Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

DeLacy Ganley

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Carl Cohn

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kyo Yamashiro

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


educational equity, instructional coaching, instructional leadership, professional development, teacher leadership


There has been increased investment in instructional coach positions in public school districts in recent years. Instructional coaches are put into positions of leadership with great variation in their leadership skills, training, and support. The purpose of this study was to describe the perceived experiences of instructional coaches, including their leadership roles and tasks, the supports they need, and the challenges they face so their leadership work can be planned for and well implemented to improve educational equity for students. This study used a non-experimental, qualitative phenomenological research design. Twenty seasoned instructional coaches were interviewed. Qualitative interviewing was ideal to understand their lived experiences and perceptions of their experiences. Five themes emerged: 1.Instructional coaches are agents of change for the sake of students. 2.Instructional coaches do much more than coach. 3.Instructional coaches lead with influence by leveraging relationships. 4.Instructional coaches must attend to perception and politics daily. 5.Instructional coaches need support from their administrators. Instructional coaches recognize their service is to teachers, but they know the end result of that service is to improve outcomes for students. They see their work as critical to the implementation of district and school plans, goals, and initiatives, and ultimately critical to student achievement. To impact change, they work tirelessly to support the differentiated needs of teachers to improve learning environments for students. Educational equity matters to coaches, for they want no student to have limited opportunities or outcomes, particularly students from historically underserved groups. Ultimately, instructional coaches recognize the moral purpose of their work, improving student outcomes and educational equity. Instructional coaches are "go-to" staff members. Most coaches spend the bulk of their time in "other duties as assigned." Those duties keep their schools progressing, as coaches fill the gaps in work that would potentially go left undone if not for the coach. They are dependable, hard workers who see the value of doing the "other duties as assigned" in service to teachers and as a benefit to students. Instructional coaches come to the work of coaching as established teacher leaders who often get instant credibility from their teacher peers due to their experience. But instructional coaches know that instant credibility has limits. They know they must develop and constantly maintain positive, trusting relationships with teachers. They recognize that such relationships are foundational to their leadership success. Instructional coaches know they cannot tell people what to do and expect results. Rather, they leverage relationships and use influence as their main leadership method. Instructional coaches are a minority group amongst their peers. This creates issues of perception around, "What do coaches do?" and "How do they spend their time?" Instructional coaches are well aware of these perceptions and are mindful to attend to the perception of their peers at all times. They are keen to be visible on their campuses, be helpful to everyone at all times, and maintain positive relationships so as not to lose credibility and influence. Instructional coaches need collaborative relationships with their administrators for the purpose of effectively implementing district and school change initiatives that lead to positive student outcomes. Coaches recognize they are not administrators and cannot lead change in the same way as an administrator. But with collaborative relationships with administrators, they can be a powerful team. They are grateful when they receive administrative support and seek it as their main need for ongoing success in the coaching role. This study is important because it demonstrates that instructional coaches can be linchpins of change in their schools and districts. While coaches are focused on supporting teachers and growing teacher efficacy, they are ultimately focused on student achievement outcomes and educational equity as the moral purpose of their work. This study also demonstrates that coaching time need not be purely focused on coaching tasks; rather, time in non-coaching tasks is highly beneficial to coaches' work. Time spent in "other duties as assigned" is a political investment in relationships and influence that can constantly be leveraged to make meaningful change for the benefit of students. Ultimately, instructional coaches are quite keen about the politics of their positions and this study redefines the notion that coaches experience a lot of negative tension in their roles. Rather, they have a matter-of-fact knowledge of politics and perception as a reality they reckon with daily. Their astute understanding of the politics of their role is an asset and indicative of their leadership knowledge and skills. Instructional coaches are influential teacher leaders, and they are needed in our schools.