Becoming coaches: A study of two novices’ journey

October 2020

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education. 2020, Vol. 95.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

As practitioner-researchers, the authors decided to undertake an exploratory study of their own practice as novice coaches to determine where and why they were struggling.
They suspected that the process of breaking down their practice into discrete dilemmas would contribute not only to their own professional growth; it would also generate knowledge about novice coaches’ learning and development for the purpose of designing more effective coach training (Darling-Hammond & Hammerness, 2002).

Research questions
This study is guided by the following research questions:
1. What are the dilemmas that novice coaches encounter when debriefing classroom observations?
2. What changes occur when novice coaches reflect on their practice, and to what do they attribute these changes?

Methodology and methods
This inquiry is a self-study that was inspired by and is situated within the tradition of practitioner research. It is part of a larger trend in the field of teacher education research, in which self-studies are becoming an increasingly common method for understanding the work of teacher educators (Cochran-Smith, 2005; Korthagen, Loughran, & Lunenberg, 2005).

The participants in this study are the authors – Elizabeth and Taylor.
In the 2018-2019 school year, both Elizabeth and Taylor were working as coaches in a university-based teacher education program.
At the time, each of them was coaching a single student teacher pursuing their M.S. in Education.

Data collection
Data were collected in five, repeating cycles. Each cycle consisted of four steps.
All five cycles occurred over the course of six weeks in the Spring 2019 semester.
This study was designed so that each research question is answered by at least three data sources– namely, research-generated comments and memos, and transcripts of the authors’ reflection conversations.

Findings and discussion
In the end, this self-study sheds light on just how complex and challenging coaching can be.
As Zeichner (2005) states, coaching is not the same as teaching, so coach development and training is important in helping novice coaches learn to navigate the many dilemmas that will inevitably arise in their work with student teachers.
The authors believe that though they structured this as an exploratory self-study, the reflection methods they used actually represented a significant intervention in their coaching practice.
They found that over the course of five rounds, their coaching identity (Bullough, 2005; Zeichner, 2005) began to shift in meaningful ways.
This shift in their identity, in turn, changed their coaching practice.
They believe that this study’s structure of individual reflection in conjunction with collaborative reflection supported both their access to new strategies, as well as the development of their coaching identity and confidence in applying these strategies in dilemma moments.
The authors believe that this study has important implications for coach training and professional development.
For one, understanding the types of dilemmas that novice coaches may encounter in their practice can help those planning and implementing coach training to anticipate novice coaches’ questions, needs, and concerns.
In this way, the list of dilemmas that the authors identified may be a useful springboard for designing programs and sessions that are more responsive to the full range and variation of dilemmas that novice coaches grapple with.
In addition to informing the content of novice coach training, the authors believe that the reflection methods used in this study may also be useful in coach training and development.
Grounding their reflection in artifacts like video transcripts and memos made their practice concrete and visible, and thus allowed for deeper analysis.
Moreover, while coach trainings are often isolated and disconnected events, engaging in repeating cycles of debrief conversation, individual reflection, and collective reflection can create space for coaches’ identity and practice to change and grow over time.
Further research is needed to understand the full learning trajectory of novice coaches.
Current research on coaching focuses predominantly on the practices of expert and experienced coaches; however, little is known about the experiences of novices in this field.
Moreover, as institutions develop training programs for novice coaches, researchers would do well to examine the methods and content of these trainings.
Such research will shape the teacher education community’s understanding of how novice coaches learn and develop, which will, in turn, ensure that experienced teachers are well supported in their journey to become coaches.

Bullough, R. V. (2005). Being and becoming a mentor: School-based teacher educators and teacher educator identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 143e155.
Cochran-Smith, M. (2005). Teacher educators as researchers: Multiple perspectives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 219e225.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Hammerness, K. (2002). Toward a pedagogy of cases in teacher education. Teaching Education, 13(2), 125e135
Korthagen, F. A. J., Loughran, J., & Lunenberg, M. (2005). Teaching teachers: Studies into the expertise of teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 107e115.
Zeichner, K. (2005). Becoming a teacher educator: A personal perspective. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 117e124. 

Updated: Sep. 29, 2020