Brock researchers launch resource site for educators, coaches

A new website launched by Brock University researchers aims to create “change agents” who can help fellow educators enhance their teaching on specific topics.

Providing resources for educators and educational coaches across eight professional development themes, the website is the final outcome from a multi-year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) that examined the role of educational coaches and identified ways to support their work as professional learning facilitators and peer mentors.

“There’s a lot of literature that suggests the best way to give teachers professional learning is not to invite them for a day to sit in a large conference room and talk at them,” said Tiffany Gallagher, Professor in Brock’s Faculty of Education, who led the project alongside Arlene Grierson, a former Adjunct Professor in the Faculty. “The best way to make that impact is to go deep with a few teachers who then become change agents within their schools.”

Coaches are experts in specific topics, such as technology, who help their fellow teachers to enhance their teaching. They often work with teachers in several schools providing collaborative one-on-one support for weeks or months based on a teacher’s unique needs. This personalized approach is what makes coaches so effective, Gallagher said.

“I parallel it to differentiated instruction — individualizing instruction to a child’s needs,” she said. “Whatever their reading level is, whatever their interests are, whatever they like to learn about, you differentiate. That’s what the teacher does. This is the same thing that is being done for teachers. You’re differentiating their professional learning and no two teachers are going to have the same needs.”

Coaches offer a unique solution to several challenges that teachers face, Gallagher said. While ongoing professional development is essential for helping teachers to keep up with changes in their field, there isn’t always enough professional learning time available to them. School boards may not have enough occasional teachers, for example, to allow for teachers to attend professional development workshops or conferences.

Teachers’ needs can also change from year to year based on the students in their classroom, shifts in the field of education or curriculum changes. A teacher may have several English Language Learners in class in a given year, for example, or topics like technology use in the classroom can become more important over time. Coaches can help teachers to navigate these changes and find the most effective approaches for their circumstances.

The model is less common in Canada than the United States, Gallagher said, likely because of the higher costs when compared with other professional development models. She hopes the study will give educators and administrators an appreciation for the ways coaches can support professional learning.

Gallagher and Grierson first became interested in the model while looking for more effective ways to share their own research with educators. They received funding from SSHRC in 2016 for the project. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a one-year extension of the study, which was completed in 2022.

In addition to academic papers and presentations from the project, the new website offers resources curated by the researcher team related to eight types of coaching examined during the study, including digital technology, resilient readers, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and design thinking , disciplinary literacy, English language learners,  reading assessments and cross-curricular instructional approaches.

The research team focused on gathering practical Ontario and Canadian resources that can be used by teachers to enhance their professional learning and classroom practices. Teachers can also work through the resources on their own or with an educational coach.

For more information, visit the Supporting Coaches as they Facilitate Teachers’ Professional Learning website.

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