Teaching by Design, Part Uno

Photo by Alice Dietrich on Unsplash

In his book, “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” Dr. Les Foltos outlines three general areas of skills that instructional coaches should possess: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.”  Dr. Foltos uses the metaphor of a three-legged stool to describe how these skills are all critical to successful coaching, “Remove any leg and coaching could fail.”  The last of these three areas, lesson design, is perhaps the most nuanced to address.  Teachers start out writing detailed lesson plans as student teachers and slowly move away from this as they become more experienced.  Most, if not all, keep detailed lesson plan books for their own guidance but a lot of the less plan details are internalized.  Given the accelerating rate of change in education, how does a peer coach help teachers explore, reflect, and improve upon lesson and unit planning in their practice?  Dr. Foltos provides one such tool in his book that he refers to as the “Learning Activity Checklist” and divides this approach into four categories: Standards Based, Engaging, Problem Based Task, and Technology Enhances Academic Achievement.  A further exploration of these four areas, with the relevant ISTE Coaching standards in mind, provides some additional insights into the essential question raised around lesson design.

Coaching Standards

1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches: 1a. Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.

3. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies. 3d. Personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

4. Learning Designer: Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students. Coaches: 4a. Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.

Essential Question

How does one approach lesson design in an ever-evolving classroom context?

Standards Based

In his “Peer Coaching” book, Dr. Foltos is clear about the need for standards based instruction, “There are three groups of standards educators should include in their learning activities: curriculum standards, 21st-century standards, and technology standards (Meyer et al., 2011m).”  There is plenty of support for this approach across educational literature and research. “Understanding By Design” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe raises the critical approach of beginning with the end in mind.  In the case of standards-based teaching, this means the standards.  The standards will inform construction of learning objectives to be introduced to students at the beginning of the lesson or unit and learning outcomes to be evaluated as student success criteria at the end of the same given lesson or unit. Wiggins and McTighe focus in on this as defining the “why” of the instruction, “Answering the ’why?’ and ’so what?’ questions that older students always ask (or want to), and doing so in concrete terms as the focus of curriculum planning, is thus the essence of understanding by design.”

Not only are objectives important, but individualized feedback coupled with those objectives is critical.  This can take the form of formative assessment along the way or summative assessment at the end of the activity or unit.  “Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback” is so important that Robert Marzano cites this as one of the “Nine Categories in Instructional Planning” based on meta-research he conducted and wrote about in his book entitled “Classroom Instruction that Works”.  Dr. Foltos speaks to this as well with an emphasis on formative assessment of the standards based learning, “Educators must use formative assessment, which gives learners opportunities to receive feedback at benchmarks along the way, “to revise and improve the quality of their learning… while they are engaged in learning new materials” (Bransford, et al., 2000, pp. 24–25).”  While the objectives are classwide and the learning is standards based, individualization is important toward this end as well because every student is different. According to John Hattie’s book on meta-analyses of education research, Visible Learning for Teachers, formative assessment has a student learning effect size of 0.90 and individualized feedback has an effect size of 0.75.

Universal Learning is a valuable approach to consider when looking at lesson planning because it means providing individualized access for students whether they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 504, or not.  In the Edutopia blog post entitled “Ensuring That Instruction Is Inclusive For Diverse Learners” by Nina Parrish, she speaks to the idea that Universal Design provides a flexible model for adjusting instructional approaches.  She lists three key ideas for successfully implementing universal design in the classroom, “Teach content in many ways, provide choices to sustain student engagement, and provide accommodations for all students.” Universal Design creates a more student centered approach that is more inclusive across the entire classroom for all students.


“Tasks are essential in learning that asks students to play an active role in solving real-world problems and develop 21st-century skills. They hook the students, engage their interest in a learning activity, and define how students will demonstrate their learning.”  The type of learning tasks that Dr. Foltos is describing in his book on “Peer Coaching” are authentically engaging tasks.  For a task to be engaging, it must be developmentally appropriate.  Chip Wood’s book, “Yardsticks”, provides developmentally appropriate descriptions that can be extremely useful for appropriate engaging students at certain ages.  He speaks to our establish knowledge in this area, “In the first half of the last century, the so-called “giants” in the field of child development—people such as Jean Piaget, Arnold Gesell, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Lev Vygotsky—observed, researched, and recorded most of the developmental patters that form the basis of our knowledge of how children mature.” Meeting students where they are at based on these established “developmental patterns” means we can better engage students.

In fact, “Engage” is the first of the five “E’s” listed as part of “The BSCS  5E Instructional Model” by Rodger Bybee.  The 5E Model is based on the work of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, among others, in terms of the natural and “engaging” progressions of learning. According to John Hattie, Piagetian programs have an effect size of 1.28.  By engaging student interest through a discrepant event that connects to previous knowledge, teachers can help student construct new knowledge by moving from equilibrium to the disequilibrium engaged by the discrepant event and eventually back to equilibrium through the processing of new learning in the “Explore” and “Explain” phases.  Teachers then verify understanding via student’s ability to apply new learning in a different context via the “Elaborate” and “Evaluate” phases.

As demonstrated by the three provided examples, appropriate engagement is key.  This is as much an art as a science and will vary teacher to teacher and even class to class with the same teacher.  The importance throughout different contexts is a focus on being intentional about engaging the learner.  Dave Burgess is a master at this as demonstrated through his “Teach Like a Pirate” philosophy.  His book, “Teach Like a Pirate, Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator” speaks to the importance of engaging students in their learning in a way that makes sense for each educator based on their respective passion, “It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, you can become totally engaging to your audience if they can feel your passion and love for what you are doing. You will draw students in as if by some magnetic force.”  Passion is engaging, and it’s also contagious and spreads throughout your learning practice and to those around you.  Passion is engaging.

Halfway Home

So far, with Dr. Foltos’s “Learning Activity Checklist”, we’ve looked at the first two categories of ”Standards Based” and ”Engaging”.  These are two critical areas to keep in mind when reviewing existing lessons and units as well as designing new ones.  There are numerous connections across literature and via educational theorists to support these approaches.  That being said, one is best off focusing on one aspect of one category at a time as opposed to trying to process and apply all four areas at once.  Over time, with practice, many of these approaches can become second nature and intuitive for the intentional teacher. The authors of “Understanding by Design” speak specifically to this process of internalization.  The remaining two areas of ”Problem-Based” and ”Technology Enhances Academic Achievement“ will be addressed in the follow-up to this blog post.  There are entire books written on each topic, so the intent will be to address key points from established resources like this introductory post.  Together, all four areas create powerful opportunities for intentional teaching of carefully designed lessons and units of instruction.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (January, 2018). Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  4. Parish, N. (May, 2019). Ensuring That Instruction Is Inclusive for Diverse Learners. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/ensuring-instruction-inclusive-diverse-learners
  5. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005).  Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  6. Marzano, R., Pickering, D., Pollock, J. (January, 2001). Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  7. Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks. Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
  8. Bybee, R. (2015). The BSCS 5E Instructional Model. National Science Teachers Association.
  9. Burgess, D. (2012). Teach Like a Pirate. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
  10. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  11. Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. Routledge.
  12. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA). (2013). PBL Network, Collaborative Inquiry in Action. IMSA.
  13. PBL Works. (2020). Buck Institute For Education. Retrieved from https://www.pblworks.org/
  14. Zeidler, D. & Kahn, S. (2014). It’s Debatable. NSTApress.
  15. Vega, V. (December, 2012). Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes
  16. Erdogan, N. & Bozeman, T.D. (2015). Models of Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century. Sense Publishers.
  17. Kolb, L. (2017). Learning First, Technology Second. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
  18. Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development & Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
  19. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). (2016). NBPTS. Pearson.
  20. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.

If You Say Tomayto and I Say Tomahto then Why are We Debating Potayto? The Importance of Communication and Collaboration to Successful Peer Coaching.

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Teaching is a hard job in the best of times.  Add in a pandemic that requires the ability to teach in-person, remotely, or some combination there-of, and more questions than answers will surely arise.  Teachers need help and support and hopefully this is where peer coaches can come into play, but where do coaches even begin to establish the complex level of support needed by teachers?  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he outlines key skills needed by coaches: “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design.”  All three areas are important, but the coaching skills of communication and collaboration are essential.  Both ICT integration and lesson design are dependent upon effective communication and collaboration, “A coach’s successes in incorporating lesson-design skills and insights into the effective use of technology “hinge on their success with communication and collaboration skills” (J. Linklater, personal communication, June 14, 2012).”  A closer look at coaching skills also requires relevant context since the peer coach takes on a variety of roles: “Facilitator, Collaborator, Expert, and Catalyst.”  Successful coaching requires that effective application of skills coincides with, complements, and even enhances the critical context of coaching roles.

Coaching Standards

2. Connected Learner: Coaches model the ISTE Standards for Students and the ISTE Standards for Educators, and identify ways to improve their coaching practice. Coaches: 2c. Establish shared goals with educators, reflect on successes and continually improve coaching and teaching practice.

3. Collaborator: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 3a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.

5. Professional Learning Facilitator: Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning. Coaches: 5b.  Build the capacity of educators, leaders and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback.

Essential Question 

How do coaching skills, with an emphasis on communication and collaboration, translate into all of the different roles that peer coaches take on?


When the peer coach assumes the role of facilitator, this means “Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations,” (Foltos, 2018).  Regardless of the size of facilitation, the coach needs to be prepared to model risk taking, “Other Peer Coaches model risk taking and recognize that taking risks may occasionally mean failure” (Foltos, 2013).  This helps lay the foundation of safety that’ll be needed for collaboration later on. This is also a key communication strategy that the peer coach can reference later on when trying to navigate the tricky terrain of providing constructive peer feedback.  As described by famed communicator Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People, “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”

Acting as a facilitator, means being able to guide staff interactions and transitioning in and out of a peer leadership role.  This means being aware of group norms.  In the absence of agreed upon norms, pairs/groups will develop their own unsaid norms that may not be as conducive to effective collaboration.  By taking the lead in this area and developing norms together, the structure can help facilitate the relationships and learning: “Collaborative norms shape our conversations in ways that build trust and respect; they define accountability and build capacity. Collaborative norms are essential for effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).


Being a collaborator means “Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities,” (Foltos, 2018).  This means “Addressing the potential fear-factor of working with an instructional coach”, which can be accomplished by modeling risk taking as mentioned in the facilitator role and providing a safety net within the relationship, “Their efforts to encourage their peers to adopt more innovative teaching and learning strategies are always undergirded by the safety net they built with their collaborating teachers,” (Foltos, 2013).  When collaborating, you’re often preparing, planning, teaching and reflecting together with a focus on student learning. The reflecting is where the trust and safety net come in so that coach and teacher can “discuss what worked and what the peer would do differently next time” in a safe manner, (Foltos, 2013).

A critical part of effective collaboration is clear communication and utilizing strategies that support this.  A simple but powerful strategy that Dr. Foltos references in his book is paraphrasing, “In its simplest form, paraphrasing is the listener repeating, albeit in a modified form, what he or she heard the speaker say.”  This facilitates clear communication and ensures understanding while also demonstrating that the coach is practicing another critical listening skill that Dr. Foltos refers to as active listening: “Active listeners are focused on what the speaker is saying. They look right at the speaker, block out competing thoughts, and assess what the speaker is saying.”  This also ties into one of Dale Carnegies key strategies for building relationship, “Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves.”  Again, all of this builds toward the coach being able to grow the relationship with the teacher while helping the teacher grow in his or her practice, “Give honest and sincere appreciation” and “praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” (Carnegie, 1936). This strategy is so important and underutilized that it’s worth citing additional support from an Edutopia article on the topic by Shannon McGrath and entitled 5 Vital To-Dos for Instructional Coaches, “Be vocal about the good you see: Teachers rarely get focused feedback on the practices they devote so much of their time to improving. Be constantly on the lookout for small moves your teachers are making that shift students, efforts that go above and beyond expectations, or relationships that are making the difference for students.“

There are additional benefits in this for students as well, because “teachers who learned these communication skills from a coach turn around and teach these same skills with their students (P. Cleaves, personal communication, May 23, 2012),” (Foltos, 2013).  On top of this, good coaching is actually an effective teaching strategy per the meta-analyses of research done by Dr. John Hattie and as cited in The Distance Learning Playbook by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie (2020).  This also leads into and connected with some strong research cited around effective questioning strategies which support a lot of the work coaches do as a catalyst, but, first, let’s explore the often misunderstood role of expert.


The role of expert is probably the hardest to navigate while maintaining the role of peer and “Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics,” (Foltos, 2018).  This is because growing the relationship means you “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely” per Dale Carnegie but you also need to posses a self-evident mastery of the relevant content.  Most importantly as the expert, the peer coach needs to be careful not to take learning responsibility away from the learner and inadvertently steal their joy of discovery because this engenders ownership of ideas: “Effective coaches, like Grace Dublin, make it clear to learning partners that “the responsibility to learn something belongs to the learner” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” Foltos (2013).  Even better as far as persuading individuals to a new way of thinking goes per Mr. Carnegie, “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

The following from Dr. Foltos ties together the ideas inquiry into the other teacher’s ideas and advocacy for the coach’s ideas, “Inquiry Over Advocacy: When is the right time for advocacy? How often can they [coaches] present their solutions? As I noted in earlier chapters, successful coaches feel that a little advocacy works, but only after a strong coaching relationship based on inquiry is formed. Too much advocacy, they observed, means the coach becomes the expert with the answer. Garmston and Wellman (1999) argue it is important for successful collaboration to balance advocacy and inquiry.”  In other words, one should refrain from playing the role of expert as much as possible in a peer coaching relationship.  It’s like yelling by the teacher in the classroom, which should be reserved for the rarest of instances (preferably emergencies) so that when actually needed it can be utilized effectively.  Otherwise, when over-utilized, the role of expert will lead to potential disagreements that inevitably grow into arguments, and “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it,” (Carnegie, 1936).  This is doubly important and true of the peer coaching role.  


After significant work has been done to grow relationships with teachers, coaches can serve in the role of catalyst: “Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using question strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers,” (Foltos, 2018).  There are many ways to build to this level.  The work done as facilitator, collaborator, and expert should help and go a long way toward establishing this level of relationship.  Additionally, efforts to grow teacher confidence through careful actions such as providing recognition for positive accomplishments can help, “Successful Peer Coaches use a variety of strategies to get teachers recognition for their work. Many coaches use conversations with their peers to recognize the strengths of the learning activities the teachers are using with students and work to help their learning partners build on those strengths,” (Foltos, 2013).

With inquiry over advocacy in mind, effective questioning strategies can be especially helpful in the catalyst role.  Dale Carnegie emphasizes the power of asking questions with regard to changing attitudes and behaviors, “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”  Practice can be built with regard to clarifying questions, which “… are simple and typically factual. They fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle…”, and then lead to higher level probing questions, “Why are they [probing questions] so critical? The answer gets to the heart of effective coaching,” (Foltos, 2013).  Research supports these strategies with regard to learning and so again there is an added benefit that teachers tend to turn around and employ these new strategies with their students.  According to Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, “Questioning has an effect size of 0.48.”  The right line of probing questions lead to deep reflective thinking which is even more powerful for learning, “Metacognitive strategies have an effect size of 0.55.”  One longtime peer coach, Dr. Greg Bianchi, wrote his entire dissertation on the power of metacognition.  When we keep in mind that any effect size greater than 0.40 greatly accelerates student learning then this is powerful stuff.  Not to get ahead of ourselves, it’s still important to remember the power of consistent small changes for continuous Improvement: “Successful Peer Coaches don’t push for one big, dramatic change, instead relying on an incremental process of continuous improvement,” (Foltos, 2013). 

So, What’s the Potahto? 

Teaching is a hard job and, by association, so is peer coaching, “Most Peer Coaches I have worked with know that they are trying to build these kinds of relationships in difficult circumstances. Many have worked in schools in which teachers work alone and in which collaboration consisted of teachers exchanging lesson plans and teaching resources,” (Foltos, 2013).  Building relationships is key to being able to make any progress with regard to effective coaching translating into student learning growth.  True collaboration is elusive because school systems are not designed to facilitate this.  So coaches must rely on relationship to bridge these systemic gaps, “Being friendly, positive, and supportive doesn’t guarantee innovation, but coaches won’t encourage innovation without drawing on these behaviors to create a safety net.”  To influence teachers, coaches need to be adept and adroit with their approaches to create that trust-based safety net so that they can “Arouse in the other person an eager want” and “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest,” (Carnegie, 1936). Creating a safe enough environment for positive change to happen is more challenging with teaching because it’s deeply personal, “Teaching is an identity and an action, not just a vocation,” (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2020).  This means that, ultimately, “Peer Coaches can’t be the experts with the answers. Instead, as Grace Dublin insists, coaches are there to “help them formulate their strategies. It is ultimately their answer” (G. Dublin, personal communication, September 13, 2011),” (Foltos, 2013).  Coaches can truly effect change by believing in their teachers to arrive at their own answers because belief not only has a large effect size on learning, but it also does something even more powerful: it empowers the believer to “Give the other person a fine reputation to to live up to,” (Carnegie, 1936). This action persuades teachers to pursue the desired improvement by way of self-fulfilling prophesy because a coach knew that a teacher could be something more and guided them to that realization through careful facilitation, collaboration, and expertise that all lead up to a catalyst.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek 
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Carnegie, D. (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Pocket Books.
  6. Fisher, D., Frey, N., Hattie, J. (2020). The Distance Learning Playbook. Corwin.
  7. McGrath, S. (2019). 5 Relationship-Building Tips for Instructional Coaches. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-relationship-building-tips-instructional-coaches
  8. Bianchi, G. (2007). Effects of metacognitive instruction on the academic achievement of students in the secondary sciences. Seattle Pacific University. Retrieved from https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007PhDT…….128B/abstract

Is Coaching Remotely Necessary in the Era of Remote Learning?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” —Mother Teresa

Image created by Digital Promise

“Educators often say that education is frustratingly isolating. And if you talk with them about collaboration, you quickly learn that they know it can be a powerful tool to improve teaching and learning—and many feel a growing expectation to collaborate.”  In an article written for Edutopia, Dr. Les Foltos leads off with this quote and captures the quintessential crux of the collaboration problem in education.  The teaching profession, by structure, inherently isolates teachers from each other and others in their profession, yet, collaboration is key to effecting change in education.  As Dr. Foltos goes on to write, “Reducing the isolation starts with the recognition that collaboration is a learned skill.”  Peer (instructional) coaching is one such solution that Dr. Foltos provides and an increasing body of research supports.  How do educators successfully implement this model under the best of circumstances, let alone during a pandemic that often requires remote instruction that’s done online?  We need to start out by looking at the why and what of coaching before we can begin to look at the how in any case, especially in regard to online applications.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 1

  1. Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches:
  • 1a Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.
  • 1b Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.
  • 1c Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals.
  • 1d Recognize educators across the organization who use technology effectively to enable high-impact teaching and learning.
  • 1e Connect leaders, educators, instructional support, technical support, domain experts and solution providers to maximize the potential of technology for learning.

Essential Question

What, why, and how can peer instructional coaching help to increase collaboration and effective professional development in general let alone in the midst of a pandemic?

Why Instructional Coaching?

Diana Lee writes for EdSurge, “A growing body of research confirms her theory, showing instructional coaching to be more effective for teacher growth than traditional forms of professional development.” The quoted research from Digital Promise is also strengthened by Instructional Coach Teresa Engler,  “I wish I had a coach in my long career as a teacher because there were times I felt like I was struggling and if I just had the support of a coach next to me, I would’ve been able to be a little braver, try to do more things or been just a little more confident in what I was implementing in my classroom,” she reflected. “Having a coach would have made a significant contribution to the quality of my teaching—expanding what my students learned from me.”  Peer coaches provide support based on personal experience, research, and professional development that also serves as a safety net for teachers to be brave and implement new learnings together.

The “why” for instructional coach grows with every passing research study in support of this practice as well as personal anecdote citing success.  In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he cites research by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2009) in support of instructional coaching, “They found that teachers need about 50 hours of professional development to improve in a specific area.”  This proven need exists yet teachers often only receive training that’s “…episodic, myopic, and often meaningless.”  The cited key idea that most administrators miss is that ”Improving Practice Can Only Be Done by Teachers, Not to Teachers”. Most Professional Development only focuses on theory and how to put this into practice with a successful application by teachers no more than 15% of the time.  Training that includes “coaching, study teams, peer visits” demonstrates successful classroom implementation in 80-90% of trainings according to Dr. Foltos. 

What is the Quintessential Quiddity of Instructional Coaching?

Moving from “why” to “what” with regard to peer coaching means moving from supporting research and anecdotal stories to what instructional coaching actually looks like.  Dr. Les Foltos outlines the core skills required in chapter 3 of his book: “Think of a successful coach sitting on the stool in Figure 3.1. The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” So first and foremost, communication and collaboration are the foundation of coaching skills.  While Dr. Foltos lists information and communication technology integration second, he actually describes the technology component as being secondary to both coaching skills and lesson design.  Communication skills are a recurring theme while learning is clearly emphasized as top priority with technology serving in secondary albeit essential supporting role, “It is not (never was) about technology. To make a difference, it has always been about good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning. (Sylvia Tolisano, 2009)”.

In support of these critical coaching skills, coaches take on a variety of approaches while supporting teachers.  Dr. Les Foltos describes these roles in the following manner:

· “Facilitator- Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations. 

· Collaborator- Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities. 

· Expert – Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics. 

· Catalyst – Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using questions strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers.”

Knowing the different roles involved with regard to supporting teachers is an important facet of the peer coach’s efforts.  When combined with a clear mastery of the skills required, the role of peer coach can be very powerful in effecting instructional transformation across a building.  As for whom, the role of instructional coach can be a fellow classroom teacher, a part-time instructional coach, or even a full-time teacher on special assignment.  As long as it’s a peer, the peer coaching model can be effective.

How does this Translate Online?

How does the why and what help us achieve the how of peer coaching in general?  This question needs to at least be addressed concurrently if we are to explore how to potentially implement peer coaching online. According to research from Digital Promise, there is a strong correlation between peer instructional coaching and technology implementation and instructional integration.  One question related to this is how does this technological connection translate to peer coaching that’s provided online.  What does instructional coaching in the era of remote learning, and therefore remote teaching, mean for educators in need of additional support more than ever.  The nature of effective professional development doesn’t change once everything related to school and education over all moves online, “When the program evaluators focused on one topic, technology integration, they found that 30 hours of collaboration produced increases in the teachers’ use of technology with students. More significant changes in comfort and use with students occurred when the coaches collaborated more than 40 hours (Cohen & Patterson, 2006).” This research quoted by Dr. Les Foltos makes clear the need for continued coaching support in an online environment.

Peer coaching still needs to involve the application of the three key skill categories cited by Dr. Foltos within the context of the four different roles that instructional coaches typically take on.    To be done in an online environment, educators must identify and implement effective tools and strategies that support communication and collaboration via a remote learning environment, instructional technologies that work remotely, and lesson design that remains focused first and foremost on effective learning pedagogues while accounting for the differences of online learning.  When educators can do this in support of their colleagues then they must also keep in mind that this looks different when serving in the role of Facilitator versus collaborator, expert, or catalyst.

More Questions than Answers?

This is a very high-level and relatively vague description of moving an incredibly complex role online and more details are needed for any sort of full explanation.  By tackling one at a time in future posts, I hope to further explore in a much more detailed manner how each of the three areas of coaching skills described by Dr. Foltos potentially translate online to a remote learning environment.  Additionally, I hope to explore what he writes on several occasions in regard to the power of the ripple effect in effecting change across the various systems that make up a school’s ecosystem.  Translating and transforming this ripple effect from in-person to online is critical in an era of online instruction and also raises the possibility of amplification in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of spreading positive instructional practices throughout a school community and beyond.  Being “the change” as referenced in the Ghandi quote cited at the beginning of this post means that anyone can “ripple” their influence far beyond what they observe on a daily basis just like Mother Teresa.  This powerful combination speaks to the potential of peer instructional coaching transformed for an online environment.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.
  4. Foltos, L. (January, 2018).  Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
  5. Lee, D. (September, 2020). How Personalized Coaching Can Kick-Start Your School’s PD (Sponsored content from Digital Promise). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-02-how-personalized-coaching-can-kick-start-your-school-s-pd
  6. Van Ostrand, K., Seylar, J., Luke, C. (2017). Prevalence of Coaching and Approaches to Supporting Coaching in Education. Digital Promise. Retrieved from https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Prevalence_of_Coaching_Report.pdf
  7. Johnson, K. (2016, June 28th). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves