goal for Student Learning

A key question for student-centered coaching is,“What would you like your students to be able to do (as readers, writers, mathematicians, etc).” Asking this question allows the coach and teacher to determine a specific and measurable goal for the students. It also reminds the teacher that the coaching isn’t about fixing them as much as it is about shared collaboration

around student needs. Finally, it gives the coach and teacher the opportunity to base their work on a specific standard or skill that is necessary and relevant for a particular group of students.

Conversations are Driven by Student Work

Student-centered coaching puts student work at the center of the coaching conversation. Coaching is not a reflection of what the teacher did or didn’t do, but rather, the coach and teacher work together to plan how they can more effectively meet the needs of the students. Student evidence such as; writing samples, responses to reading, assignments from subject area classes like mathematics, science, or social studies, or data from standardized assessments, are at the forefront of the coaching and instructional decision-making that ties directly to specific goals for student learning. In addition to academic forms of student work, evidence around behaviors such as student engagement, student dialogue, and classroom community are useful to guide the coaching.

Coaching is Organized Into Coaching Cycles

Coaching cycles provide continued and ongoing support by creating a structure that allows for collaboration over a sustained period of time. Coaching cycles have the following characteristics:

  • They involve in-depth work with a teacher, a pair of teachers, or small group of teachers lasting approximately six to nine weeks
  • They focus on a goal for students that comes from formal or informal student data
  • They include regular planning sessions and time in the classroom for co-teaching, modeling instruction,or observing the teaching and learning

Coaching cycles make up the bulk of a coach’s overall work with other duties including planning and facilitating large group professional development, managing data and assessment and providing informal support to teachers.

Student-Centered Coaching Depends Upon Leadership from the Principal

A coach cannot make the shift to student-centered coaching without support from the principal. Making the shift to student-centered coaching means we have to orient (or reorient) teachers around a new vision of coaching and this requires a principal leading the effort.

A Final Thought

If our ultimate goal is to improve student learning than we owe it to our students and teachers to rethink the way we’ve approached coaching thus far. By shifting to student-centered coaching, we can make a difference where it counts — with the kids.

(Portions of this article were taken from Student-Centered Coaching by Diane Sweeney).

Diane Sweeney is the founder and Lead Consultant of Spark Innovation. For more information visit or e-mail [email protected]
Comments & Ratings

  7/26/2012 12:43:58 AM

New Comment 
I personally use this with grdeas 3 or 4 and up. When they can read well. High school students could certainly use it, too, especially as a good review of grammar, because it will start easier and get appropriately hard enough by the end of the year.As for the KJV, it will use a LOT of KJV, but because this covers a history of the English language, we wanted Bible verses that use more modern English as well. Also, at the beginning of the year, when not enough grammar is known, we use simpler versions, such as the NIrV. As the students learn more, more difficult versions can be used.By the way, I love using the KJV in pronoun study. Knowing what the thee's and thou's mean and knowing their case helps SO much in understanding both the Bible and the way we use English today. The KJV's use of these so-called ancient words makes it much more specific and understandable.I hope this helps!Hugs,~Anne
  8/7/2011 1:27:54 PM

refereed article 
I would like to quote you. Has your article been refereed?