On this episode of Mathematica’s On the Evidence podcast, we look at a potential solution to two concerns in K–12 education during the pandemic: student learning loss and teacher burnout. The conversation builds on encouraging findings from a recent study by Mathematica for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which suggested individualized, video-based teacher coaching can improve student achievement in English language arts and—in some contexts—math. The form of coaching emphasizes positive aspects of teachers’ use of instructional practices, which might help mitigate teacher burnout. To place the study findings in the context of pandemic-era student learning loss and teacher burnout, we invited the following guests:
- Nicole Minor, a teacher in the Lansing School District in Michigan who received this form of individualized, video-based coaching
- Jeffrey Max, a principal researcher at Mathematica who co-authored the study for IES about the impacts of teacher coaching on student achievement.
- Michelle Schmidt, who taught in New Orleans, Louisiana, before becoming a teacher coach
Listen to the full episode below.
I'm very glad that I was chosen because it was not more work for me. It was just being more intentional when I was planning my lessons. It did not create more time that I had to be planning. It forced me to be more intentional, reflect on my teaching practices, and how I can become better as a teacher.
I'm J.B. Wogan from Mathematica, and welcome back to On the Evidence. On this episode we're going to be talking about an approach to coaching teachers that Mathematica recently found not only changed the way teachers taught but also improved student achievement. We'll discuss that study in greater depth later in the show. But I'll note at the top that the findings were encouraging, especially in English language arts, where five cycles of teacher coaching translated to about two additional months of student learning. And this was a national study involving about 350 teachers who taught fourth graders and fifth graders in roughly 100 elementary schools in both large urban and suburban school districts.
The other point I want to make is that the study looked at teacher coaching in the 2018-2019 school year, so pre-pandemic; and the results were published in a big report for the U.S. Department of Education in the summer of last year. But we wanted to talk about the solution being studied here and the findings now because we're recording at a moment when pandemic-era learning loss and teacher burnout are both big concerns in K through 12 education. We think that this form of teacher coaching, which benefits both teachers and students, could be one part of the solution for both problems.
I'm joined today by Nicole Minor, Michelle Schmidt, and Jeffrey Max. Nicole is a teacher in Lansing, Michigan, who has received this form of coaching. Michelle was a teacher coach for the company Teachstone, a professional development provider, whose program was the subject of Mathematica's study. And Jeffrey is a principal researcher at Mathematica and was a co-author of the study we'll be discussing today.
Welcome, Nicole, Michelle, and Jeffrey.
Michelle, I want to start with you. We're going to be talking about teacher coaching based on classroom videos, and you were one of the coaches in this program. But before you were a coach, you were a teacher. So what motivated you to make that switch from teacher to teacher coach?
Yeah, so when I was a teacher in the classroom, it was tough. I felt like there was a lack of support for me and a lack of development; and ultimately, transitioning from a teacher to a coach role was wanting to be that person, provide that support, and help teachers with that growth that I felt like would have been beneficial when I was in the classroom.
I also felt like by stepping into a coach role, I could expand kind of the impact that I was having on students and improving those educational opportunities beyond just the group of students I would be teaching year to year.
Okay, great, so both the emotional element and kind of increasing the scale of what you were able to drive impact.
For sure, yeah.
Okay, and I want to stick with you for one more minute. What does this form of teacher coaching entail, and how is it different from other forms of teacher feedback that you've encountered?
So this coaching was a part of my teaching partner coaching program that we have, and it was unique in several ways. One, ultimately we were doing this remotely. So we were using videos and using Zoom to do our coaching conferences. So teachers would submit a video, and then we would watch it. We'd select some clips and send them some questions back that they would respond to, and then we would talk through and plan for their next recording. So that was definitely a unique aspect that I feel like is being used a little bit more often with us being more remote. But in 2018 and before then, that remote coaching wasn't as prevalent.
We also used the CLASS tool to guide our coaching. For those who aren't familiar with the CLASS tool, it breaks down student/teacher interactions into different dimensions, and there's different categories. One of these is specifically called "Emotional Support," which focuses on those relationships that we have with students to leverage them for student outcomes. That's something that isn't normally focused on as much in other kind of educational settings.
Then lastly, we use a strengths-based versus deficit-based coaching model for our feedback. So instead of telling teachers what they're not doing right, what they need to do better, and we need to fix in their classrooms, we look at their strengths. These strengths are related to that CLASS tool, and we highlight those for the teachers and use those strengths to apply them to other areas of growth but with that focus of teacher strengths first.
Okay, strengths-based – had you received any kind of teacher coaching while you were a teacher before you made that transition?
I would say I received more like maybe loose or soft coaching (laughing), not a very intense program, not structured in the way that this is laid out – more just kind of like feedback from – maybe it was from an observation, maybe it was feedback based off of the scores that my students received on a standardized test. That's another thing -- we don't really focus on the scores and the academics in that sense because this coaching is rooted in those interactions between the teachers and the students. Not to say that the outcomes, like the academic outcomes, aren't important; but we really put a lot of our energy into focusing on the interactions that we see happening between teachers and children.
Okay, it would make sense that that's part of the process that would ideally lead to better outcomes, right?
Yes, that is the end goal (laughing).
The logic model there, I'm sure.
Nicole, I want to turn to you. You received coaching through this program or this approach to teacher coaching, but you weren't part of the study Mathematica conducted on behalf of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. Tell us more about that experience of being coached as a teacher and why you were interested in the opportunity to receive coaching as a teacher.
Well to start off, the program came to me. Our district decided that they were going to participate in this research project, and our school was chosen. As a teacher at the school -- I had been at the school for probably about six years -- I was actually asked to be part of it. I didn't seek it out. At first, to be honest, I did not want to be part of the program because I thought it was going to be extra work. But looking back on it, I'm very glad that I was chosen because it was not more work for me. It was just being more intentional when I was planning my lessons. It did not create more time that I had to be planning.
It forced me to be more intentional, reflect on my teaching practices, and how I can become better as a teacher. As Michelle said when she was talking about the program and the coaching, she mentioned that it's strength-based; and that was the one thing that I really liked about the feedback that I received. It wasn't about what I needed to improve; it was about, "You did really good here," and I was always the one that was directing where I wanted the coaching to go. So I was pretty much in charge of what dimensions I wanted to focus on and what I wanted to make better in myself versus what my coach felt I needed to improve.
I think that point you made at the beginning about it wasn't something you sought out, it came to you, and that you had some skepticism or reluctance early on is important to highlight. Do you have a sense of how common that feeling was at the beginning? Did other teachers in your school district or in your school have a similar sense of – I mean, because I'm sure were quite busy, and this might have seemed like just another thing to add to your plate.
Oh, we all were (laughing). We all had that "This is something extra" attitude; and we were all sitting in the room like, "What are we getting ourselves into? What are we being asked to do?" So we were kind of all talking to each other, trying to figure out what this was going to be about, and trying to support each other with, "Okay, what extra work are they trying to get us to do now?" So we all pretty much had that same thought and idea that it was going to be something extra. But the four of us that were coached – we all came at the end of it with very similar sentiments and experience that it wasn't something extra. It just helped us improve as a teacher and improve our relationships with our students.
Okay, great, and I mentioned a couple details about the study and the teachers – what level they were teaching. But for listeners' edification, could you remind me – remind them what you teach and how old the students are you're teaching?
I teach secondary math. So with my first year in the teaching program, my students were primarily juniors and seniors. Then my second year in the program, my students were primarily sophomores. So I had two years where I taught two different – I mean, they're not very different, but the grade levels and some of the maturity levels of some of the students were a little different.
Gotcha, okay, and then I was asking Michelle earlier about how the feedback that she was providing to teachers might have resembled or were different from the kinds of feedback she had received when she was a teacher. I want to put that question to you too. How was the feedback you received through this program different from other forms of feedback or professional development that you have received?
Well, a lot of times when we get feedback, it's always what we need to improve. A lot of the feedback that I've received, especially on observations or evaluations, were based off of, "Well, you did good here; but this is where you need to improve, and this is what you should be working on to continue to guide your students and in your instruction."
This feedback, as I said earlier and as even Michelle said, it looked at my strengths; and I was able to see that even if I felt a lesson didn't go well, there were positives. So I could build off of those positives and say, "Well, I didn't think this went well; but here's a positive, and this is where I want to go and what I want to improve on so that I can continue to be a better educator for my students."
Okay, great. Yeah, I think we've all been there and received that kind of feedback where the statement begins positive, and then you know there's a but coming. Yeah, I can appreciate a different kind of feedback.
Jeffrey, as one of the researchers, you studied this promising strategy for helping teachers become more effective in the classroom. Is there anything else that you would flag for listeners as distinct or novel about this form of teacher coaching?
Yeah, thanks. Michelle and Nicole really, I think, nailed it in terms of a lot of their descriptions of the coaching. Just a couple of things I'll mention to give a little bit of texture to what was provided. One, I think a really key aspect of how this coaching differed is that it was video-based and this idea that the feedback was based on videos of teachers' instruction in their classroom. I think that's critical because it's really about the individualized nature of the feedback and the fact that teachers were not getting feedback just generally on practices or generally about what works but about what's happening in the context of their classroom.
The second thing I'll mention is Michelle mentioned that it was a structured program compared to sort of a loose approach that she had experienced previously. I do think that's an important aspect of this. Maybe just to kind of give you a sense for what that looked like because we'll be talking about these cycles, a cycle was sort of what Nicole was saying, where the coach and teacher talk about together what practices among the ones that focused on for this study or for this coaching, which practices they want to focus on. Then the teacher has a video taken of them teaching a lesson where they're working on those practices or using those practices.
The coach selects a few short clips from that video to really highlight and emphasize, like they're saying – sort of the strengths-based, for building on that, where you can improve. Then they're given – in addition, the teachers receive those clips along with some questions or prompts for them to think about. That's a big part of it because the next step is for the teachers to really watch the clips while reflecting on the questions that the coach provides. Then the coach and teacher meet, as Michelle mentioned, remotely through like a video call to talk about the feedback and talk about what was learned and then, again, start the process over thinking about what they will work on together next.
So that structure really gave teachers and coaches a clear sense of how to work together and what they were going to be doing with their time together, and I think was really important for clarifying how this coaching was to be done.
Okay, that's perfect. That's really helpful context. To stick with you for one more minute, Jeffrey, could you provide a little more context of your study overall? What motivated the U.S. Department of Education to want to study this type of coaching? Mathematica is an evidence-based, evidence-generating organization. So I'm curious. Was there any prior evidence suggesting that this program, or programs like it, helped teachers and/or helped students?
Yeah, so the research arm of the Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences, decided to focus on this coaching in part because as you're saying, there was some initial evidence. But I think to sort of put this into context, this kind of professional development activity is important in terms of policy because the Department of Education invests a lot of funding in professional development – at least $1 billion in professional development.
At the time when this study was getting started, there really was a gap in the research. The Department of Education had studied professional development -- not exactly what we're studying here, where this is more about individualized coaching, but more professional development in a group-type setting that really focused on building teachers' knowledge and practices in more of a group-type professional development setting. What those initial studies found is that there were improvements in teachers' knowledge and in their practices, but that wasn't translating into improvement of student achievement.
So at this time we were developing and designing this study, there was some emerging evidence that suggested a focus on individualized feedback providing this coaching approach of one-on-one feedback to teachers could be effective; and specifically, a couple of studies that looked at this remote form of coaching that used videos of teachers' instruction. But there wasn't enough sort of strong evidence to have the support needed to kind of make this broader statement about the effectiveness of coaching.
So the Department of Education tried to fill that gap in the research by sponsoring this rigorous study of coaching. So it really was at the time built on the promise of this idea of coaching being an effective form of professional development but addressing the need for additional evidence.
Nicole, I want to turn back to you. When we first spoke by phone, you said to me that the program made you reevaluate things that you felt hadn't gone well but in hindsight actually went better than you thought. I was wondering if you could give me an example.
Well, the second year that I was in the program, I chose a class that I felt was a little challenging. There were students who kind of had some challenging behaviors, and I chose that class because I wanted to focus on ways that I could improve my instruction to help those students.
This particular day when I chose to do my video tape for my coach, one of my students – he decided he was not going to have such a great day that day, and there were things he was – he was shouting some things out in class that were not appropriate. He didn't want to participate. I had to redirect him quite a bit.
But one of the things that once I did get him redirected and get him to work on some of the material that we had done for the day, when my coach looked at the video and pulled out some of the clips and responded to some of the clips of the video, she pointed out that even though he was not having the best day, he did respond to my redirection; and she could tell that I did have a relationship with him because of the way that he responded to the redirection and the way that eventually he did start working on the material that he was asked to work on for the day.
So even though I thought the video was horrible – I was actually going to redo a video the next day to send it in. But I was like, "You know, I have it done. Let me just send it in." But after having that conversation and her pointing out, it showed the relationship piece that I had with that student. Then I realized that it's not always about whether or not the instruction goes perfect, but the relationship and seeing that. Because we had worked on that relationship throughout the school year, he was able to respond to my redirection in a positive way; and actually I got him to do some of the work, even though it wasn't all that he was asked to do for that day.
Mm-hm, I think that story is so interesting because it suggests that sometimes we are not the best at assessing our performance in the moment. I can imagine there probably were – it was probably a loaded emotional moment to dealing with that student at that moment, and it probably made it harder to recognize some of what was going well when you were working with him.
I also wanted to ask – because I think one of the findings from the study was that most of the teachers who received coaching reported that they were more likely to change their teaching practices because of feedback that they had received.
So I was wondering if in your case, Nicole, can you point to any changes that you made in your instructional practices because of the coaching program?
Well, one of the things that I really paid attention to because of the program was focusing on my students as I was planning my lessons and focusing on -- because of some of the things that my coach saw with my relationships with my students, focusing on building that relationship with my students and being intentional about how I was delivering my instruction and looking for ways to include my student interest in the lessons and in what activities we did and also working on those relationships so that when it came time for assessments, it wasn't always a paper/pencil. There were projects that I started to implement into my instruction so that I can assess them.
So it just really helped me reflect as I was planning on ways that I can include my students and be intentional about the ways that I gave them the content. Because in math I get – every year, almost every student that walks through my door, the first thing they say is, "I'm not good at math. I don't like math." So because of the coaching, it just helped me focus more on that relationship piece and learning my students and what their interests are so that I can use that as I delivered the instruction for the algebra or whatever subject I was teaching that year.
Okay, Michelle, I want to turn to you. I'm curious, first of all, just as you were hearing Nicole tell that story about the student where she didn't feel it necessarily went well in the moment but then had a different perception after going over it with her coach. Did that resonate with you? Did it bring to mind any stories from your experience coaching teachers?
Yeah, definitely, I actually -- as you were telling that story I was thinking like, "Wait, I didn't coach you," because it sounds exactly like something that happened with a teacher I coached. It made me wonder, maybe this is a very common thing that teachers go through as far as like this new introduction to that strengths-based because it feels so different than other kinds of feedback or coaching. But I did have a teacher, very similar, who before we even started our coaching conference where we go over, she just apologized. She was like, "I'm sorry, that was awful! That was horrible!" Didn't even let them get into anything.
In that moment I had to be like, "No, stop, that's why I'm here. Let's look. Let's go back. I want you to see where things went well." Those clips – it's funny because they can be so short. The goal is around a minute. But sometimes you might even focus in on a little smaller moment of exchange between a teacher and a student. That's important because it almost helps kind of mute the noise, if you would say, of the outside – everything else happening in the classroom and really focus in.
It's like, "Look at this interaction with this student. When you said this to him, look how he responded. This was a great moment. Celebrate it, right?" Like you mentioned, sometimes teachers – we're our own worse critic. We get really overwhelmed with all the different things that teaching entails. So it's hard to see those moments, and I feel like having that person there can really do a lot for teacher morale. In this case, it helped the teacher buy into the program. She was kind of like – like a light went off, "Oh, I really – I like this experience."
That led her to like actually kind of engage more as far as like when we talked about things, she was more likely to implement them in working with the students; and her kind of just approach to the program shifted as well.
Are there any other examples that you can think of, any other stories of teachers who changed their teaching practices because of feedback they were receiving or because of the teacher coaching?
Yeah, so another teacher that I was thinking about – and, Nicole, this is kind like your story too. There was a particular student in the class, a young boy who had a lot of behavioral problems. The teacher had given me kind of the context for that and was really wanting to better support this student. So when we focused on the different dimensions, we were able to kind of develop some strategies that she could implement in her class for this child but also for other students as well.
So in this case, one area specifically I remember was with regard for adolescent perspective; and it's about how we give students the ability to make choices and have responsibility and support their autonomy. When she did implement those kind of strategies with this student, you could even just see in those small clips those moments a shift in his behavior and in his attitude. So that helped us kind of form future kind of plans with this student. But those same strategies, she was finding as she used them with more students, were also beneficial to other students in her class as well.
Just general – the story for both of you, Nicole and Michelle, of the teacher managing expectations before discussing the video, I can relate to that. I think anyone who's submitted a paper in college – or I used to be a journalist turning in a first draft of a story, and I would sometimes try to, "Well, this didn't turn out quite the way I wanted," or "I wish I had another week," or something – just so it would maybe it would reduce the likelihood of just the hammer completely coming down on me. So it's a completely normal reaction I think.
Jeffrey, in my intro I mentioned briefly some of the top-line findings from the research that you and your Mathematica colleagues conducted about this coaching program. I definitely want to talk more about the impacts on student achievement. Those are really important.
But before we do, I am curious about what your reaction is what Nicole and Michelle said thus far about the program's effect on teachers and their instructional practices. Is there any overlap between what they're describing and what your team found in this study?
Yeah, thanks. No, I do see a lot of overlap. So I mean it was really interesting in terms of the teachers who received the coaching. We were able to compare their description of the feedback that they received on their teaching to teachers who did not receive the coaching, and we saw some really interesting differences.
For example, teachers who had received the coaching were more likely to report that they received feedback that identified positive aspects with their teaching – sort of exactly aligned with what Nicole and Michelle are saying. They were more like to receive feedback that focused on a clearly-defined set of practices and provided specific strategies to implement in their classroom. The teachers viewed the feedback that they were receiving through this coaching as more useful and actionable as a result.
So as I think you had sort of hinted at before – what we've found is that there was a difference in terms of those teachers who received the coaching. They did describe making a specific change -- or more likely described making a specific change to their teaching as a result of the feedback they received. In addition, they were also more reflective about their teaching as a result of the feedback. They felt like the feedback gave them specific ideas about how to improve their performance and, at the end of the day in the long run, felt that the students would benefit from the feedback.
So a lot of those themes that Michelle and Nicole are saying I think came through in our study in the ways that we were getting feedback from the teachers through a survey.
I will note that it was interesting. The study team observed teachers' classrooms as well and tried to measure the effect of the coaching on practices through our observations. We didn't see the expected impacts on teachers' practices as we saw through the teachers' own self-reports or descriptions. We had some theories for why that may have happened. But it's clear that from the teachers' responses to the survey, it was definitely feedback that differed from what they had gotten or what was typically provided; and it definitely felt -- they felt it had changed the way they were implementing practices in their own classrooms.
Okay, all right, so that's a nuance but important point about the difference between what we were able to observe and the self-reporting of changes in instructional practices.
Nicole, I just referenced that we were going to be talking about the measured impact on student achievement. The study did measure impact on student achievement. I'm curious. Did you see signs that students were benefiting from the changes that you were making as a result of the coaching you received?
I did see some signs that students were benefiting. One is just the buy-in of trying in the classroom. As I said earlier, a lot of students when they walk in the classroom, the first thing they want to say is, "I'm not good at math," or "I don't like math." I think a lot of times that is to try to avoid having to try and do something.
But in particular, I had a student during my first year of being coached who in that class I gave him a project because I wanted them to be able to show me in a different way what they were learning and assess them in a different way than just a paper/pencil. So I gave them a project, and they had some choice on how they wanted to complete the project. It was a project that dealt with quadratic equations. So they could do a poster that displayed the information that they needed to find. They could make a model of the parabola that they found and how they went through finding all the different parts using the quadratic equation and things like that.
I had a particular student who when it was time to present – because I did have them present in like a gallery style that day, and I invited other classes, I invited other teachers. We had practiced, and so they went over what they were going to present with me. So I gave them feedback so that they can feel comfortable when the other students and teachers came into the classroom. I had a particular student who was – she presented to the students that came in, to the teachers that came in.
The next day, a teacher came to me and she said, "Do you know much about this student?"
I said, "Well, this is my first year having her as a student."
So I didn't really know much about her other than what I had learned from her that year. That particular teacher had known her since she was a freshman, and she was now a junior.
She said, "Well, this student was never comfortable at talking in front of other people. I was just blown away at how she was able to present what she did, and she was just so proud of what she had done that she presented to the few people that came to her station, and she did it with such ease." She said, "I would have never thought that she would be able to do something like that."
So I feel that that was a huge benefit because I didn't know this about this student, and I wouldn't have thought that from how she interacted with other students and myself in the classroom.
Gotcha, okay, wow, a coming-out-of-her-shell kind of moment, that's really exciting!
Jeffrey, I mentioned in my intro some of the top-line findings; for example, that Mathematica found five cycles of coaching under this program led to improved student achievement in a few areas, especially in English language arts. But even in math, the study had some good news to report. So this is the point where we can really talk about the findings. With respect to student achievement, what exactly did you and your team find?
Yeah, so the coaching – as you mentioned – had a meaningful effect on the English language arts achievement. As a reminder, this is fourth and fifth grade students. The impact of the coaching was equal to about two months of learning. The coaching had a similar effect on English language arts and math, but we couldn't definitively conclude that the coaching improved math achievement.
However, for novice teachers and those with weaker practices at the start of the study, five cycles of coaching improved student achievement in both subjects – in both English language arts and math. So this does suggest that the coaching can improve student achievement in both subjects, at least for some teachers.
But as you noted, a key finding that the study found that more coaching is not always better. Providing five cycles of feedback was effective, but eight cycles was not. As a reminder, just as a brief background on how we structured the study, elementary schools were randomly assigned to either receive five cycles of the coaching, eight cycles of the coaching, or to receive whatever their school would typically provide in terms of support for teachers. So we did not see an effect on student achievement for those who had received eight cycles, but we did for those who had received five cycles of coaching.
We don't have definitive evidence of why eight cycles of coaching was less effective than five, but it could have been related to the fact that teachers in the eight-cycle group had shorter coaching cycles than teachers in the five-cycle group. So in order to fit in additional coaching cycles during the school year, coaches had to spend less time on each cycle. So it's possible that the shorter length of each cycle may have reduced the amount of time teachers had to work on practices and apply what they had learned in their classrooms before moving on to the next cycle.
So we don't have definitive evidence on that, but it's definitely an important aspect of the study because it was specifically set up to test what is the right amount of coaching. It doesn't suggest that just providing more is better. It suggests that there's sort of a need to be careful about how much intensity of coaching you're providing.
Hm, okay, that's great. So maybe five cycles is closer to the sweet spot than eight. Michelle, I want to turn to you. Most of this episode is going to be talking about what's encouraging or positive about this program and the findings from the Mathematica study. But I do want to pay some attention and give some space to any barriers or limitations that schools or school districts should be aware of if they want to implement this coaching model. Where did you as a teacher coach encounter challenges?
Yeah, there's two main things that come to mind for me. One – and, Nicole, you kind of mentioned this as well – is like that teacher mindset or buy-in about the program. I think the way that it's presented to teachers can be very important and just recognizing in a teacher's role there is a lot of things on their plate and how this can be perceived as something more – so how important it is in the framing of it. Also I think part of the relationships that the coach and the teacher build are one of the ways that we do overcome those challenges.
Then the other one is more of a logistics or feasibility obstacle, and that's with the timing and the scheduling. Teachers have, like I said, a lot on their plates; so their time is very limited. Many of them have families at home. So when do they find the time to be able to meet with their coaches?
The program itself is designed ultimately not to take a lot of teachers' time – having those very short clips, and the responses from teachers aren't expected to be lengthy. But it still is something that they have to work into their schedules, to remember to record, to make sure that time that they have set aside to conference is kind of respected or is saved because other things come up. There's a lot of teachers may get pulled to cover classes or something. They're ultimately sometimes even working with a student -- there was an issue that came up with a student.
So those can really become some barriers to like that cadence and kind of keeping in the rhythm to keep the whole coaching program flowing because you want to be able to get through each of your cycles but also in a stress-free way that helps the teacher feel like they have the time and energy to be able to engage in the coaching as well.
Jeffrey and Nicole, I want to open it up to you too – the same question. Is there anything that you would want to flag in terms of barriers or limitations that schools or school districts should be keeping in mind as they're considering this as something they want to implement in their areas or in their schools?
Well, I definitely think that, as Michelle said, the way it's implemented and the way it's presented to teachers, you definitely have to be strategic. Because like I said earlier in podcast, I was just chosen and said, "You're going to participate in this. We need four teachers."
I'm pretty easy going so it was like, "Okay, I'll do it, whatever."
But if it's not strategically done, I think it would be much harder to get the teacher buy-in, as well as even the way that the coaching part is perceived and the way that that's implemented. Because if the coach is not providing that support and that relationship is not built in a way that the teacher feels they can benefit from this, it will be much harder to get all that we can get out of this program.
So I think, like it was said, the implementation – also even the time. Like I was thinking earlier when Jeffrey was mentioning the five versus the eight, if it wasn't the two to three weeks in between the cycles, I don't think I would have been able to really focus on what I wanted to improve for that cycle time so that when the next time we met, now I can move on to something else. Because if it was shorter than that, I think I would have been like, "Well, I didn't have any time to do this; so give me more time."
So I think even the number of coaching cycles definitely plays a part in the implementation – just so that I as a teacher could have that time to continue to practice and focus and plan and make sure I'm intentional about implementing the class dimensions that I wanted to work out.
Yeah, those are great and really helpful. I agree that the buy-in, in particular, is a really important part of this. The only other piece I would add is there is a logistics component to video recording a teacher's classroom. The way that the study was able to handle that is that we had staff going to the classrooms to video record which, again, requires some scheduling and time for that.
Now though there are plenty of tools out there that teachers can use to video record themselves. Even phones can be used – very simple ways of teachers recording themselves. But that is a part of the logistics of making this work because it is based on videos. Either you need the teacher or somebody in the school, a school staff person -- somebody to be involved in helping to video record the teacher's classroom to make this work because the videos are so critical to the feedback.
I want to wrap up by talking about why these findings in this program are relevant for ongoing conversations about two hot-button issues in education – and I referenced these at the beginning. One is concern over teacher burnout and teacher retention, and the other is over helping students recover from pandemic-era learning loss.
Jeffrey, I want to start with you because this was part of your pitch about why we should feature this research on the podcast. So what does this teacher coaching program have to do with those two hot-button issues?
Yeah, thanks. So in terms of teacher burnout and teacher retention, we don't have clear evidence on whether teacher coaching -- or even professional development more broadly -- affects future morale or decisions about whether to continue teaching. I should say it's not something we measured directly through this study, but the coaching provided by the study has features that you can imagine could help teachers feel more supported. I think Michelle and Nicole have really helped to sort of illustrate that and give us some nice examples.
But just to emphasize what they are built on, what they have said, at the beginning of each conference the coach would take time to just check in with the teacher. It didn't have to be related to exactly what they were going to talk about in their teaching in their classroom but just, "How are you doing?" You can imagine taking this simple step of checking in and listening to a teacher can be really valuable, especially for a teacher who's feeling burnt out.
As they both emphasized, the coaching approach was strengths-based in that it really built on the strengths of the teacher to help them improve and strengthen their teaching even more. They were also designed to be collaborative. So as Nicole mentioned, the teacher and coach kind of worked together to decide on what teaching practices they wanted to discuss. So it really was driven by the teacher and tailored to the teacher's interests within the types of practices that were planned to be focused on for the coaching.
So you can imagine that having a supportive relationship with a coach can be valuable for teachers who are feeling burned out or frustrated in the classroom. We saw that in terms of the sense that teachers described this feedback encouraging them to be more reflective and giving them some ideas about how to improve their teaching.
In terms of helping students recover from pandemic learning loss, the coaching like we described happened before the pandemic. This is in the 2018-2019 school year. But I definitely see sort of parallels between the potential benefits of tutoring to help students recover from the effects of the pandemic and the potential effects of coaching. You can imagine the core feature of tutoring is that it allows students to receive more individualized, more personalized, feedback on their work. In the same way, this coaching was designed to provide more individualized, more personalized, feedback for teachers on their teaching.
While COVID recovery efforts are rightfully focused on interventions that directly are intended to affect students, schools and districts could also be thinking about ways of investing in their teachers. In terms of evidence-based strategies, there is now in addition to our study a strong literature behind the effects of this coaching approach. So this provides schools and districts another tool that they can consider as they're thinking about strategies that they're using to address COVID learning loss.
Michelle, I want to turn to you. From your standpoint as a former teacher and coach, do you think this approach to teacher coaching can help with the teacher burnout issue as well as the student learning loss issue?
Yes, definitely for both of those. One of those reasons is -- Jeffrey mentioned this before – one of the core aspects of this program is helping teachers to be more reflective of their practice. In that, we're also wanting teachers to be able to recognize their own effectiveness. Like we mentioned, that strengths-based focus ultimately can lead to some better job satisfaction and impact then how teachers interact with students as well.
Then this program, using the CLASS tool in the way that the coaching program is structured to focus on different dimensions, it opens that door to be able to really focus on some of those emotional needs of students and the importance of the relationships with them – not just the content or their scores or the specific teaching strategies.
From anyone that's been in the classroom, you know that all of these aspects are important; and they're like interwoven in contributing to student outcomes. So the focus on interactions in that emotional sense in addition to like the academic can support students by building those social/emotional skills they need to then be able to learn and grow when they are in the classroom. So, yeah, I see a lot of benefits of using this type of program to support both of those issues for sure.
Nicole, I want to give you the final word. Do you think this program could help with both of those issues, teacher burnout and being a part of the solution for helping students catch back up in the classroom after any lost ground during the pandemic?
I definitely see this as a program that can help with both of those issues, primarily because a lot of times we focus so much on the student and the student's success and what are you doing to help the students be successful; and we don't always focus on how to help teachers as a teacher. It's more or less, "Let me help you improve your instruction so you can help the student." I feel like this program – it helps me as a person be able to look at my teaching practices but not always let me just do this for them. Let me do this so that I can be, number one, a better teacher but also a better person and be better able to support my students -- as Michelle was saying, emotionally making those connections and those relationships.
Even as Jeffrey was saying, when you meet with a coach you just kind of chit chat before you start getting into the feedback. Actually, through the chitchat and getting to know my coach, I felt supported as a person because as we talked, we had a lot of things in common. Our kids were of the same age; our daughters are actually at the same school now, and we still keep in touch. So it helped me as a person because I felt supported. I didn't feel like it was, "Let me just help you with this so you can help the student." I felt supported as a person, so that helped me want even more to do better for my kids.
Okay, so that's a good note to end on. Nicole, Michelle, and Jeffrey, thank you for your time.
As always, I want to thank our listeners for listening to another episode of On the Evidence, the Mathematica podcast. This episode was produced by the inimitable Rick Stoddard. To catch future episodes of the podcast, look for us on YouTube, Spotify, Apple podcasts, or visit us at www.Mathematica.org.
Read a press release summarizing findings from Mathematica’s study for IES about the impacts of teacher coaching on student achievement.
Read the full report from Mathematica and IES on the impacts of teacher coaching on student achievement.