What Do Instructional Coaches Do?
Written by Jim Knight.

Instructional coaches partner with teachers to help them improve teaching and learning so students are more successful. To do this, ICs collaborate with teachers to get a clear picture of current reality, identify goals, pick teaching strategies to meet the goals, monitor progress, and problem solve until the goals are met. We define instructional coaching as follows: “Instructional coaches partner with teachers to analyze current reality, set goals, identify and explain teaching strategies to hit the goals, and provide support until the goals are met.”

Devona Dunekack, who has worked with me since 1999, was prompted to try and define instructional coaching a few years ago when she was asked a question many coaches tell me they hate to be asked: “Tell me, what is it that you do?” Devona’s friend, who asked the question, was genuinely curious about Devona’s work. Devona did her best to explain her job, talking about how she worked with teachers and helped them improve their instruction.

Her friend, who was a nurse, trying to understand, then asked, “so you’re a trainer of trainers is that right, you train teachers?”

“Well in a way, I suppose,” Devona said, “we help teachers improve what they do.”

“We have them in nursing,” Devona’s friend said. “I hate that.”

“Why?” asked Devona, somewhat taken aback.

“Well they show up and we have to sit in a room all day and hear about stuff we already know. And the sessions are boring. And we sit there and talk about the presenter’s hairstyle or her shoes, and we have to go just to remain certified. I hate that.”

“Well I’d hate that too,” said Devona. “But what if your trainer of trainers met you on your floor and got to know you, and really listened to you and affirmed you? What if you became comfortable telling her where you wanted to improve, and the trainer of trainers worked with you and showed you exactly how to improve in your chosen area by working with your patients, and then watched you and gave you helpful suggestions and support until you could easily do the new skill you wanted to learn?”

“Oh I’d love that,” said Devona’s friend.

“That’s what I do,” said Devona.

And that is what instructional coaches do. Shoulder to shoulder with teachers they respectfully share teaching strategies that help teachers meet goals that they set.

Instructional coaches partner with teachers to

  • analyze current reality,
  • set goals,
  • identify and explain teaching strategies to hit goals, and
  • provide support until goals are met.


  1. Jo Gill

    Hello Jim,

    What route should i take to become an Instructional Coach? I am currently a Learning Support HS Teacher.

  2. Laura

    Hi Jim,

    I have been a instructional coach of varying degrees for about four years. About three-ish years ago I completed a two-year course entitled “Building Instructional Leaders” in which your book, “High-Impact Instruction” was the centerpiece for the activities. Actually, your book was the best part of the course for many reasons, which I don’t need to get into now.

    Over the course of my coaching career, where I was first in a local system and now for the state department of education, I have shared ideas and resources and modeled from what I learned and what I practiced as I coach for teachers, principals and central office staff. One of the most influential items I have worked with is your 20-minute High Impact survey. It offers the best way for me to explain to teachers how to take the qualitative data from a visit/walk-through and subsequently quantify into something we can work with. Well, there’s more to this, but I can follow up if you respond to this comment?!

    So, the main purposes for my comment, beyond thanking you for that book and the resources, is to inform you that some of the links within your “Instructional Coaching” blog are broken. Additionally, I am wondering how I can go about using the 20-minute survey with schools if they want to add their own personalized touches to it, thus reflecting their goals. One school in particular loves it and has used it after I coached them how to use it and provide non-evaluative feedback after the peer visit; however, they would like to make minor tweaks that reflect the domains of knowledge, a school focus, but still keep all of the “Jim Knight” copyright stuff at the bottom.

    What do you think??

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Jo, I suggest you start by going to our website http://www.instructionalcoaching.com. You might consider coming to one of our week-long workshops, but there are many ideas on the website that you can review just to get get started.

  3. Jim Knight

    Hi Laura, We are working on the links. Can you share which ones? We’re not able to find them.


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