|Abstract:||School districts across the nation are enlisting the help of instructional coaches as their intensive support is thought to embody high-quality professional development (Desimone & Pak, 2017). Instructional coaches draw heavily upon the practices of modeling and co-teaching with teachers, yet we know little about this work (Gibbons & Cobb, 2017). Although some coaching studies have focused on modeling and co-teaching, these studies have primarily focused on literacy coaches’ implementation of these practices, or they have only been mentioned peripherally as part of mathematics education studies. To address this gap, in this qualitative study I partnered with two instructional coaches and five elementary teachers in one Midwestern district to explore how coaches and teachers engage in modeling and co-teaching cycles.
To attempt to better understand the complexity surrounding the practices of modeling and co-teaching, I observed 11 planning meetings, 23 lessons, and four reflection conversations to gain insight into how the instructional coaches and teachers enacted modeling and co-teaching cycles. Furthermore, I completed 27 semi-structured interviews with the instructional coaches, teachers, principals, and district-level administrator who was charged with providing professional development for these coaches. I engaged in an open coding process to analyze fieldnotes and audio recordings, examining the focus and depth (Coburn & Russell, 2008) of coach-teacher interactions and statements made during interviews. Once codes were developed and applied to all data, I worked with an independent coder to establish reliability. Once coding was complete, I tabulated frequencies and percentages to detect patterns within and across the five coach-teacher pairings, as well as within and across the practices of modeling and co-teaching.
Several stories emerged across all sets of findings. First, a set of complex conditions at the school and district-levels made it challenging for these coaches to enact modeling and co-teaching. Namely, the coaches struggled to gain access to classrooms due to the specific coaching model implemented in that district, the coaching evaluation system created a set of perverse incentives that prompted these coaches to circumvent the teachers in order to maximize student gains on pre- and post-assessments, and these coaches were spread quite thin as additional responsibilities were added to their already full plates. Due to this set of competing external conditions, I observed significant differences between the coaches’ enactment of modeling and co-teaching and recommendations from the literature. Last, at the micro-level, overall, the coach-teacher talk tended to center on logistics and other day-to-day implementation details related to the materials, schedule, classroom management and the district-provided curriculum, while discussions about mathematics and student thinking, for example, rarely surfaced.
This study sheds light on the critical challenges that emerged for these instructional coaches and teachers while engaged in modeling and co-teaching cycles. To help enhance the implementation of modeling and co-teaching, it may be productive to (a) develop a protocol that coaches and teachers can use to guide their interactions, helping foster deeper conversations about pedagogy, mathematics, and student thinking, (b) explore innovative ways to evaluate the work of instructional coaches that aligns with their day-to-day work and focuses on their impact on teachers, (c) ensure that coaches are provided with adequate professional development that further deepens their mathematics content knowledge, as well as their specialized coaching knowledge so they understand how to enact high-impact modeling and co-teaching cycles with teachers, and (d) consider implementing a content-coaching, rather that instructional coaching, model at the elementary level which would position the coaches as content experts instead of generalists expected to coach across multiple content areas.