Is Instructional Coaching (IC) The Ultimate Professional Development Tool For Your Team?

By GERMAN RINCON M.S.Ed. – Foreign Vice Principal at World Foreign Language Kindergarten, Shanghai, China.

After a decade of leading international departments in ECE across China, in different settings with different structures and systems – not to mention the diverse culture of the people and the environments – I can’t think of a challenge that is more relevant and evident than the struggle of finding suitable tools to boost the professional development (PD) of teachers, as individuals and collectively. Surprisingly, this tool or magic formula is closer than you think. We call it Instructional Coaching (IC).

Tangible benefits of having an Instructional Coaching Program (ICP) in our schools:

1. School Culture: Strengthening the school culture by establishing a psychological safety environment. Psychological safety enables candor and openness and, as such, thrives in an environment of mutual respect (Edmondson, A. 2019). A culture of learning and a lifelong learning mindset will nurture current instructional practices and support the development of new ones for a constant transformation of your team.

2. Teacher agency and collaboration: It levels up teacher agency, allowing teachers to voice their needs and increase their accountability while developing a lead-and-follow approach and having win-to-win interactions between seasoned and novice teachers to strengthen collaboration. ICPs are driven by this type of relationship where success is guaranteed by “investigating each other’s needs” (Gino, F. 2019).

3. Adaptive Leadership: As a school leader, your journey will benefit by using IC to help you distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges. The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems (Heifetz, R. 2009). Establishing an Instructional Coaching Program will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify your challenges, especially the ones related to your school training program, and design a path toward professional development.

4. Evaluate and strengthen your training program: Instructional coaching practices will help you test your training system and adapt it throughout the years based on your team’s develop and established skills. We can refer to training content related to planning, instruction (frame design and delivery), teaching strategies, classroom management, co-teaching approaches, student assessment (diagnostic, formative, and summative), and documentation. This continuous improvement will reduce your teacher turnover as well. We all want that!

Hands-on! How can we install IC practices in our schools?

There is no need to panic when looking at the vast and deep ocean of establishing an instructional coaching program. The first essential step is to have at least one instructional coach on your team. This role can be filled by a seasoned teacher (teacher trainer, head teacher, or grade leader) or by yourself if you don’t have an experienced teacher who can take this role when kicking off the program.

Start small and scaffold the program through teachers’ feedback but start NOW! You can design your ICP around three main coaching steps (coaching cycle):

Pre-coaching: one-on-one experience happening before any lesson observation (coaching). The instructional coach meets with the teacher to collectively identify a session’s focus and goals (purpose). An aspect the teacher wants to improve. Tip: the lesson plan is an essential document to address. Ensure the learning goals align with the activities the teacher designed.

Coaching observation: the lesson observation – we all can relate to this type of activity – where the coach aims to pay special attention to the focus established during the first coaching step. I suggest you design a coaching observation form to record the session. Some basic information you can’t miss: Questions (you might have based on what you observe), Glows (teacher’s strengths), Grows (aspects to improve, identify the potential of the teacher, what’s missing?). Tip: design the form to facilitate the “scripting” of the lesson, recording the interactions between the teacher and the students for further feedback in the next step.

Post-coaching: feedback to the teacher. Collectively unfold the coaching session (instruction) by reflecting on the coaching form and designing a path of action for continuous improvement and future sessions. Tip: listen more, talk less—the root of coaching. Lead the process of guiding the teacher to find answers through self-reflection.

You can run the coaching cycle continuously throughout the year, depending on your team’s needs. I suggest having at least one coaching cycle per semester but feel free to adapt it based on your team structure and the developmental stage of your teachers, along with other school projects you might be running throughout the year.


Establishing an Instructional Coaching Program for your team has a wide range of advantages for teachers and school leaders – equally – while significantly impacting the quality of student learning. An ICP can become your department’s “core and explore” for a sustainable professional development journey. The program’s structure, system, and dynamics are flexible – with applications tailored for each teacher – mutually supportive, where the coaching cycle steps are led by inquiry, interdependent, and inherently aligned with your team development stage. When are you going to start developing yours?

GERMAN RINCON is a Teacher Educator, Foreign Principal, International Education Consultant and IB PYP Coordinator. He is currently based in Shanghai, China.


Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth (p. 18). Wiley.

Gino, Francesca “Cracking the Code of Sustainable Collaboration: Six new tools for training people to work together better.” Harvard Business Review November-December (2019): 72-81. Print.

Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. Harvard Business Review Press (2009). Print.

8 thoughts on “<strong>Is Instructional Coaching (IC) The Ultimate Professional Development Tool For Your Team?</strong>”

  1. Thank you German for this very well written and researched article. I can see how powerful IC can be as a professional development strategy – especially as it is individualised and focused on student outcomes. Perhaps a very valuable investment indeed.

    1. Thank you, André. Your book is a limitless source of inspiration for all of us. Your readers are now equipped with essential and advanced tools to make their leadership journey an unforgettable one.

  2. Obviously this is a quite useful tool to get to know your team…German showed us the benefits of using IC and the process was so fun!

  3. Excellent piece of writing.

    I completely agree.

    May I also add that the ICP is also useful in encouraging Empathy & care by just plain sharing & understanding among each other as a team. I have experienced that just simple sharing in a trusting & comfortable environment is so very good for the emotional well being of persons, the free flow of feelings in a safe & mutually respecting environment has far reaching benefits & impact. During the COVID times & online classes – we did that in the school that I was leading – we reserved saturdays for free sharing between the class teacher & student – it was structured that sometime there will be the whole class (it used to become noisy because all wanted to speak at the same time – the teachers did not put any checks in the beginning but gradually – they structured that there has to be speaking as well as listening – so there was a good system of sharing – not just academics but anything), sometimes – one on one student & teachers. There were time slots for parents as well. And, it was really very healing, constructive & very useful for healthy & good teaching & learning.

    These simple acts of care & concern ultimately lead to the bigger goal of professional development.

    1. Dear Vatsala,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on ICP. You are absolutely right; the sharing sessions are essential spaces for healing, not only during tough times, but also to support a culture of psychological safety and create a holding environment for novice educators.

      As you mentioned, speaking and listening are key. I believe your leadership dynamics of developing spaces in your community to foster this practice provide opportunities within your PLC to strengthen everyone’s agency while promoting learning and growth.

      This is an excellent leadership practice from which we can all learn.

      German Rincon M.S.Ed.

  4. What an amazing, detailed and accurate article! I found it is so practical to apply ICP by following your advice, thank you so much for that German! Also, I would like to ask you a question, did you face any challenges when you were applying ICP in your current school? Look forward to hearing back from you!

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you for your feedback. Yes, I do faced a couple of challenges as I implement ICPs in different settings. I would classify them into 3 stages of its implementation and will offer some solutions/advice

      1. Launching the ICP: sharing expertise and helping your staff to team up around diverse areas of experience and expertise is not easy. So it’s important to know your staff well, identify allies around the initiative. Advice: select 2-3 ICP objectives based on your setting and staff talent to develop a potential area of growth to motivate your teachers to collaborate.
      2. Program Implementation: as people experience coaching, you can have different (sometimes unexpected results) scenarios where you face friction between teaching approaches or just different points of view on how to address teaching and learning in the classroom. This is where your expertise enters to play an essential part role, you need to be around your team to guide coaching interactions, offer advice, direct or redirect the program based on your staff needs. Advice: have a detailed agenda for observations pre-coaching and feedback sessions, so you can monitor the program and guide your team. As they experienced growth and witness the positive results, new initiatives will pop-up to strengthen the program.
      3. Future implementations/new IPC cycle: as you run the program for a semester or an entire academic year, you would need to apply upgrades to scaffold the learning of your team. Based on teachers’ feedback of the program, you can add different levels of difficulty, like more observations, peer-to-peer reports, workshops sharing results, etc. This will keep your staff motivated and engage while promoting agency among your team members. Advice: listen to your team to upgrade your program, you normally set the frame for the first ICP version, but from the second version on, you should have more input from your team based on the first cycle. Let them own the program, adapt your leadership and let them fly by their own.

      I hope this information is useful for you and your team. Wish you all the best implementation the program. Just remember it is your own program, feel free to adapt my approach and improve it based on your experience and school settings. I wish you all the best, enjoy the journey of implementation.

      German Rincon M.S.Ed.

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