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date: 24 October 2020

Real-Time Coaching for Pre-Service Teachers

Abstract and Keywords

Teaching in the early 21st century is subject to a high degree of scrutiny around effectiveness and competence. It has been argued that teachers effect student learning most positively when they take ownership of their own craft. Coaching models provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to do just that, specifically, to engage in purposeful learning activities, receive and provide feedback, and reflect on and discuss their practice.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences between coaching and mentoring. The National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching defines mentoring as a structured process for supporting professional learners through career transitions, whereas coaching enables the development of a specific aspect of practice and the embedding of specialist knowledge. Coaching for in-service teaching has been accepted practice since the early 1980s, but its adoption in pre-service teacher education is relatively new. As research on the potential of coaching has developed, interest in it continues to gain momentum in higher education. Pre-service teaching coaching models often incorporate training in coaching and/or instructional techniques, behaviors and technology, feedback and reflection. Also, models usually follow a cycle comprised of pre-conference, observation and post-conference, although technological innovations are seeing a shift from deferred (asynchronous) feedback to immediate (synchronous) feedback, which is arguably more effective. To date, coaching in pre-service education has been non-evaluative. Generally, pre-service teachers value the results of coaching, which include rapid skill development, the promotion of reflective practice, growth in self-confidence and improved student learning. However, the time-consuming nature of coaching, particularly with synchronous models, is a barrier to adoption.

Keywords: coaching models, coaching practice, feedback, reflective practice, technology-enhanced coaching

Research on Coaching Models in Pre-Service Teacher Education

An interest in the coaching of teachers dates back to Goldhammer’s (1969) work on the clinical supervision of teachers. In the 1980s, Joyce and Showers (1980, 1981, 1982) and Englert and Sugai (1983) engaged in influential research on peer coaching. Their work broadened the appeal and scope of coaching teachers. For example, conducted as in-service professional development, Joyce and Showers’s work on the transfer of practice skills brought about by coaching is widely cited (cf. Brandt, 1989; Neubert & Bratton, 1987; Ponzio, 1987). In the early 1990s published research on the effect of coaching models in pre-service education began to appear regularly. The main focus of this early scholarship was peer-coaching models, and their capacity to promote effective teaching practices as well as to reduce ineffective teaching practices. The spate of studies began with Morgan, Gustafson, Hudson, and Salzberg (1992), who, building on Englert and Sugai’s work, examined the impact of peer coaching on the acquisition of required practice skills among a small group of underperforming pre-service teachers in a practicum. Neubert and Mcallister (1993) adopted Joyce and Showers’s skill transfer model, including coaching. They investigated the perceived value of peer coaching among pre-service teachers undertaking a semester-length course. Throughout the 1990s, peer-coaching studies were published reasonably frequently (Hasbrouck, 1997; Mallette, Maheady, & Harper, 1999). Some of this research compared peer coaching with more traditional supervision (e.g., mentoring) during the practicum experience (Kraus & Wehby, 1998; Lee & Miller, 2000) or focused on the coaching of specific groups of pre-service teachers who teach students with special learning needs (Mallette et al., 1999).

By the early 2000s, there was a shift in research on coaching models to focus on the role of feedback. A study by Anderson and Radencich (2001), which assesses the value of three sources of feedback (university supervisor, directing teacher, and peer coach), marks a turning point in the evolution of coaching models in pre-service teacher education. In this study, pre-service teachers rated feedback from those they perceive as experts (teachers and university supervisors) more highly than the feedback they receive from their peers. According to Anderson and Radencich (2001), “peer coaching was a valuable part of these students’ learning experiences; however, the survey revealed that feedback from the two professionals—the university supervisor and the directing teacher—was somewhat more valuable” (p. 72). Within the field of coaching models for pre-service teachers during the 2000s, “expert to preservice teacher coaching” became a main focus of research. This shift toward researching “expert to preservice teacher coaching” occurred alongside the increased use of technology in coaching models. Scheeler and Lee’s (2002) study, which examined the effectiveness of coaching done in real time, is influential. They found that the effect of immediate corrective feedback via bug-in-ear technology increased the completion of three-term contingency trials delivered by pre-service teachers. In the years that followed, interest in designing and implementing models of coaching for pre-service teachers continued to grow. Recently the status of coaching models in pre-service education has shifted from experimental, one-off research projects to mainstream, with coaching models becoming embedded in field experiences (Kennedy & Lees, 2016).

Four reviews of research on coaching in pre-service education, including more general reviews on coaching in education that have covered some research on pre-service education, have been published. The earliest, by Scheeler, Ruhl, and McAfee (2004), reviewed 10 studies that focused on the impact of feedback, 8 on pre-service teacher education, finding that positive, specific, and corrective feedback is effective, particularly when delivered immediately. However, they also concluded that peer coaching had, at that time, been oversold, with a “woefully inadequate research base” (p. 404). Lu (2010) reviewed eight studies of coaching, all in pre-service education. She examined the similarities and differences in peer coaching and its effectiveness. Cornelius and Nagro (2014) also reviewed eight studies, looking at the impact of performance feedback on pre-service teacher performance during practica and concluded that such feedback can lead to improved implementation of effective instructional strategies. The most recent review, and perhaps the most comprehensive, by Stahl, Kehrwald, and Sharplin (2017), examined 25 studies conducted between 1997 and 2017, surveying aspects of coaching design models and coaching effects in pre-service education. This review also found coaching to be an effective tool for developing instructional skills and reflective practice, regardless of how the coaching was implemented. All reviews have highlighted the potential of coaching in education. The establishment of the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education in 2012 is indicative of the increased interest in coaching across the teacher education sector.

Main Facets of Coaching Models

The field of pre-service teacher education typically defines “coaching” as a set of learning activities in which goals are personalized and where the pre-service teacher is engaged in purposeful, authentic activity while providing opportunities to gain valuable feedback in order to improve practice. The theory underpinning the cycle used in coaching models is that the cycle is repeated to make it habitual and to improve practice. The cycle is typically structured in three steps:

  1. 1. Pre-observation conference where pre-service teachers and their peer or expert coach discuss teaching plans, specific learning goals, and coaching processes and instruments.

  2. 2. Observation of teaching where pre-service teachers are observed by their coach in the classroom, sometimes using a particular instrument to measure specific teacher behaviors.

  3. 3. Post-observation conference where pre-service teachers are provided with specific feedback on learning goals and opportunities to reflect on their practice. This feedback is then used to inform learning goals in the next cycle.

While elements of the coaching cycle are present in all practica—and expressed within the mentoring process—the focused activity of coaching is, rather, honed on the development of specific skills using a specific instrument. Furthermore, throughout the history of coaching models used in teacher education, four basic elements are common: coaching relationships; training in coaching techniques and/or a specific instructional technique or teacher behavior or technology; feedback; and a focus on reflection. Good relationships between pre-service teachers and teacher educators are foundational to the coaching process and develop over time (Gardiner, 2012). However, it is worth acknowledging that the way relationships are positioned in coaching models used in pre-service education often varies, impacting the effectiveness of the process (Stahl et al., 2017).

Despite Anderson and Radencich’s (2001) finding that pre-service teachers value the feedback more of those they perceive as experts than that of their peers, research studies continue to demonstrate a strong focus on peer-to-peer models. For the most part, coaching cycles still often occur within peer-coaching dyads or teams (Britton & Anderson, 2010; Fry & Hin, 2006; Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003; Ovens 2004; Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007). Some models have called for both peers and experts to participate in the cycles of coaching (Bowman & McCormick, 2000; Goker, 2006). In the post-observation phase, conferences generally take place face to face, using, in some instances, contemporary technological tools such as Skyping (Thurlings, Vermeulen, Bastiaens, & Stijnen, 2014); they are sometimes structured and sometimes they use a specific form to guide the process. For example, in Capizzi, Wehby, and Sandmel’s (2010) model, the coach uses an instructional quality evaluation form to discuss with pre-service teachers when they should take up opportunities to respond and use behavior-specific praise.

Training in peer-coaching techniques has been identified by pre-service teachers as an area with room for improvement, with some teachers feeling underprepared to provide aspects of coaching (Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003; Ovens, 2004). Consequently, within peer-coaching models, the introductory seminar or orientation has become a common method for training in peer-coaching techniques. Orientations can be extended (Goker, 2006) or comprise more than one session (Anderson & Radencich, 2001; Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003; Lee & Miller, 2000). While the content of seminars varies, pre-service teachers are typically instructed on peer-coaching techniques, and practice observing and delivering feedback, often using a specific form (Lee & Miller, 2000). For example, in Gemmell and Carlisle’s (2003) research, the process of delivering feedback included praise comments, clarifying questions, eliciting questions, and leading questions, which pre-service teachers recorded on “Peer Feedback” worksheets. Some models may provide pre-service teachers with the opportunity to practice peer conferencing often through seminars (Anderson & Radencich, 2001; Britton & Anderson, 2010; Pierce & Peterson Miller, 1994). In Bowman and McCormick’s (2000) model they required pre-service teachers to attend a three-hour orientation where they practiced conducting post-conferences in peer dyads, discussing strengths, weaknesses of the acquisition of certain skills, and suggested improvements collaboratively. Additionally, in some instances, the model of coaching requires pre-service teachers to use videotaped lessons in their mock peer-coaching conferences (Wynn & Kromrey, 1999).

In almost all coaching models specific training in certain skills—such as an instructional method or mode of content delivery—is a prominent feature. Examples of these specific instructional methods are clarity skills (Bowman & McCormick, 2000; Goker, 2006) and three-term contingency trials (Scheeler, McAfee, Ruhl, & Lee, 2006). In other models, the instructional methods in which pre-service teachers are trained are tailored to meet the needs of a specific group of students and/or area of development. For example, surveying the coaching literature, pre-service teachers have received training in literacy techniques and effective teaching behaviors for students with special learning needs (Mallette et al., 1999), direct instruction techniques for students with special learning needs (Scheeler & Lee, 2002), behavior management techniques (Auld, Belfiore, & Scheeler, 2010; Sharpe, Lounsbery, & Bahls, 1997), communication skills (Ottley, Coogle, & Rahn, 2015), and high-access instructional practices to improve literacy (Rock et al., 2009).

Within coaching models, the training varies in length and mode, which arguably influences the intensity of the coaching that pre-service teachers experience. Generally, the training in most studies is relatively brief (Auld et al., 2010; Kraus & Wehby, 1998; Otley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009), though in some research the training is implemented over an extended period (Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Sharpe et al., 1997). For example, in Scheeler and Lee’s (2002) model pre-service teachers meet weekly for 14 weeks to practice direct instruction procedures for 90 minutes with a student with special learning needs. In some models, training is incorporated within a pre-service teacher’s program, such as in Stahl et al.’s (2017) and Mallette et al.’s (1999) study in which pre-service teachers were instructed in peer coaching and specific instructional methods during a scheduled tutorial held twice weekly for eight weeks. Similarly, in Sharpe et al.’s (1997) model, pre-service teachers were enrolled in a physical education course through which they were exposed to training in the principles of sequential behavior analysis. While differences exist across the models, training is nearly always conducted face to face, indicating that the interpersonal dynamic is still considered essential.

While written feedback is an explicit aspect of most coaching models, there is a shift in contemporary coaching practice toward more direct, visually based modes of feedback. For example, Kennedy and Lees (2016) use videotaped lessons as the basis for verbal feedback in post-conferences. Models that include written feedback comment on specific aspects of pre-service teachers’ performance, for example, specific skills (Barton & Wolery, 2007; Morgan et al., 1992); progress toward specific instructional goals, including strengths and weaknesses; suggested areas for improvement (Stahl et al., 2017; Wynn & Kromrey, 1999); the amount of positive and negative communications, including correct feedback and specific praise (Rathel, Drasgow, & Christle, 2008); and student–teacher interactions and instruction and management skills (Kraus & Wehby, 1998). It is typical for coaches to use researcher-generated forms to structure their written feedback. For example, in Gemmell and Carlisle (2003), the pro forma used by peer coaches in the observation process is also used to write up notes from the reflection conference that follows. Written feedback in most models is usually delivered in post-conferences (Kraus & Wehby, 1998; Wynn & Kromrey, 1999), but in some models it is also delivered at a later stage (Kraus & Wehby, 1998) or sent via email (Barton & Wolery, 2007; Rathel et al., 2008).

A key facet of all coaching models is the opportunity to reflect on teaching practice. A recognition of the importance of an orientation toward reflective practice, and the potential gains of increased reflection for pre-service teachers (Körkkö, Kyrö-Ämmälä, & Turunen, 2016; Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000), suggests the importance of coaching models providing structured opportunities for reflection, beyond conferencing. Reflection—as a deliberate practice—is common to most models, with conferencing the most frequently used reflective tool. However, deliberate reflection, beyond post-conferencing, is a component of some coaching models. For example, journals are used in Ovens (2004) and Vacilotto and Cummings (2007) to promote reflective practice. In Vacilotto and Cummings’s (2007) model, after each lesson pre-service teachers generate structured written responses to connect theory to practice, reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses, classroom activities, student participation, aspects of their practice they would change or keep, and how their beliefs about teaching and learning in TEFL/TESL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language/Teaching English as a Second Language) had altered. Other models incorporate reflective summaries, written by the pre-service teacher at the end of the coaching cycle (Anderson & Radencich, 2001; Kurtts & Levin, 2000). For example, in Wynn and Kromrey’s (1999) model both the pre-service teacher and the coach write self-reflection comments after post-conferences. More recent research on coaching models use online reflective tools. For example, in Rock et al. (2009), pre-service teachers respond to an open prompt to reflect on their experiences using bug-in-ear coaching, and in Rathel et al. (2008) they blog weekly about their experiences in the classroom and their progress toward goals.

Effectiveness of Coaching Models

The evidence suggests that coaching models have a positive impact for most pre-service teachers. One of the strengths of coaching, regardless of the type of model or how it is implemented, is that it is, for most pre-service teachers, a positive and supportive process. Perhaps counterintuitively, given the reputation coaching has as a performance management tool, there is, within the research, very little discussion of pre-service teachers made anxious through the process of coaching (Britton & Anderson, 2010). Rather, studies suggest that pre-service teachers enjoy the coaching regardless of the variations in the models studied (Kurtts & Levin, 2000; Mallette et al., 1999; Neubert & Mcallister, 1993; Sharplin et al., 2016). Pre-service teachers even accommodate real-time coaching methods despite being somewhat challenged by the dual focus of teaching and processing feedback in real time (Ottley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009; Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Sharplin et al., 2016). Furthermore, pre-service teachers who engaged with coaching during practica considered it a positive experience because, among other things, they perceived it to be more purposeful and personalized than traditional models (Ovens, 2004). They also value the support they receive during coaching (Wynn & Kromrey, 1999), including affective support (Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003), and enjoy being helpful to their peers (Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007).

Generally, pre-service teachers view the feedback they receive through coaching, both peer and expert, as constructive. The research suggests that pre-service teachers find the perspectives of their peers expressed via the coaching process (Britton & Anderson, 2010; Sharplin et al., 2016; Wynn & Kromrey, 1999) valuable and peer feedback useful (Anderson & Radencich, 2001; Rock et al., 2009). Peer coaching can promote additional reflective thinking, including evaluation, problem solving, exploration of options and potential consequences (Kurtts & Levin, 2000), theorizing, and thinking about teaching (Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003; Ovens, 2004; Rock et al., 2009). Also, pre-service teachers generally perceive the feedback they received from experts during the coaching process to be of both good quantity and quality (Thurlings et al., 2014). Furthermore, feedback delivered in real time, through a personalized approach, is viewed as particularly useful (Ottley et al., 2015; Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Sharplin et al., 2016). Peer coaching, while critiqued by Anderson and Radencich (2001), has been shown to provide pre-service teachers with opportunities to share responsibilities, complementary skills, and dispositions (Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007), capitalizing on the central role relationships play in coaching models.

Coaching, whether peer or expert, has been shown to increase skill development and acquisition in pre-service teachers. A majority of studies show that pre-service teachers’ instructional skills, both generic and subject or area specific, are enhanced as a result of peer coaching (Bowman & McCormick, 2000; Goker, 2006; Hasbrouck, 1997; Kraus & Wehby, 1998; Lee & Miller, 2000; Mallette et al., 1999; Morgan et al., 1992; Morgan, Menlove, Salzberg, & Hudson, 1994; Wynn & Kromrey, 1999) and expert coaching (Auld et al., 2010; Capizzi et al., 2010; Kennedy & Lees, 2016; Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Scheeler et al., 2006; Stahl et al., 2017).

Furthermore, coaching has been found to improve self-confidence and a sense of professionalism among pre-service teachers (Hasbrouck, 1997; Kraus & Wehby, 1998; Stahl et al., 2016). Through various models of coaching, pre-service teachers feel more able to make on-the-spot decisions, for example, about when and how to broach information gaps, and are more willing to take ownership of their practice, challenge their beliefs about teaching, and accept criticism (Ovens, 2004; Stahl et al., 2016; Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007). The collaborative aspect of peer coaching helps pre-service teachers feel confident about taking risks in their practice and identifying strengths and weaknesses in their planning and teaching (Kurtts & Levin, 2000; Stahl et al., 2016; Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007). As coaching models positively influence pre-service teachers’ practice, they have the potential to improve the learning and behavior of students. Feedback delivered to pre-service teachers has the capacity to promote student engagement and academic performance, and significantly reduces off-task behavior and time spent on organizational tasks (Auld et al., 2010; Englert & Sugai, 1983; Mallette et al., 1999; Ottley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009; Sharpe et al., 1997).

However, coaching in pre-service teacher education is not without challenges. The time-consuming nature of coaching, peer or expert, is a significant barrier to implementation. Pre-service teachers on a practicum can find it difficult to make time for planning and providing quality feedback (Wynn & Kromrey, 1999). Peer coaching can also cause problems with relationships, for example, causing pre-service teachers to become overly dependent on each other (Wynn & Kromrey, 1999) and to have more friction with their supervising teachers (Ovens, 2004). Furthermore, pre-service teachers can feel underprepared to analyze lessons (Ovens, 2004) or run reflection conferences (Gemmell & Carlisle, 2003), suggesting the need for further training. In the research by Anderson and Radencich (2001) some pre-service teachers expressed disappointment with the feedback they received from their peer coach, and felt the presence of peer coaches in their classroom undermined their sense of ownership. Technology-related problems are issues for technology-dependent models, particularly models that employ coaching in real time. Common issues are Internet dropouts (Ottley et al., 2015; Sharpe et al., 1997), the limitations of cameras to capture the entire classroom (Ottley et al., 2015), and audio problems (Rock et al., 2009).

Role of Technology in Designing and Implementing Coaching Models

Technological innovations feature early in the research on coaching models. For example, in Morgan, Menlove, Salzberg, and Hudson (1994) pre-service teachers in post-teaching conferences used videotaped segments of their teaching to assess performance and set new goals. This technique is also taken up in Wynn and Kromrey (1999) and Gugino (2017), who developed an e-peer coaching model that utilizes Web 2.0 technologies to develop asynchronous feedback to pre-service teachers based on their uploaded video segments of teaching practice. The effectiveness of video-based coaching has moved beyond an experimental research focus to become embedded in field experiences (Kennedy & Lees, 2016).

While technology has worked to enhance models of coaching for pre-service teachers, it has particularly enhanced the role of feedback within these models. Specifically, technology has opened up a space for immediate feedback and immediate implementation of that feedback, which conflates observation and post-observation, with feedback and reflection occurring simultaneously. In current research, such technological developments have facilitated the movement toward immediate or synchronous feedback, sometimes referred to as real-time coaching (Stahl et al., 2017) or side-by-side coaching (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010). Synchronous feedback has been shown to be more effective than deferred feedback (Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Scheeler et al., 2006). Verbal feedback is provided wirelessly in real time using a bug-in-ear device (Fry & Hin, 2006; Ottley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009; Scheeler & Lee, 2002; Scheeler et al., 2006), and in some models Skyped in (Ottley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009). Within most models of coaching that capitalize on real-time feedback, pre-service teachers have the opportunity to practice using the technology in micro teaching situations, adopting the roles of teacher, coach, and process observer. Consequently, one of the challenges for those implementing technologically enhanced models is the time required to train pre-service teachers in the use of specific technology (Ottley et al., 2015; Rock et al., 2009; Stahl et al., 2017; Wake, Dailey, Cotabish, & Benson, 2017). In Scheeler and Lee (2002), for example, pre-service teachers have two short practice sessions to get used to the bug-in-ear device before they deliver a simulated lesson to a graduate assistant wearing the device and teach a 10-minute lesson in their practicum classroom setting.

Critical Perspectives on Real-Time Coaching

While coaching models have the potential to be useful, positive tools in pre-service teachers’ development, the focus of research to date remains largely on how they can improve instructional skills. It is worth acknowledging that coaching, in theory, can have effects beyond skill acquisition. The capacity of coaching to contribute to pre-service teachers’ development in other areas, for example, professional identity and affective dimensions (Stahl et al., 2017), remains largely unexplored. Yet to emerge in the literature are investigations into coaching models that position pre-service teachers as expert, rather than peer, coaches. Coaching models that use wireless technology, in particular, offer this potential, providing pre-service teachers with the opportunity to assume the role of expert coach following their training.

Coaching that capitalizes on technology—specifically real-time feedback—has been viewed favorably by pre-service teachers and linked to empowerment (Rock et al., 2009; Sharplin et al., 2016). While for the most part coaching models have adhered to the structure of consistent cycles of pre-observation, observation of teaching, and a post-observation conference, technology provides the opportunity to meld together observation and post-observation and open up new spaces where other facets (e.g., reflection and feedback) can evolve and develop.

Despite the evident potential gains that can be made through coaching in pre-service education, with the neoliberal perspectives that currently inform teaching and teacher education, there is a danger that real-time coaching—or any coaching model—will be co-opted for service in this “audit culture” (Connell, 2009, pp. 216–217), to be used as a performance management tool, rather than as a tool for teacher development. If this pressure is resisted, real-time coaching has great potential to address one of the key challenges facing pre-service teacher training, which is, how to educate teachers to take up positions as ongoing learners of their own teaching and, in doing so, adopt strategies where they take ownership of their learning and the development of their practical skills.


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