Coaching Cycles

In my role, I support the instructional coaches that our district provides to each school site. This year we are focusing on in-depth coaching cycles in our professional learning to enhance the impact this role has on improving teaching and learning.

There are various definitions and interpretations of coaching cycles out there. I chose to define coaching cycles for our purpose as:

  1. Teacher and coach establish a mutually agreed upon focus.
  2. Coach employs the gradual release of responsibility over the course of the cycle, beginning with modeling, moving into co-planning and co-teaching, and then observing to provide feedback, all around the agreed upon focus.
  3. Coach follows up with observations after the coaching cycle to continue to support, provide positive reinforcement and feedback around the focus.

In our work, we stress the importance of selecting a research-based focus that will enhance the teacher’s instruction, and thereby the students’ learning. While teachers often want and need support with individual programs or initiatives, in order for coaching to have a long-term impact, a coaching focus must be grounded in pedagogy.


CCC licensed work on wikipedia

CCC licensed work on Wikipedia

There are some critical elements that must be in place before a coaching cycle like this can be planned or initiated. These elements include:

  • A trusting relationship between the teacher and coach
  • A coach with strong instructional, content, and pedagogical knowledge
  • A schedule that allows the coach to spend extended periods of time with a single teacher
  • Time for the teacher and coach to debrief and co-plan together before and after each day of the cycle

The element that was most surprising to our coaches was the follow-up at the end of a cycle. It is so important to check back in with a teacher after the official cycle has ended to ensure that the teacher has maintained the instructional skill that was taught, modeled, and practiced throughout the cycle. The teacher needs positive reinforcement if the skill is evident one, two, and even four weeks after the cycle. Equally important, the teacher needs explicit feedback if the skill is absent during these check-ins. If we believe that coaching can impact instruction, we must ensure our cycles include follow-up opportunities to gather data and provide ongoing support for long-term impact.


How do you define coaching cycles?

What experience do you have with coaching cycles as a teacher or a coach?

What advice might you give to a coach trying their first coaching cycle? 

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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5 Responses to Coaching Cycles

  1. Amy Ellerman says:

    I’ve found that color-coding my schedule helps me to prioritize. My coaching cycles are sacred, and I schedule everything else around them. When I’m working side-by-side with teachers (and that’s always the stance I take), it is a does the walk match the talk situation. And carving out the time to be in the classroom is key–plus regular time to plan and debrief. I feel like the best learning (for me and for teachers) happens embedded in the daily work.

    For a new coach my advice would be, “Dive in wherever you see an open window.” Working together in a coaching cycle builds trust and rapport fast!

  2. Amy, the cycle we’ve designed at my school looks similar but different. I’ve included the visual in this post: . The main difference is the role of the coach. For us, the coach doesn’t give positive feedback or specific advice. Rather they use a pattern of ‘pause-paraphrase-question’ to help the coachee dig deeper into their own reflections and strategies for growth.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful post. In my district, we use a similar framework for cycles, and understand that follow up is essential to support implementation. A question that keeps coming up for me is how we monitor the permanence of this mindset in our colleague being coached. Thinking and designing instruction in this way is labor- and time-intensive, so how do we support our colleagues as they make this mindset a permanent part of their practice? Or, as one colleague, defined it: “How does it go from being an app to part of the operating system?”

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