Now that the 2023–24 school year is fully underway, our NWEA instructional coaching team recently gathered to reflect on the common barriers teachers are currently facing in their daily work with students. As lifelong educators, our personal and professional lives constantly involve talking with classroom teachers, whether it be in a formal coaching conversation or over a friendly weekend brunch. We inevitably hear a lot of stories of struggles and successes. Unfortunately, we are hearing many more struggle stories than ever before from teachers across the country.
In a recent survey conducted by Merrimack College, a vast majority of K–12 teachers reported extreme rates of dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and disillusionment with their jobs. These results highlighted that teacher satisfaction has taken a dramatic downturn in the last 15 years, with only 12% reporting feeling “very satisfied” with their job.
While there is no one right answer to transforming burnout and dissatisfaction into a resilient and efficacious teaching force, research shows that high-quality instructional coaching is a big piece of the puzzle. It can lead to higher retention, improved resilience and job satisfaction, and enhanced instructional knowledge.
1. Higher retention
Not only do districts report a high fiscal cost of replacing a teacher, but school communities also experience a sense of loss in instructional knowledge, routines, traditions, and student relationships when teachers resign. Schools have managed the transitions of naturally occurring teacher attrition, such as retirement and relocation, for decades, but now schools across the nation are scrambling to fill teaching roles, often with inexperienced teachers who need a higher level of support. A recent report by the Learning Policy Institute shows that 47 states had an estimated 286,290 teachers who were not fully certified for their teaching assignments.
Retaining teachers requires providing the opportunity for educators at all levels to work with an experienced instructional coach to get immediate feedback within their own classrooms about how they teach their students. Some of the biggest factors teachers report as barriers in their day-to-day work include professional isolation, lack of autonomy, lack of support from administration, and stress among students. Working with a coach can address all these problem areas and enhance a sense of control and competency.
For instance, when a teacher is overwhelmed with new curriculum and initiatives and is struggling to decide what their students need most, a coach can help select a focus. The coach acts as a collaborative partner. Our instructional coaching team believes that teachers often just need someone to really listen and ask good questions. Together, teacher and coach can come up with a plan of action that will work.
2. Improved resilience and job satisfaction
For experienced teachers who have no doubt exerted an extensive effort in the last several years, instructional coaches serve as silent observers, thinkers, and reflective thought partners that support teachers in rediscovering the “master teacher” Thomas Guskey speaks of in themselves. Simultaneously, teachers who are newer to the field need an instructional and professional guide amidst the frenzy of adapting to new initiatives, assessments, and more so they can find clarity and their personal identity in their classrooms.
When it comes to efficacy, a teacher’s belief that they will be able to positively affect their students is a critical indicator of teacher success, but it can be extremely challenging to reflect on and identify successes when the pace and demands of teaching can feel so overwhelming. An instructional coach can provide critical space and time for teachers to collect evidence of affirmations and recognition from their students, as well as to connect the high-leverage practices that lead to those successes. In our experience as coaches, teacher testimonials reflect reduced anxiety and frustration, as well as an increased sense of motivation and clarity, all leading to a greater sense of resilience and satisfaction in their day-to-day work with students.
3. Enhanced instructional knowledge
As coaches, how do we ensure that teachers are, in fact, having enough mastery experiences to shift their efficacy? First off, experienced instructional coaches can provide professional learning experiences grounded in solid research that is not swayed by trends. Instructional coaching also provides the space for cultivating and enhancing teachers’ sense of efficacy, growth mindset, and agency through exercises in self-reflection and honest feedback.
Coaches can also help provide teachers with vicarious experiences to see an instructional strategy in action, such as modeling with students or facilitating peer observations between colleagues and peers. Teacher self-efficacy has the potential to considerably accelerate learning, and working alongside a skilled coach can provide teachers with a newfound sense of confidence and self-perception that can positively influence their future beliefs and actions.
Quality instructional coaching plays a vital role in positively impacting teacher efficacy. The challenges faced by teachers today, as evidenced by widespread dissatisfaction and burnout, require effective solutions that go beyond traditional approaches.
With high-quality instructional coaching, teacher retention improves as they receive immediate feedback and support tailored to their needs. Coaches also enhance teachers’ resilience and job satisfaction by serving as reflective thought partners and guides. Moreover, coaches help teachers expand their instructional knowledge by offering professional learning grounded in research and facilitating experiences that bolster confidence and self-perception.
By investing in quality instructional coaching, schools and districts can foster a resilient and empowered teaching force, leading to improved student outcomes and a more fulfilling educational experience for all.
NWEA instructional coaches Sephali Thakker, Kelly Cardenas, Jenna Talos, and Trina Barton contributed to this post.