Developing Instructional Coaches and Teacher Leaders

Side by side, we work with teachers and leaders to improve the quality of education for all students.

Content and Instructional Coaching

The word “coach” has long been associated with athletics. It refers to the observer on the sidelines who provides explicit instruction, ongoing, detailed feedback regarding performance, and “in-the-moment” support to guide a player’s development. This same process of coaching now applies to the field of education. Schools and districts across the nation are recognizing how important it is to move professional development from outside the classroom to a job-embedded model where teachers receive in-the-moment support from content and instructional coaches.

CEL provides job-embedded coaching to teachers and leaders to improve the quality of learning for all students. The purpose of coaching is to provide focused support to help educators reach the goals they have set for students through the enactment of research-based best practices in teaching and leading. Coaching can also help teachers and leaders contextualize district goals or practices that they are learning in district or school professional development, ultimately applying them in their own classrooms.

Taking an inquiry approach, our coaches aim to uncover the strengths, goals, and questions of student learning that educators bring to their work, bring their own content expertise to bear on the questions, and then decide what kinds of guidance, information, or scaffolding will help them to achieve their goals.  Our coaches may address specific issues of content area curriculum and instruction (including common core shifts) or focus on general instructional practices.

Content and instructional coaching involve conversations about student learning data, goal-setting, and practices and may involve side-by-side support during the process of teaching or leading, and modeling instructional practices “live” in the classroom.  We work in the context of each district’s teacher evaluation rubric and instructional framework, taking a growth-focused approach.

Coaching the Coaches

It is imperative that coaches receive professional development designed to support their challenging and important role in improving teaching and learning, and being as supportive to teachers as possible in order to shift classroom practice in alignment with districts’ visions of powerful instruction and higher academic standards.  We support in-service, practicing coaches, people aspiring to become coaches, and formal or informal teacher leaders who may wish to integrate coaching practices into their work with their colleagues while continuing to teach students.

CEL’s coaching professional development utilizes video or live observations of lessons of classroom instruction and coaching in action. We also provide opportunities for participants to practice engaging in authentic coaching conversations to help increase their repertoire of skills in working with adult learners.  In addition to supporting coaching knowledge and skill, we also support coaches in developing their own subject-matter and instructional knowledge as well as their ability to collaborate with each other and with teachers as inquiry-based cohorts.


  • Implement instructional practice shifts, in particular those required by the Common Core State Standards.
  • Deepen subject-matter content knowledge and develop effective classroom practices.
  • Align district frameworks, content standards, grade-level expectations and instructional practices.
  • Enhance the facilitation and coaching skills of teacher leaders, curriculum specialists, and those working directly with teachers to improve instructional practice.
  • Use new teacher evaluation systems as a means for observing and analyzing instruction, giving feedback, and supporting the professional growth of teachers.
  • Observe classroom instruction to identify leverage points for coaching work.
  • Consider a range of coaching practices in relation to an identified purpose.
  • Craft coaching schedules for maximum effect.
  • Design powerful professional development experiences focused on student learning.
  • Help develop a common vision and language around good instruction.
  • Develop the principal-coach relationship and the skills needed for effective collaboration.

To read about our coaching work with the Highline School District in the Washington State Kappan, click here.

Leadership Coaching

District and school administrators with a deep understanding of high-quality instruction can engage an entire educational system in the business of improving achievement — from parents and school boards to principals and teachers.

Leadership coaching also involves conversations about student learning data, goal setting, and practices. It may also involve side-by-side support during leadership events, walkthroughs of classrooms, classroom observations and analysis of classroom data, or data analysis. In CEL's side-by-side coaching work, we work alongside leaders to help them develop the skills they need to support teachers on the spot. We might offer suggestions, feedback or language a leader can implement immediately, during the work of leading.


  • Clear the decks for the important business at hand: student achievement.
  • Target and align resources around excellent, equitable learning.
  • Build the capacity of district office and school staff.
  • Develop a common language and common vision around the idea of high-quality instruction.
  • Lead and guide professional development.
  • Identify the systems-level policies, practices, and structures that must change in order for instruction to improve.
  • Implement instructional practice shifts, in particular those required by the Common Core State Standards.
  • Deepen subject-matter content knowledge and develop effective classroom practices.
  • Align district frameworks, content standards, grade-level expectations and instructional practices.

Contact us for a no-cost consultation of how we can support the improvement of teaching and learning in your district.