Incremental coaching: the next big thing in teacher development?

June 9, 2017

Incremental coaching is a form of teacher development based on an approach to observation and follow-up conversations advocated in Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.

We commissioned research that suggests incremental coaching is a practical way for middle and senior leaders to improve the effectiveness of teaching. Read about the findings below, or for more detail, download a pdf of our 12-page report summary

What is incremental coaching?

Incremental coaching is a regular, frequent and ongoing cycle of observation and action-based conversations that helps teachers develop specific aspects of their practice. It:

  • Combines short sessions of observation and action-based conversations
  • Focuses on one action-step each week
  • Fits within existing timetables and practice
  • Supports a school’s teaching principles
  • Remains separate from performance management

Each teacher gets one-to-one incremental coaching tailored to their own and their pupils’ needs. The incremental coaching dialogue uses a mix of review, praise, feedback, reflection, modelling, planning and goal setting.

Incremental coaching differs from coaching. Coaching as practised by Ambition School Leadership focuses on a wide range of personal and professional development issues, whereas incremental coaching focuses specifically on teaching practice.

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Our findings

Our report provides evidence that both school leaders and teachers strongly endorse the incremental coaching approach. They believe that pupil outcomes are improving as a result.

Incremental coaching was found to promote the consistent application of teaching principles across a school. Many felt it had helped to make their school a more open, professional learning community.

How do you implement incremental coaching?

How do you get started?

Schools can choose the approach that best suits them. The schools in the evaluation had a range of approaches – from piloting with selected staff, to new schools building it into their culture. But in every school, leaders took a key role in championing incremental coaching.

Who are the coaches?

Coaches are usually senior leaders, often assistant headteachers and vice-principals, or middle leaders responsible for teaching and learning but not for a class. Incremental coaching always worked best when the coach was not the teacher’s line manager.

Incremental coaching diagram
What resources does incremental coaching need?

Incremental coaching requires investment. Time and training must be costed, planned and timetabled.

The main challenge is finding time for coaches to observe and for sessions to happen. But all the headteachers considered incremental coaching to be so important it deserved a priority claim on available resources.

What makes incremental coaching work?

The case studies provide pointers for what best helps schools introduce and embed incremental coaching:

  • Strong instructional leadership, backed by a clear incremental coaching model
  • Open communication led by incremental coaching champions respected by the staff
  • Operational investment in time and training
  • Carefully selected and well-trained coaches

"In the report, 71% of respondents strongly believe that incremental coaching helps pupils’ progress"

The impact of incremental coaching

The report gives evidence of rapid and substantial benefits to teaching practice. Schools can readily give examples of how incremental coaching has helped transform teachers’ practice within months.

Asked if they would value career-long incremental coaching, most agreed. Almost 80% said that incremental coaching remains beneficial, even for expert leaders.

"I have found incremental coaching highly valuable and I have seen improvements in my teaching and the levels of engagement from the children." Primary school teacher

"Incremental coaching gets you to think carefully about a particular strategy and the best way to use it rather than trying to cover everything in one go". Secondary school senior leader

"We talked to colleagues at another school that had been doing it for longer. Then we introduced it at a staff meeting – it has gone down very well." Primary school headteacher

"82% of teachers surveyed in the report strongly agree their practice had benefitted from incremental coaching"

Next steps

Read our 12-page report summary for more benefits of incremental coaching.

For discussion of the theory and findings read the full report by Peter Matthews.

Find out about more ways to develop your teachers by taking a look at what our Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders programmes have to offer. 


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