4 reasons to consider virtual coaching for your school district

man working on laptopAs technologies advance, school districts are finding new and creative ways to facilitate development and growth in their teachers. As methods like coaching are gaining traction in education, virtual and online platforms are also increasingly being embraced for their agility and efficiency in the delivery of coaching. In this article, experts from TNTP weigh in on the benefits of virtual coaching.



Coaching is critical to the long-term development of various skills, and the practice of teaching is no exception. If you’re in education, you’ve probably seen the benefits of coaching for teachers and leaders anecdotally.


Fortunately, there’s a growing body of research to support those observations. A recent study titled “The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Causal Evidence” shows coaching results in improvement in teaching practices and student academic outcomes. The interesting thing that same study also finds is this: the ability to scale coaching programs while preserving their efficacy is difficult.


If you think about how coaching works, it makes sense that scaling it across large school districts would be challenging. Historically, the emphasis has been on in-person coaching and modes of professional learning. A coaching program piloted at 1-2 schools might need to expand to 20-30 schools to cover an entire district. That means a whole lot of additional facetime (and work) for would-be coaches.


One way to help coaching programs effectively scale is to make use of online channels. The sophistication of cloud platforms combined with faster network connections means that online tools are much more robust than they used to be. However, many in the field of education are skeptical:

  • Will teachers accept a virtual coaching framework?
  • How will coaches be able to build rapport and trust online?
  • And what about technical challenges?

These are all valid questions. So, why should school districts consider virtual coaching?


Teachers coached virtually perform the same as teachers coached in person.

During the first few years of offering virtual coaching, TNTP collected data on three different coaching models. One was completely virtual — all coursework and coaching took place online. The second involved coaching in the classroom and in-person seminars, and the third was a hybrid - online coursework with in-person coaching.

In our data set, teachers who participated in virtual coaching performed just as well as those who received in-person coaching. And in one specialty area (engaging students with rigorous grade level content), teachers actually perform better with virtual coaching than with in-person coaching. (We suspect that connecting with subject-matter experts regardless of location helps to boost performance.)


Teachers and coaches save time lost to travel or distractions.

By using a virtual coaching model, teachers and coaches get the benefits of coaching practices without the hassle of in-person meetings. Consider these examples: a coach spends time driving to school for an in-person meeting, only to enter during a fire drill. Now the coach’s time is wasted and she has to come back later. For in-person professional development, teachers are likely trying to get out the classroom door quickly to attend training at pre-appointed times.

With online coursework and virtual coaching, teachers can complete both at a time that works for them. And the efficiency of virtual coaching has an added bonus for coach employers: each coach can manage a larger caseload of teachers. Coaches working virtually can effectively manage nearly double the caseload of in-person coaches.


Districts can more easily leverage subject matter experts across schools.

Districts frequently struggle to fill coaching roles with educators who have strong subject-matter knowledge and the skills to grow adults. Many coaches have backgrounds that don’t necessarily match their teacher caseload. A high school science teacher might be coaching math teachers, or vice versa. Though the coach can provide generalized instruction to teachers, they’re not going to be able to go deep on content-specific teaching practices.

For teachers who specialize in math, science, or other essential content areas, virtual coaching can open doors to specialists who aren’t in the local area. An elementary school math specialist may be located many hours away, and thus not available for in-person coaching — but the online format makes it possible. The coach can relay her own direct experience and learnings to other math teachers.


Teachers respond positively to virtual coaching.

Let’s face it: there is often initial hesitation to the idea of a virtual coach. However, TNTP has found that strong relationships can be built online. Eventually the technology aspect fades into the background, as teacher and coach focus on classroom practice and student learning.

Teachers participating in our Florida Teacher of the Year project rave about coaches who help them create a framework of student-centered instruction. The materials coaches provide are incredibly helpful. And, teachers love the real-time feedback they get during the virtual coaching process.

And here’s an even better endorsement: teachers enjoyed virtual coaching so much that ALL participants in the Florida project said they would recommend virtual coaching to their colleagues! Here’s some detailed feedback from Florida teacher Jessica Solano:


“The virtual coaching was extremely specific to my instructional practices and to the needs of my students. My coach was able to pinpoint with evidence areas that I could improve on and provide valuable resources and examples that could help me better teach my students. The consistent focus on our overall goal helped me know what to focus on and practice rather than get "better" at teaching in general. The most helpful piece would be the follow-up conversations from the Zoom classroom visits. I loved how I could see my progress on the rubric and was given tangible examples and links right in the main shared document. I've learned new things that I will now use for the rest of my teaching career.”
- Jessica Solano


Making the leap from in-person to virtual coaching benefits all parties. 

Teachers, coaches, and school districts stand to gain by adopting virtual coaching. Not only is teacher performance the same as in-person coaching — it’s better in some cases! All stakeholders save precious time using online channels, school districts have access to a larger pool of specialists, and teachers love the format (and results) of virtual coaching.


[Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash]