Can Team Coaching Improve High School Teaching as Effectively as Individual Coaching?

Kathy Neesen

For close to a decade, research has shown that the coaching-based professional development model MyTeachingPartner improves classroom instruction and increases student learning.

MyTeachingPartner, created by researchers at the Curry School of Education’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), has traditionally matched a coach one-on-one with a teacher. Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, a new three-year study will now explore how high school teachers can work in teams to observe, analyze, and improve the instruction taking place in their respective classrooms.

The team will test MyTeachingPartner-Team (MTT), a derivative of MyTeachingPartner-Secondary (MTP-S), the coaching model designed specifically for middle and high school teachers.

“Many school districts are turning to peer learning communities or team coaching for their professional development, but we don’t have a lot of evidence yet that these models lead to meaningful changes in teaching practice or student learning,” said Bridget Hamre, associate research professor and a lead investigator of the study.

The goal of this study is to fill an important gap in the research on if teachers can effectively improve their teaching utilizing a team-based professional development program.

According to Hamre, the MyTeachingParnter-Team model will try to overcome some of the challenges found in scaling MTP-S to reach more and more teachers. “We have evidence now from two studies that demonstrates the individualized MTP-S coaching process improves teaching and student learning in middle and high schools. But, we also know that some of the biggest barriers to implementing such a program at scale are staffing and time.” Hamre feels a key goal of this study is to design a coaching program that overcomes those barriers without losing the powerful effects of the original MTP-S program.

Similar to the original MTP-S model, MTT will guide teachers to observe their own classroom practice, identify effective interactions, and make a plan to implement and improve new teaching strategies. But, in contrast, the MTT approach will train teachers to coach each other.

According to Hamre, the MTT model has greater potential to be adopted across a wide range of secondary schools because it is not only more cost-effective, but draws on coaching resources within school itself, “This professional development approach has the potential to empower teachers with the knowledge and expertise they need to work together so they can improve teaching school-wide,” Hamre said.

The relationships between the teachers are not the only relationships the researchers will study.

One of the most crucial topics of the project will focus on how teachers can build meaningful relationships with the students in their classroom – the type of relationships that make adolescents feel valued, respected, and encouraged to engage in learning.

Joe Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a co-investigator of the study, says guiding teachers to see the value in building such relationship is critical.

“Adolescents, perhaps more than humans at any other era in the lifespan, are uniquely attuned to social relationships,” Allen said. “Our research has found that the level of respect and sense of independence students experience in the classroom really impact the level of engagement students are willing to invest in the academic process.”

Another obstacle the MTT study will explore is the lack of focus that often plagues team-based professional learning communities.

“In in order for team-based coaching to be effective, teachers need to have a common lens,” Hamre said. “Our goal is to figure out how we can provide a common language for observing, talking about, and improving teaching practice.”

The study, which began this fall, will include several small pilots and a larger field trial over the next three years.

Ultimately, Dr. Allen says the overarching goal is simple, “MTT is designed to take the principles that made MTP-S work and make them far easier to implement within regular school settings.”