One of the most formidable challenges facing educational leaders today is the challenge of translating research into practice. Unfortunately, professional development often has little impact on what actually happens in classrooms, despite the money and effort expended. This article, “Instructional Coaching for Implementing Visible Learning: A Model for Translating Research into Practice,from  2019 that was published in Education Sciences suggests how one widely implemented educational construct, Visible Learning, may be implemented through the use of instructional coaching. 

This paper addresses this topic by: (a) offering a brief summary of the central tenants of Visible Learning; (b) summarizing the foundational research on instructional coaching conducted at the Kansas Coaching Project at The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning; (c) discussing how the coaching process derived from those findings may be utilized to support the implementation of Visible Learning and other innovations; and (d) concluding with suggestions for future research on coaching and Visible Learning. 

Visible Learning

This original work on Visible Learning was conducted over a 15- to 20-year period, and it “involved analyzing more than 800 meta-analyses composing around 80,000 studies in which an estimated . . . 250 million learners took part.” This paper focuses on Visible Learning as it is described in Hattie and Zierer’s comprehensive discussion, 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success. The 10 mind-frames are as follows: 

  1. Visible Learning is about teachers making their impact visible… through understanding what students in the classroom (Diagnosis); having multiple high-probability and adaptable interventions (Intervention); and knowing the skills impact of the interventions (Evaluation).
  2. I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps.
  3. I collaborate with my peers and my students about my conceptions of progress and my impact.
  4. I am a change agent and believe all students can improve.
  5. I strive for challenge and not merely “doing your best.”
  6. I give and help students understand feedback, and I interpret and act on feedback given to me.
  7. I engage as much in dialogue as monologue.
  8. I explicitly inform students from the outset what successful impact looks like.
  9. I build relationships and trust so that learning can occur in a place where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from others.
  10. I focus on learning and the language of learning. 

The challenge, is to find a methodology for translating the Visible Learning research and ideas into practice. Instructional coaching offers a fitting methodology. 

Instructional Coaching Research

The Instructional Coaching Model is a result of more than 20 years of systemic study. The research includes studies, beginning in 1997, including hundreds of interviews with teachers regarding professional development; testing of the partnership approach vs fidelity (or implementation) approach; studies on instructional coaching from the U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP program, and The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL); a multiple-baseline study of coaching to measure its impact on teaching and student engagement, as well as other studies all leading to the articulation of a simple model for instructional coaching, as described below.

Instructional Coaching Model

Research on instructional coaching conducted at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning has resulted in the development of a deceptively simple instruction coaching cycle involving three elements:  Identify, Learn, Improve.

During the Identify stage, coaches partner with teachers to identify a clear picture of reality, a PEERS goal, and a strategy the teacher will implement to hit the goal. During the Learn stage the coach helps prepare the teacher to hit the goal by clearly describing the strategy to be implemented, often with the help of a checklist, and then provides a model of the strategy in one or more ways. Finally, during the Improve stage, the coach supports the teacher as he or she makes adaptations until the goal is met. 

Applications to Visible Learning

For a construct such as Visible Learning to be implemented in a deep and effective way, a professional development model such as instructional coaching is essential.  

Partnership Approach: Coaches who position teachers as partners need to employ a sophisticated approach to communication about Visible Learning. On the one hand, they must have a deep understanding of Visible Learning and be able to describe each of the elements of the framework, and at the same time, when taking the partnership approach, coaches must structure coaching so that teachers use their own knowledge and experience to decide how Visible Learning will be implemented. 

Identify: Coaches can use video, or other observable data, to get a clear picture of reality through analyzing student work. The coach and teacher can then choose a powerful student-focused goal, and to identify what strategy or strategies the teacher will implement to hit the goal. 

Learn: One way to deepen, reinforce, and support coaches’ knowledge of Visible Learning is for coaches and other educational leaders to create an instructional playbook. Coaches may also find value in modelling strategies for their teachers. 

Improve: The Improve stage is an opportunity for coach and teacher to explore how the various components of Visible Learning may be combined to increase impact.

When powerful research like Visible Learning is implemented widely and successfully, students are much more likely to succeed. This paper is an exploration of how instructional coaching could be employed to support implementation of Visible Learning, but further studies are needed on the particular aspects of instructional coaching and Visible Learning. 

The research conducted at the Kansas Coaching Project has made one thing clear: Supporting teachers in their implementation of evidence-based practices is much more complex than simply holding a workshop and expecting teachers to implement certain practices. Professional development that fosters genuine professional learning and leads to real improvements in the classroom has to position teachers as partners, and be job-embedded, explicit, and adaptive.

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