"What I Would Love to Do All Day is Focus on Teachers and be in Classrooms": Instructional Coaches' Perspectives of Their Professional Roles, Responsibilities, and On-the-Job Learning in Three Northern California Urban School Districts

Throughout the United States, urban schools and districts with high-poverty and highly diverse learners have historically struggled with chronically low student achievement. Generally, their initiatives to rectify this problem have focused on implementing instructional reform goals for improving student achievement by ensuring all students have access and opportunity for rigorous learning for college and career success. Many districts and schools have devoted significant time and resources aimed at teacher professional development and training. This study took a qualitative analysis approach to understanding the growing use of instructional coaching programs to improve teaching and learning in high-poverty, highly diverse schools in three Northern California School Districts. This study addressed the lack of empirical research on the people in the profession of instructional coaching by gaining insight into instructional coaches working in roles that were focused on instructional reform in schools and districts with high-poverty and highly diverse student populations. Through the use of focus groups, this study investigated experiences and perspectives of K-12 public school instructional coaches (ICs) in three urban Northern California school districts. This study used the frameworks of guided participation (Rogoff, 1990), Billett’s (2004) learning through work perspectives, and Lave’s (1991) situating learning in communities of practice to understand instructional coaches’ experiences as they learned and made sense of the activities and duties of instructional coaching in high-poverty, highly diverse urban schools. Additionally, this study was focused on addressing the need for further understanding of the experiences and perspectives of ICs and how they made sense of and understood their role in relation to district instructional reform initiatives using culturally relevant instructional practices (Ladson-Billings, 1985). The findings of this study were that ICs do not receive formal training, they struggle with organizational dysfunction, and they rely on their social networks to make sense of their roles and responsibilities. Additionally, ICs do not address the socio-cultural needs of students in their coaching practices and instead reproduced the status quo, reinforcing teaching practices that marginalize students in highly diverse schools. This study recommends a learning through work coaching pedagogy using guided participation (Rogoff, 1990) and critical stance coaching (Teemant, et al., 2014) as a promising approach to more effective instructional coaching programs in high-poverty, highly diverse urban schools, and districts.