Instructional Coach Interview Questions

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Interview Questions for Hiring an Instructional Coach

Interview Questions for Instructional Coaches

When I was a central office administrator, my district received a large federal grant that included funding for instructional coaches. We didn’t have instructional coaches at the time, so this wasn’t an expansion but an opportunity to begin an instructional coaching program in our district. Our vision was clear: we wanted to hire coaches to support teachers. Coaches who could help teachers strengthen instruction and assessment practices in their classrooms. Our goal included analyzing student evidence to inform instruction by utilizing high-effect size instructional strategies. We wanted teachers to be intentional and base their instruction on student evidence. Sounds reasonable; easy, maybe. Yet, it wasn’t. Let’s be honest: teaching and learning is hard; it is complex. Teachers deserve the support needed to strengthen practices in service of students. The journey began. We were hiring instructional coaches.

Great teachers who work tirelessly to improve student outcomes (socially, emotionally, and cognitively) may be great instructional coaches. However, we learned that wasn’t the only component to consider when hiring instructional coaches. We found our coaches needed skills that allowed them to support adult learners. These skills were more than being a great teacher. We needed instructional coaches who understood and could facilitate adult learning. In today’s ever-changing world, adult learning is critical to success in our schools, and effective instructional coach interview questions can help determine who could best support teachers with their teaching and learning.

Understanding the Six Principles of Andragogy

Andragogy is a practice first developed by Alexander Kapp, a German educator in the early 1800s, then furthered by Malcolm Knowles, an American educator in the 1980s. Kapp and Knowles worked to develop a set of principles built on the thinking that adults are more self-directed and motivated than children (compared with pedagogy) and that adults should be allowed to learn in ways that connect to their current life circumstances. This learning should be facilitated by those who work with adults. Andragogy supports the adult learning experience that can be captured in a coaching relationship for lifelong development. It is useful for instructional coaches to understand the six principles Knowles developed, describing the characteristics of adult learners:

  1. The Need to Know: Adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it. The decision to be coached is a self-driven initiative.
  2. Self-Concept: As people mature, their self-concept moves from being a dependent personality to being a self-directed human being. Coaching seeks self-awareness and acceptance.
  3. Experience: As people mature, they accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Coaching provides the opportunity to evaluate what we have learned, what we should retain or change, and what we could learn.
  4. Readiness to Learn: As people mature, their readiness to learn becomes increasingly oriented to the developmental tasks of their social roles. Coaching inspires the development of new skills and recognition of a full range of options.
  5. Orientation to Learning: As people mature, their time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly, their orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centeredness. Coaching encourages a worldview—embracing new opportunities for continuous growth.
  6. Motivation to learn: As people mature, the motivation to learn becomes intrinsic. Coaching embraces life-long learning and self-coaching.

These six principles, when used by instructional coaches, support the adult learner during the coaching process.

7 Instructional Coach Skills

In addition to understanding andragogy, instructional coaches need facilitation and coaching skills that will help them be effective in their work. The seven instructional coaching skills shared below are used to build belonging and trust, so both teachers and coaches learn and grow.

Relate to Others

Coaches are relatable when they listen to and have sympathy for the people they coach and find similarities in both of their experiences. Being relatable as an instructional coach makes it easier for others to present their ideas and to guide others with understanding and compassion.

Build Confidence in Others

Use a strengths-based approach. People typically see and think about what isn’t working rather than what is. Focus on what is working, then prioritize one or two small moves for growth. Celebrate the small adjustments teachers make to grow and learn. These small adjustments add up to great growth. Support self-directed plans and learning.

Empower Teams

According to Dr. John Hattie’s research, Collective Teacher Efficacy has a 1.36 effect size—more than two years of growth in one school year. Empowering teams to increase their own collective efficacy in the service of students is critical for teacher learning and growth. Coaches need to be vulnerable and honest with the teams they support. There needs to be dialogue that supports the thinking that adult actions in the classroom can be directly responsible for student learning.

Listen to Understand, Not to Respond

The art of truly listening—or listening to understand the point of view of another adult deeply—is not easy. It takes practice to perfect this skill. And some never actually get there. We need instructional coaches working with teachers who do this well.

Ask, Don’t Tell

Learning doesn’t happen if we just continually tell people what to do. Telling the “answer” to the problem is never as powerful as asking questions to dive deeper into a problem or a solution. Questions encourage adults to think critically and help them avoid being passive learners.

Research Instructional Practices

Educational research is rich and multifaceted. We need to know the research to use it in our practices with adult educators. Instructional coaches should know where to find the most current teaching and learning practices based on research and evidence, which can support a coach’s credibility with other educators.

Take Risks and Be Vulnerable

Instructional coaches should be vulnerable in their role, whether modeling lessons that sometimes don’t go well or trying new strategies with adult learners. We build trust by being vulnerable. Coaches and teachers need trusting relationships to capitalize on their learning journey.

Instructional Coach Interview Questions and Evidence

Gathering the Evidence

Rather than thinking of a traditional interview, let’s think of the evidence we need to hire great instructional coaches. We could ask the candidates to submit a video of them teaching students and a video of them presenting or facilitating adult learning. This adult interaction video could be during a content or grade level team meeting, department meeting, or professional learning session for other teachers led by the candidate.

These videos would help leaders capture both instructional strengths with children, which are extremely important in this role, and adult learning strengths, which are also important for effective coaching. The role of an instructional coach is to help support the learning journey of the teacher, meaning teaching adults, too, not just children. It’s not the same skill set. And we need both sets of skills for strong instructional coaches.

With the desired evidence in mind, here are effective interview questions for instructional coaches to consider:

  1. Give an example of when you utilized educational research to adjust your practices in your classroom. How did the research base help you?
  2. Share an example of when you’ve collaborated with other teachers.
  3. When a colleague has disagreed with you, how have you handled the situation?
  4. How do you intentionally use questioning when working with others?
  5. Share an example of when you have exhibited vulnerability or risk-taking.
  6. What questions do you have about instructional coaching?

The Learning Journey

The role of instructional coaches in schools and districts is to learn and grow alongside teachers. The learning is self-directed and intentional and always keeps student learning at the forefront. Focusing on instructional and formative assessment practices that lead to increased student achievement growth and proficiency is critical. Good coaches are also good leaders. Coaches are people other teachers go to for help and support with their learning and are learners themselves, taking risks and growing with those they coach.

When I was an administrator at the central office, we learned a great deal about instructional coaching in my district, such as how we needed to build a support system so teachers could best serve their students. We made mistakes and learned from them. We found some teachers not willing to change and had to adjust our coaching model accordingly. The component that kept us all grounded in the learning was student evidence. We knew our instructional coaching model was working when student learning grew due to changes in adult actions. Stay the course and continue the journey. Your students and teachers deserve it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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