Running Head: STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 1
In Press August 2016 Theory Into Practice
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 1
A recent research report from the International Literacy Association (ILA, 2015)
discussed the current challenges facing today’s educators, noting the increasing diversity of
students’ backgrounds and needs, coupled with the higher expectations and standards being
widely adopted to prepare students for 21st century skills. The ILA document stated that due to
this combination of circumstances there appeared to be “both a need for and a benefit from
specialized literacy professionals working in schools to improve literacy instructional practices”
(p. 4). One important role of a specialized literacy professional is that of “coach”, commonly
defined as a professional educator working to improve classroom instruction by supporting
teacher learning. The purpose of this article is to describe one model of coaching currently being
used in schools called Student-Focused Coaching.
Theoretical Underpinnings of Student-Focused Coaching
The Student-Focused Coaching model (SFC) (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2005; 2007; 2009)
was developed with a goal of creating a process for providing coaching support to teachers in
real-world schools that was both effective and functional. SFC is designed to be flexible so a
coach can be appropriately responsive to the specific needs of each, unique situation while
engaging in a systematic, collaborative process. The SFC model is also generic rather than
content specific. That is, although it is likely that most SFC coaches work primarily in the area
of reading or literacy, the SFC process has been used with a wide variety of educational
professionals including behavior specialists, math coaches, technology coaches, and
And, although like all coaching models, the purpose of the coaching process in the SFC
model is to provide professional development to colleagues, the specific focus the SFC coaching
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 2
process is on improving students’ outcomes. This component of the SFC model was driven by
the understanding that teachers’ practice is best be addressed by using a truly collaborative
process in which both coach and teacher are focused on a jointly-held belief, need, or concern
(such as developing a specific lesson plan or a helping a student achieve a targeted objective for
improvement in academics, behavior, and/or social-emotional development) and work
collaboratively to achieve the desired end (Joyce & Showers, 1996; Ingvarson, Meiers, &
Too often coaching is provided as a rather “top-down” process in which coaches lead
teachers (perhaps unwillingly) to adopt a new set of practices to use in their classrooms, often
using a “coaching cycle” (coaches observe a lesson after a pre-conference, followed by a post-
observation conference) “repeated several times as the teacher advances toward mastery”
(Gulamhussein, 2013, p. 37). This “coaching cycle” was adopted with little-to-no modification
from the identical 3-step process of clinical supervision, used in teacher evaluations since at least
the late 1970s (Littrell, Lee-Borden, & Lorenz, 1979). The collaborative focus on student success
in the SFC model helps to separate coaching from teacher evaluation. In SFC the work of the
coach is not to “fix” or even change a teacher’s practice, but the help teachers be as effective
with their students as possible, and providing professional development support as needed to
sustain effective classroom practices through a collaborative, supportive process with mutual
focus on student achievement, rather than “fixing” a poorly performing teacher.
An initial version of SFC was a model developed for use in special education and school
psychology called “Responsive Consultation” (Hasbrouck & Garrison, 1990; Hasbrouck, 1991).
The Responsive Consultation (RC) model was based on the literature on consultation services
provided in the medical and behavioral science professions in which consultation is defined as a
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 3
triadic, indirect service delivery model where the outcomes of a client are served by a process
driven by the collaboration of a consultant and a consultee (Denton & Hasbrouck, 2009; Erchel,
& Sheridan, 2014). The RC model drew heavily on the problem-solving strategies often used in
educational consultation as an effective way to both improve student’s outcomes (behavioral,
academic, social/emotional) and, in the process, strengthen the knowledge and skill set of the
Consultation has been extensively studied and found to be both effective in successfully
addressing the targeted concern of the client, but also strengthening the skills of the consultee
and thereby preventing future similar problems (Sheridan & Cowan, 2004). The process is
reciprocal and voluntary; the consultant is seen as the source of resources and ideas, rather than
the provider of the solution. Information is shared and both key parties are seen as equally
valuable and necessary in the process. A shared sense of ownership of the problem and the
intervention developed to address the problem results in a greater likelihood of the consultee
making changes to his/her practice, and the personalized and sustained guided support provided
by the consultant during the intervention helps ensure that new skills can be adequately learned
and used again in future situations (Erchel, & Sheridan, 2014).
The RC model continued to evolve and develop, and was later used in research conducted
at Texas A&M University (cf. Hughes, Hasbrouck, Serdahl, Heidgerken, & McHaney, 2001).
Along with consultation research, Hasbrouck and Denton also incorporated research on peer
coaching (Showers & Joyce, 1996) and effective professional development strategies
(Gulamhussein, 2013) into the current SFC model.
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Key Ingredients/Components of Student-Focused Coaching
The definition of SFC is “a cooperative, ideally collaborative relationship with colleagues
mutually engaged in efforts to support teacher development and enhance student learning”
(Hasbrouck & Michel, 2016). Teachers and specialists who have some level successful teaching
experience (typically a minimum of 3-5 years), a deep knowledge of the content area that would
be the focus of their coaching work (literacy, math, etc.), and an interest in working in close
collaboration with their colleagues to support effective classroom practices are good candidates
for SFC coaching. The training for coaches can happen within a master’s program at a
university or in stand-alone training programs offered by districts or educational service centers.
The content for the training cover such things as: defining the process and purpose of coaching,
how to building trusting relationships with peer colleagues, time management, communication,
systematic problem solving strategies, working in partnership with building leaders, strategies
for effective professional development trainings, etc. (Hasbrouck & Denton, 2005; 2009).
SFC coaches are asked to take on 3 different roles, responsively selecting the correct role
for the needs and requirements of each unique coaching situation.
Facilitator. SFC coaches take on the role of Facilitator when they assist their teacher
colleagues continue to implement the effective practices they are already doing, or assists the
system (usually the school) toward achieving success with all students. This role, unique to the
SFC model, is specifically designed to help prevent the common but mistaken belief that the job
of a coach is to “fix” teachers who are either struggling or somehow determined to be less than
fully competent. It does so by requiring the SFC coach to make contact on a regular basis with
all the teachers, not just the ones that are perceived to “need help.” In the SFC model, the focus
of the work is on student success and never on evaluating teachers. The coaching process is
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 5
geared toward providing the level of support to facilitate successful practices in every classroom,
whether or not the teacher is already highly successful or is in fact struggling.
The Facilitator role was created in part in response to research on the original Responsive
Consultation model which showed that teachers highly valued the limited general support that
could be provided to them by a coach or consultant (such as tracking down missing materials,
contacting a parent, or conducting an assessment of a new student) (Tindal, Parker, &
Hasbrouck, 1992). By supporting the teacher in small but important ways, sometimes assisting
with clerical or other seemingly trivial tasks, the coach demonstrates the he or she is “willing to
get their hands dirty” in the “real-world” work in which all teachers must engage. It helps keep
the roles of SFC coach and teacher on a similar level of mutual support and respect. Coaching
requires that a positive, trusting relationship be developed between the coach and the teacher
(Knight, 2007). The Facilitator role in the SFC model helps establish and build those kind of
relationships between coaches and teachers.
Teacher/Learner. In the second role of the SFC model, coaches provide more traditional
professional development, sharing effective, proven strategies with individuals or with small or
larger groups of teachers usually in a workshop or seminar format. This could also involve
leading a book or article study group, attending a conference with colleagues and sharing what
was learned with others, etc. Teachers who are directly seeking input or guidance from the coach
would be served under this role.
We labeled this role as “teacher/learner” to help underscore the attitude that we hope all
SFC coaches will embrace: That they are not better, wiser, smarter or more capable than their
peer colleagues but instead they can serve as a model for the vision that all school colleagues
should be fully united in their focus and universal commitment to the success of every student.
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Teachers and coaches simply have different roles to take in that effort. We train SFC coaches to
believe that if they have some knowledge or information that would benefit students, that
information should be widely and equitably shared (the “teacher” role), but, at the same time,
coaches should continue to be open to learning from and alongside their professional colleagues
(the “learner” role).
Collaborative Problem Solver. The third, and perhaps most potentially impactful role
for SFC coaches involves having coaches use the processes and strategies that have strong
empirical support: Engaging colleagues in a structured, collaborative process to address student
problems. SFC coaches learn a process to that can be used to address a wide-range of problems
that, depending on the content focus and specialty of the coach, could be academic, behavioral,
and/or social emotional. The problems addressed in this process are initially identified either by
the individual teacher or by an analysis of data related to students’ achievement. This process
has been found to be the most effective way for SFC coaches to provide the professional
development support that results in both improved student outcomes and improved teacher
knowledge and skill. This problem solving process is the same as that used by many schools
these days in student support teams and professional learning communities (PLCs).
Collaborative problem solving involves managing a procedure that involves 4 phases. In
Phase 1 (Problem Presentation), the coach works to obtain an overview of the teacher’s sense or
vision of the problem. SFC coaches attempt to drive this discussion from an analysis of current
and relevant data as much as possible, as the use of data to drive educational decisions has been
shown to be a key tool used by schools whose students achieve outstanding success in schools
(Bambrick-Santoyo, 2010; Denton, Foorman, & Mathes, 2003). Because whatever intervention
or problem solution is ultimately developed will be implemented by the teacher in his/her
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 7
classroom, it is imperative that the coach understand who this teacher is in terms of philosophy
and belief systems, skill set, etc. Teachers need to be fully engaged in every step of the process
in order to both continue to trust the coach and to accept and implement the ultimate plan to
address the targeted problem.
Phase 1 ends with a plan to collect any additional data that might be needed to accurately
identify what problem or concern should be addressed and information that will be needed to
ultimately evaluate the effectiveness of the plan or intervention. Data for Collaborative Problem
Solving can include interviews (e.g., talking to last year’s teacher, to the student’s parents, or to
the student him or herself), observations, assessments, and/or record reviews. Between Phases 1
and 2 the plan for data collection is carried out. SFC coaches are encouraged to engage the
teacher as much as is reasonable in the data collection process to further underscore the
collaborative nature of this process. But in the realities of busy classrooms and the limited
knowledge that many classroom teachers have about conducting academic assessments or
classroom observations, coaches may need to do the bulk of the data collection themselves.
Once the necessary data have been collected, the coach and teacher meet again in Phase 2
to collaboratively analyze the collected data and ultimately develop a Targeted Action Plan
(TAP). Oftentimes the data collected will paint a picture of a student with multiple concerns so
the next step is to narrow with focus of the problem and prioritize efforts. For example, if the
data confirm that a student has a serious reading concern, is having difficulty with peer
relationships, and has poor attendance, the teacher and coach might well decide to initially
address the attendance issue because it is unlikely any plan could successfully help improve a
student’s reading skill or peer relationships if the student is not attending school.
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The next step in Phase 2 is to set some goals. SFC coaches assist the teacher to set goals
that are as observable and measurable as possible. Usually 2 to 3 goals are identified. Once
goals have been identified the coach and teacher collaborate in developing a TAP to help the
student achieve the goals. This process can begin with some brainstorming, but it may be that
the teacher truly has no idea what steps to take next or what new strategies to consider, so the
coach can and should take a more directive role in describing some options. However, to
continue to emphasize the collaborative nature of the process, SFC coaches should not just start
telling the teacher what he or she should do. Instead they should help facilitate the development
of a “menu of options”, with each option being evidence-supported and viable for successful
implementation by that teacher in that classroom.
Once such a list has been created, the teacher, with guidance and support from the coach,
select ideas to be used in the TAP address the problem and achieve the goals. If the teacher is
unfamiliar with any of the plan components (for example, how to systematically teach phonics
skills, how to teach students to manage their time for successful task completion, how to use
questioning strategies to help improve a student’s comprehension) the coach can offer to either
come into the teacher’s classroom and model the process or strategy or can offer to take the
teacher’s class allowing him or her to visit and observe another teacher’s classroom where that
teacher is already incorporating the idea.
Phase 3 is the implementation period where the role of the coach is to support the teacher
and assist them as necessary to successfully implement the TAP or help make modifications or
adjustments to the plan as necessary. Phase 4 is where the teacher and coach meet to determine
if the goals of the TAP were successfully achieved or, if not, what next steps to take.
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 9
Collaborative problem solving potentially has 3 positive outcomes: (a) the identified
student concern can often be successfully addressed, (b) the teacher acquires new knowledge and
skills, including how to target a concern about a student through analysis of classroom data, set
appropriate goals, and develop, implement and evaluate classroom interventions, and (c) the
collaborative relationship between the teacher and the coach can be strengthened.
One SFC coach used collaborative problem solving with a novice 3rd grade teacher who
was very frustrated with one girl in her classroom who was non-compliant and disruptive. In
Phase 1 the coach learned that the teacher was feeling overwhelmed with being in a new school
and assigned to a new grade level (she’d previously taught one year in 1st grade). The coach
assured her that they would work together to make this year successful. In the Phase 2 when the
coach did some classroom observations and interviews of other teachers and the student and her
parent, it became clear that the teacher has minimal classroom management strategies and that,
while she was focused on this one student, the entire class was having difficulty. The interviews
confirmed that this one student, at home and in other classrooms, did not exhibit problematic
behavior. The end result of the entire process was that the teacher greatly increased her
repertoire of effective, positive classroom management strategies (and improved her relationship
with the initially targeted “problem student”. The remainder of the school year was quite
successful for this teacher and her students, and she even requested to be placed in a third grade
classroom the following year. Similar experiences have been seen in all levels of schools,
whether the focus is on one or more student’s academic, behavioral, or social-emotional
Principal partners. Building principals or other administrators who directly support and
evaluate coaches play important, even essential role in the successful outcome for coaching.
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 10
Principals are too often left out of the development of a coaching system in the schools and
rarely receive training in how to effectively partner with coaches. In the SFC model we have
developed a checklist of best practices for principals that can be used the help them better
understand the role they play and how they can help to maximize the effectiveness of coaches.
The checklist helps clarify how administration can set a climate and culture on a campus or
district-wide that encourages all teachers to strive to be the best professional they can be and
seek any assistance available to achieve that outcome, including the services of a coach.
Some of the specific best practices that have been identified for supporting SFC coaches
include understanding that:
Coaching cannot be forced on a colleague; there must be some minimal level of
cooperation to be coaches.
Coaches have no power and no authority over their peer colleagues. They are
peers of the teachers in a different role. They are not supervisors and cannot
participate in supervision or evaluation decisions.
Coaches can only provide effective professional development when they have
established a trusting and mutually respectful professional relationship. This is
facilitated when the coach and teachers focus on partnering for student success.
Establishing and maintaining mutual trust requires that coaching interactions be
completely confidential unless specific permission is granted.
Many schools, districts, and agencies today are using various forms of the RTI or
Response to Intervention model (www.rtinetwork.org). In some implementations of RTI, the role
of the SFC coach as described here might overlap with the roles of an RTI coordinator, or a
teacher leader, or even a school psychologist. There are, in fact, ways in which all of these roles
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 11
intersect and may even replicate each other. This would vary tremendously between schools,
districts, and agencies depending on how roles were defined, as well as very specific state-level
rules and regulations regarding licensure. What is perhaps unique, what more clearly separates
the role of a “coach” from other roles in schools is the specific and dedicated purpose of
providing professional develop support to teachers. While RTI coordinators, teacher leaders, and
school psychologists may as part of their responsibilities provide teachers with professional
development, this is the sole purpose of a coach: To help their teacher colleagues be as
successful in their instructional outcomes as possible.
Although the key components of the Student-Focused Coaching model are based on
empirical evidence, including studies of earlier versions of the model (cf. Denton, Hasbrouck &
Sekaquaptewa, 2003; Hasbrouck, 1991; Hasbrouck & Garrison, 1990; Hughes, Hasbrouck,
Serdahl, Heidgerken & McHaney, 2001; Tindal, Parker & Hasbrouck, 1992), the model itself
has, to our knowledge, not been specifically studied in any empirical study of the coaching
process or coaching models. The technology supported coaching process developed by Dr.
Patricia Mathes at Southern Methodist University is based on the SFC model. And the SCIE has
been used in studies of teacher effectiveness (Hasbrouck & Christen, 1996; Hasbrouck, 1997;
Next Steps Needed
Schools across the United States continue to provide coaching as a way to help teachers
be successful and thus help students succeed. Many schools have implemented the SFC model
specifically and have found success with those implementations. Additional research that
specifically addresses the value and contribution of each of the three specific roles that SFC
STUDENT-FOCUSED COACHING 12
coaches undertake would contribute to the general understanding of SFC and also provide
important information about how to provide training and support to SFC coaches. Research that
further explores the partnership between campus administrators and coaches would help define
that highly influential relationship and help to identify and support possible best-practices for
principals who work with SFC coaches at their schools.
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1. Bean, R.M., & Swan Dagen, A., Eds. (2012). Best practices of literacy leaders:
Keys to school improvement. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
A comprehensive look at both the processes and the content for coaching and
collaboration from elementary through secondary levels. It addresses academics and
instruction, assessment and effective professional development strategies and
procedures. Suggestions for classroom technology, differentiated instruction,
English Language Learners, and home-school partnerships are provided.
2. United States Agency for International Development (2014, February). The
power of coaching: Improving early grade reading instruction in developing
countries. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved at
This report describes best practices for developing and implementing an effective
coaching program in early grade reading programs in schools. The content
specifically addresses issues in developing countries but the information would
relevant and helpful for academic or instructional coaches in any setting. The report is
divided into four major sections: (a) What is coaching? models and approaches; (b)
Implementation of coaching: What coaches do; (c) Conditions that support effective
coaching; and (d) Making decisions about a coaching initiative.
3. Sprick, R., Knight, J., Reinke, W., Skyles, T. McK., & Barnes, L. (2010).
Coaching classroom management, 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest
This book is valuable resource for administrators, staff developers, behavior
specialists, and instructional coaches who work directly with teachers to improve
classroom management and student behavior. It provides detailed directions for data
collection tools, tips for working with reluctant teachers, an analysis of reciprocity,
helpful checklists for walk-throughs, and a sample model for coaching.