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Crystallizing Coaching: An Examination of the Institutionalization of Instructional Coaching in Three Educational Systems

by Sarah Woulfin - 2020

Background: Instructional coaching has gained popularity as a reform instrument, yet it varies widely across contexts. This variability plays a role in weak implementation or even rejection of coaching within schools. Further, there are gaps in our understanding of how coaching is adopted and accepted in different educational systems. Purpose: This article uses concepts from organizational institutionalism to gauge the legitimacy and taken-for-grantedness of coaching in two charter-management organizations and one public school district. It surfaces the processes as well as the outcomes of the institutionalization of coaching.

Research design: I collected qualitative data for this study in three systems to draw out comparisons in the structures, practices, and norms regarding coaching: This included 38 interviews, over 20 observations, and over 30 documents. I coded and analyzed the interview, observation, and document data to answer questions about how and why coaching was institutionalized in each system.

Findings: My findings reveal that coaching was more highly institutionalized in the two charter-management organizations than in the public school district. In particular, coaching was deemed appropriate and desirable by most educators in the charter systems. Additionally, coaching was embedded in system-level policies and school-level routines in the charter systems. My findings also indicate that organizational structures, actors’ role definitions, and artifacts were associated with the institutionalization of coaching.

Conclusions: This study sheds light on how and why coaching, as a counternormative lever for instructional reform, is institutionalized in various educational systems. It points to the importance of system and school leaders’ routines for increasing the legitimacy and taken-for-grantedness of coaching.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 10, 2020, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23416, Date Accessed: 1/23/2021 2:34:57 AM

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About the Author
  • Sarah Woulfin
    University of Connecticut
    E-mail Author
    SARAH L. WOULFIN, Ph.D., is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. Using lenses from organizational sociology, she conducts research on the role of school and district leaders in instructional reform. Her scholarship on coaching is guided by her interest in the infrastructure for professional learning within urban education systems. Recent publications include “From Tinkering to Going Rogue” in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (with M. L. Donaldson) and “Mediating Instructional Reform” in AERA Open.
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