Instructional coaching as a transformative experience

By Richard Wilson

Many school districts have turned to instructional coaching as an intensive individualized professional development experience for teachers, leading to better teaching and increased student learning.  

Like most large-scale initiatives, coaching comes with mixed results. One teacher might be able to cite examples of coaching that have challenged them to explore new techniques and ways of addressing challenges of their students. Another might have an experience of broken trust and suspicion that a coach is acting in an evaluative manner.  

Until recently, there was little professional development available for coaches themselves, and often districts would move great teachers into coaching positions without really providing the training needed for those involved in the work. Success with children does not necessarily translate into the ability to work with adults.  

There might be some overlap between andragogy (adult learning) and pedagogical techniques used with children, but there are also some serious distinctions, and an ill-prepared coach can be a recipe for disaster, leading to unnecessary conflict between colleagues.  

The creation of the New Jersey teacher leader endorsement and the programs approved to prepare teacher leaders offer valuable learning opportunities for current and potential instructional coaches. The NJEA Teacher Leader Academy, a New Jersey Department of Education approved program of study leading to the teacher leader endorsement, leans heavily on the work of author and researcher Elena Aguilar in preparing candidates for working as an instructional coach.  

In her work, The Art of Coaching, Aguilar lays out her approach to transformational coaching.  

She sees the scope of coaching to address three domains: 

  • The individual teacher and their behavior, beliefs and being. 
  • The institutions and systems in which the teacher works and the people who work within those systems.  
  • The broader educational and social systems in which we live. 

So, while a transformational coach may be working with an individual teacher in exploring their behaviors, beliefs and ways of being, the coach is also mindful of the impact of the school, the district, and the broader social systems as well as the teacher’s impact on those systems. 

In this way, coaching is so much more than a deficit model of “fixing” teachers, supporting the roll out of new curriculum, or serving as a provider of resources for busy educators. As a union, the approach is attractive because it looks not only at the individual teacher, but the health and well-being of the entire system and the impact these have on student learning. 

In this way, the instructional coach is in the perfect position to examine the system through the eyes of many stakeholders. Coaches often are part of school leadership teams, and they have a close connection to educators in the classroom. Thus, they have a deeper understanding of the aims and goals of the larger system and the impact that these goals have in the classroom and on student learning.  

No matter which side of a coaching relationship you’re on, you can learn more about this approach to transformational coaching from Elena Aguilar herself as she keynotes the NJEA Professional Development Transform Conference on April 20.  

You can also learn more about transformational coaching and all the other aspects of teacher leadership by joining the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy. More information can be found at

Richard Wilson is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. He is the coordinator of the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy. He can be reached at