Building leadership capacity through the development of peer coaches is one of the keys to achieving high levels of success with a schoolwide implementation of Direct Instruction (DI). Peer coaches can provide much needed support to teachers and administrators when consultants from the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) are not on site. NIFDI consultants provide the bulk of coaching the first year of implementation, after which coaching responsibilities begin to shift to school-based coaches.
Ideally, a teacher at each grade level is trained to become a peer coach. Peer coaches are selected the first year of the implementation by the school's leaders — with NIFDI input — based on how well they implement DI techniques, how well they communicate with peers, and whether they are willing to take on peer coaching responsibilities. Peer coaches have the potential to be extremely effective because they teach the same programs as their peers. This enables them to develop an expertise in specific levels of the DI programs and establish a close rapport with their peers because of shared experiences with DI.
Under the NIFDI model, coaching is non-evaluative. The focus is on student performance and student behavior. Peer coaches reinforce what’s working well and ask their colleagues to change only those teaching behaviors that make a difference with children. With peer coaches, teachers know that they can turn to a close colleague with problems and questions, which helps foster a collaborative atmosphere in the school.
Peer coaches receive four levels of NIFDI coaches’ training over the course of two to three years. The first level, which is usually scheduled during the first year of implementation, focuses on analyzing student performance data. During this stage, the peer coaches’ primary role is to identify and describe problems of student performance in enough detail to permit the building coordinator and NIFDI personnel to implement an appropriate solution. The next two levels of training prepare peer coaches to perform 5-minute and extended observations of instruction with students present. The last level of coaches’ training prepares coaches to lead grade-level meetings focusing on student performance and participate in data analysis and problem-solving sessions with the rest of the school’s leadership team.
Support from NIFDI is key to establishing an effective DI implementation, but NIFDI consultants cannot be on site all the time, and they cannot work with schools indefinitely. If a school or district does not develop effective support personnel, the DI implementation will not reach its full potential, and the quality of the implementation may decline as new staff members join the school. With local coaches and trainers in place, a school implementing DI can continue to maximize student achievement for many years independently — even with the inevitable turnover of teaching staff.