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Instructional Coaching Cycles: What’s the right Choice?

by Kenneth McKee, NBCT

How to Choose the Right Instructional Coaching Cycle


Research continues to support how instructional coaching cycles can enhance teachers’ practice. But, some debate what exactly counts as a coaching cycle. The truth is there are a few types of coaching cycles, and each one’s usefulness differs based upon the situation.  Here are four different models of coaching cycles you could choose from. I’ve included strengths and weaknesses about each model as well as points of how the use of video could enhance each one.


Observation and Feedback


In this coaching cycle, the coach and teacher establish goals for an observation in a pre-conference. The coach then descriptively captures information from the class, and then the coach encourages reflection from the teacher. This cycle works well for the coach to make a formative assessment of the teacher’s current practices and providing feedback for point-of-need growth.


Strengths: Realistic assessment of a teacher’s current practice; quicker to organize than other cycles; lighter preparation load for teacher and coach; encourages personal reflection on practice.


Weaknesses: May emphasize a power dynamic between teacher and coach; coaching may not impact change quickly.


Video Enhancement: Sharing video evidence of the agreed-upon focus can help the teacher see descriptively what happened in the lesson rather than only relying on the coach’s perspective. The coach’s use of time-marked comments (such as those in Sibme) can align thinking between the coach and teacher.




In a model lesson, the role of the teacher and coach are opposite of their roles in the observation and feedback cycle. The coach teaches students in order to explicitly model instructional strategies for the teacher. The coach still recognizes the teacher as the expert on their content and students, and, thus, the pre-conference discussion involves the coach sharing his or her lesson and asking for suggestions before teaching. The coach will also ask the teacher to collect data during the class. Afterwards, the coach leads a reflective conversation with the teacher about his or her vantage point as the observer.


Strengths: Non-threatening way to establish trust between coach and teacher; teacher can see impact of strategies on their own students; great opportunity for coach to strengthen his/her own practice.


Weaknesses: Since the coach designed the lesson, transfer may be weaker without adequate support for the teacher.


Video Enhancement: Modeling can create great opportunities for the coach to self-reflect on his or her practice. Particularly interesting videos can be utilized for showing additional teachers instructional practices on a school web page or as part of professional development. The coach could also video himself or herself teaching the teacher’s students while the teacher is not present, so he or she can see how the students behave while not in the room.


Planning and Co-Teaching


During this cycle, the focus is on the content students must learn. Coaching is focused upon standards, curriculum, and instructional sequence. The teacher and coach collaboratively plan the lesson and decide which role each will take in delivering the lesson to students. The coach may be more or less involved, depending on the goals and needs of the classroom teacher. Afterward the teacher and coach debrief on how well the lesson helped students learn the content, and then they discuss strengths and weaknesses in the lesson.


Strengths: Team-oriented approach; both coach and teacher deeply invested in success; coach can be involved deeply in teacher’s professional growth; great potential for coaching and reflection in the process of teaching.


Weaknesses: More difficult to collect objective data on goals; requires much more time and commitment for both the coach and the teacher.


Video Enhancement: Video of the lesson could enable the teacher and coach to reflect together. Video supplies data that is difficult to capture while co-teaching.


Group Reflection


Group reflection may take the form of instructional rounds, lesson study, or another format. The coach leads a group of teachers in the pre- and post-conference process. One host teacher identifies a new practice or a potential problem. He or she invites peers to give feedback on that focus, usually through a few questions The coach helps set the focus for the group. The peers make notes about the host teacher’s questions during the class. The coach facilitates a discussion about the lesson with the peer teachers, while the host teacher makes notes. Then the host teacher is invited to reflect.


Strengths: Host teacher receives feedback from colleagues in the field; host teacher can hear a variety of perspectives; group reflection can positively build school culture.


Weaknesses: Teachers may potentially offer unsolicited feedback; organizing meeting times with multiple people can be difficult.


Video Enhancement: Video can be used when teachers’ schedules do not allow them to visit classes in person.

Kenneth McKee, NBCTKenny McKee is a National Board Certified Teacher who currently serves as a high school instructional coach in the Buncombe County Schools district in Asheville, NC. His interests include teacher leadership, blended learning, disciplinary literacies, and instructional coaching. He is the co-creator of ASCD’s #EdAdvBecause chat, and he was a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Connect with him on his blog ( or on Twitter (@kennycmckee).

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