Virtual Coaching for Instructional Leaders: A Multi-Method Investigation of Technology-Enabled External Assistance
by Bradley A. Ermeling, Timothy Tatsui & Kelly Young — 2015
Background: Education reforms over the last several decades have relied heavily on external assistance to help schools increase capacity for improving outcomes, but investing in sustained outside coaching and support is increasingly difficult with diminishing federal, state, and district resources. One under-investigated possibility for maintaining affordable external assistance is to leverage new virtual technologies.
Purpose: This proof-of-concept study explored the potential of virtual coaching as a means for providing a cost effective, alternative model of ongoing external assistance to principals and leadership teams engaged in collaborative instructional improvement.
Intervention: Researchers adapted an existing assistance framework from an established instructional improvement model, with published studies of effectiveness in the traditional face-to-face context, and substituted virtual methods of coaching and support for ongoing monthly settings with school leaders.
Research Design: The study used a mixed-methods design, including video-recorded meetings, rubric-based coding and ratings, interviews, focus groups, and coaching logs to investigate implementation at three elementary and two middle schools during one full academic year.
Findings: Evidence suggests that the blended coaching model served as an adequate and cost-effective substitute for traditional face-to-face coaching at all five pilot schools. The virtual coaching format was particularly effective for conducting one-on-one planning meetings with principals and served as a catalyst to expand principals’ growth and ownership of the instructional improvement process. The authors also document several challenges that emerged related to limitations of human interaction in the virtual context.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that blended or virtual models are worth consideration as one potential solution for maintaining external support in the midst of diminishing fiscal resources. For schools with verified leadership and technology readiness, the availability of virtual models might translate to greater distribution of outside expertise across a wider number of schools, or enable some funds to be repurposed for other critical priorities. Findings also have implications for the design of external assistance programs and services. Evidence from the study highlights distinct benefits of the virtual format, which might enable more strategic distribution of monthly support, increase capacity building, and improve access to high-quality expertise. Lastly, findings provide guidance for research and policy around technology-supported professional learning, pointing to the importance of aligning solutions with contexts, attending to sound quality and room configuration, and addressing challenges with the naturalness of interaction.
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