What Does it Mean to ‘Coach in the Classroom’?

Coaching in the classroom is a core practice for Student-Centered Coaching. That’s because much of our best work takes place while a lesson is being delivered. As we explore this practice, I’d like to mention that you may have heard it referred to as ‘co-teaching’. Either way, it’s meant to be a dynamic process where the teacher and coach work together to move student learning forward. In fact, when we form true partnerships in the classroom, it’s hard to tell who the teacher is and who the coach is because both are engaged and involved partners in the delivery of the lesson. 

For decades, coaches have worked in classrooms in ways that don’t really feel like a partnership. For example, modeling lessons is common practice that sends the message that teachers have little to offer unless we show them how to do it. Or, what about when coaches go in to observe teachers and give them feedback. Doesn’t this feel an awful lot like a formal evaluation? Or how about when coaches provide small group instruction at a table in the back of the room. Couldn’t this create the perception that the coach is really an interventionist? If we hope to build trust in coaching, then it’s time we think critically about how coaches and teachers work together while in the classroom.

Coaching in the Classroom



  • A partnership
  • Co-planned beforehand
  • An opportunity to co-assess
  • About collecting student evidence to be used in the next co-planning conversation
  • One person doing all of the teaching while the other person watches
  • A lesson that a coach plans without the teacher
  • Only focused on the delivery of the lesson
  • Based on the idea that if I show a teacher how to teach, the learning will transfer

What Coaching in the Classroom Looks Like
It’s important to think of the following moves as an integrated system, rather than a menu to choose from. Decisions about how they will be used are made during the co-planning session so that both the teacher and coach have a clear vision for how the lesson will be shared.  If you’d like to learn more about each move, we include more detailed descriptions and videos of them in our book, Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Sweeney and Harris, 2017). 

Noticing and NamingDuring the lesson, the teacher and coach focus on how the students are demonstrating their current understanding in relation to the learning target or success criteria. As we work with students, we will record student evidence that we will use in our planning conversations.
Thinking AloudThe teacher and coach share their thinking throughout the delivery of a lesson. By being metacognitive in this way, we will be able to name successes and work through challenges in real time.
Teaching in TandemThe teacher and coach work together to co-deliver the lesson. The lesson is co-planned to ensure the roles are clear, that the learning target/success criteria are defined, and that we both understand how the lesson is crafted.
Co-ConferringThe teacher and coach sit side by side when conferring or in small groups. This way they create a shared understanding of how the students are doing. This then informs the next lesson.
You Pick FourThe teacher identifies approximately four students who the coach will pay special attention to collect student evidence. The coach keeps the learning target/success criteria in mind while collecting student evidence. This evidence is then used in future planning conversations.
Micro ModelingA portion of the lesson is modeled by the coach. The teacher and coach base their decision about what is modeled on the needs that have been identified by the teacher. Micro modeling may occur during a whole group lesson, conference, small group, etc.

In Closing
Many of us have modeled a lot of lessons over the years.  In fact, when I started as a coach, I did little else. I’d teach what I thought was a fabulous lesson and then wonder why I didn’t see it transfer to what teachers did in their classrooms. Needless to say, this is a bit embarrassing to admit now. Using a variety of moves  when coaching in the classroom has helped me create more coachable moments with teachers. We are doing the work together so that we can ensure we are delivering high-quality teaching and learning for our students.

DIANE SWEENEY has been an author and educational consultant for over twenty years and has written multiple books on Student-Centered Coaching including, The Essential Guide for Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin, 2020) and Moves for Launching a New Year of Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin, 2022).