Team explores coaching strategies to benefit teachers, students

Team explores coaching strategies to benefit teachers, students

Megan Jorgensen, a Nebraska student teacher in 2014, works with a sixth grader at Park Middle School. A university research team is examining how experienced educators can act as coaches, providing feedback to teachers and enhance classroom performance.
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Megan Jorgensen, a Nebraska student teacher in 2014, works with a sixth grader at Park Middle School. A university research team is examining how experienced educators can act as coaches, providing feedback to teachers and enhancing classroom performance.

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln research team is exploring how "coaches" — trained educators who provide ongoing feedback to teachers — can enhance classroom performance.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Gwen Nugent, research professor at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, the project aims to identify the most effective coaching strategies, pinpointing how and why they work.

"The research in teacher coaching is relatively new, and we're finding out that it's effective," Nugent said. "However, coaching is expensive, because it's one-on-one or one-to-few. We want to maximize its effectiveness so that there's a higher return on investment for school districts."

A research team at Nebraska including (from left) Jim Houston, Gwen Nugent and Gina Kunz is studying the use of coaching techniques to enhance classroom instruction.

To understand how coaching works, the team is analyzing video-recorded data from an initial study conducted through National Center for Research on Rural Education at Nebraska. The study included 124 middle and high school teachers in schools across rural Nebraska, some who received ongoing coaching about science instruction and others who did not.

According to that study, teachers who received science coaching improved their classroom practice, knowledge and self-confidence, with their students showing better science practice skills and on-task engagement.

Yet the research team didn't know how coaches were affecting these outcomes, a question they're now asking and aim to answer.

"One of the first things we realized is that we needed to document the strategies used by the coach," Nugent said. "We started making a list: How often does the coach talk? How often does the teacher talk? Does the coach elaborate on concepts?"

In addition to identifying various coaching strategies, Nugent said the team wants to understand which ones are used most, and ultimately, which have the greatest impact on teacher and student outcomes.

"Our hope is to provide a broader perspective about coaching in general, regardless of subject matter, that will guide best practices," Nugent said.

The team includes Gina Kunz, research associate professor, and Jim Houston, project manager, both at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.