Coaching Teachers in Deaf Education Classrooms

The issue

In the contexts of business and sports, coaching has long served as an effective method for improving skills and supporting change in the performance of groups and individuals. In these settings, coaches build upon the strengths of their clients or athletes while providing them with scaffolded guidance and mentorship through practical experiences in authentic situations. It is highly unlikely that an athlete or business executive would gain the knowledge and motivation needed to experience significant change from merely attending a one-time lecture or workshop. Yet, when it comes to supporting teachers, a “one-shot” approach to professional development (PD) historically has been the norm. This “train and hope” perspective assumes teachers will go back to their classrooms to implement newly learned strategies, methods, or curriculums on their own. Unfortunately, teachers often lack the time, resources, and follow-up support needed to effectively apply what they learned. Furthermore, for teachers working with students in low-incidence fields of education, such as teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing (ToDHHs), the topics covered at public school PD workshops are often not applicable to the needs of their students. Over the last several decades, research examining coaching with teachers in general and special education has shown to positively impact their ability to transfer new knowledge and skills to the classroom. Unfortunately, there is minimal research on coaching with ToDHHs.

What we know and What we don’t know

In an educational context, coaching is job-embedded PD designed to enhance teachers’ instructional and classroom management practices with the goal of improving student achievement and outcomes. Coaching is a shared, social process of teaching and learning between a more knowledgeable other (MKO, a.k.a. the coach) and the teacher. Specifically, with a differentiated model of coaching, the coach, acting as a ‘chameleon’, changes their ‘colors’ or approach in response to the teacher’s needs through the use of either a directive, responsive, or balanced approach. When using a directive approach, the coach provides the teacher with direct recommendations. When using a responsive approach, the coach acts as a sounding board for the teacher. Through the use of self-reflection, the coach initiates relevant instructional discourse with teachers. Finally, when using a balanced approach, the coach shifts between the directive and response approach in response to the teacher’s needs.

In the authentic setting of their classroom, teachers can engage in meaningful and individualized PD through a cyclical process of coaching. Critical components of the coaching model include:

  • Guidance and instruction of one or two targeted skills at a time
  • Demonstration and modeling of the targeted skills by the coach
  • Multiple opportunities for guided and independent practice by the teacher

Specific feedback shared through observation data coupled with opportunities for self-reflection

When using this coaching model, researchers consistently have shown that teachers’ implementation of evidence-based practices improves. More importantly, they have found a positive subsequent effect on student learning gains. In studies examining coaching with ToDHHs, teachers improved their implementation of newly learned practices and students concomitantly demonstrated encouraging outcomes such as increased active engagement and increases in new word and definition knowledge. Without substantial, ongoing support occurring in the context of the classroom, teachers often demonstrate low levels of implementation fidelity.

Although coaching by experts may not always be a sustainable option due to cost and availability, peer coaching is a viable alternative that utilizes the expertise found within the four walls of the school. A peer coach can be a fellow teacher or colleague that has more experience with and/or knowledge of a particular practice or skill. In general education, teachers serving as peer coaches can be as effective as expert coaches from outside of the school. While this is encouraging, peer coaching is an area of research that has yet to be examined in Deaf education.


Coaching is a promising evidence-based model of professional development with several benefits for teachers. First, in the same way that differentiated instruction supports the learning of diverse students, differentiated coaching supports the needs, learning styles, and preferences of diverse teachers. Second, sustainable change can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time due to the individualized nature of the coaching. Finally, when teachers see positive outcomes in their classrooms, they become motivated and empowered to continue making further change by generalizing newly learned practices and skills. For ToDHHs, differentiated and individualized coaching has the potential to meet the needs of diverse teachers working with diverse students in efficient and meaningful ways.

Posted on December 18, 2020 by
Jennifer Catalano
Flagler College
jcatalano {at}

Further reading

Wauters, L., & de Klerk, A. (2014). Improving reading instruction to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. In H. Knoors, G. Tang, & M. Marschark (Eds.), Bilingualism and bilingual deaf education (pp. 242-271). Oxford University Press. view details