Observing lessons as an instructional coach

When I first became a coach, I was unsure what exactly I should write down during an observation. Over time, my coaching skills improved and I began to work with teachers on their own personal focus area. For instance, if a teacher asked me for help with engaging all students in the writing process, I would begin our coaching cycle by observing that teacher during a writing lesson. I would take note of what the teacher and the students said and did around writing, noting what was asked of the students and what they produced (or did not produce). These observational notes would help me talk to the teacher about next steps and would help me plan my demonstration lesson or our co-teaching lesson.

As an administrator, I learned how important it was for me to have a focus area before going out to observe in classrooms.  There are many things that can be observed in a classroom on any given day, but a coach cannot give a teacher feedback on all elements of teaching and learning at once. The more narrow your focus, the more the teacher can connect and reflect.

In Chapter 2, What are instructional leadership skills?, of my new book The Coach ADVenture: Building Powerful Instructional Leadership Skills that Impact Learning, I talk about three big areas in which you might focus your classroom observations.

Here is a small excerpt from the book…

Below is a list of possible instructional, environmental, and cultural items you might observe in a classroom:


  • Break down of minutes of teacher talk, student talk, and silence
  • Learning tasks—What are students actually saying or writing?
  • Daily objective/ learning target—What is stated or posted about the day’s learning?
  • Text—What text(s) are students seeing, using, reading, viewing?


  • Room setup—Students’ seating arrangement, teacher desk, other furniture, etc.
  • Print-rich—Are there books, posters, charts visible in the room?
  • Student work—Is there current student work visible in the room? Is the student work all identical or unique?


  • Representative—Do the posters or pictures or books in the room reflect the culture of the students? Do they reflect diversity?
  • Risks—Do students feel comfortable taking risks?

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

On my website I have a page of resources to accompany the book. Included on that page are some sample note-taking guides that can support an instructional leader. Ideally, your note-taking guide should be based on your coaching goals with an individual teacher or your site focus areas. The more detailed notes a coach takes, the better the coaching conversation can be with a teacher. I know that when someone gives me feedback, I appreciate detailed, specific information with examples. In your role as coach, I encourage you to reflect on the following:

  • How do you take notes during an observation?
  • How do you decide what to focus on during an observation?
  • How do you use your notes to frame your coaching conversation?

You can see a preview of The Coach ADVenture on the DBC website here. If you are reading the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts using the hashtag #CoachADV on social media. TheCoachADventure_Cover_Front

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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1 Response to Observing lessons as an instructional coach

  1. Pingback: Blogging Trends in 2019 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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