The Impact Cycle: How Instructional Coaching Practices Can Enhance the Leadership of School Administrators

Today’s educational leaders are catalysts for positive change, driving the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. One powerful model that has gained prominence in this context is the Impact Cycle, an instructional coaching framework that holds the potential to transform not just teaching, but also leadership itself. In this article, I explore how the Impact Cycle enhances the leadership of school administrators.

The Impact Cycle: A Brief Overview

The Impact Cycle, developed by Jim Knight, is a comprehensive framework for instructional coaching that includes a series of stages: Identify, Learn, and Improve. This model provides a structured approach to coaching teachers towards strengthening their instruction and, in the process, enhancing student outcomes.

  1. Identify: In this stage, teachers and instructional coaches collaboratively identify specific instructional challenges and set a goal. This is a crucial step in tailoring coaching support to meet individual teacher needs. To get a “clear picture of reality”, teachers and coaches gather and analyze student data. Then they set a PEERS (Powerful, Easy, Emotionally Compelling, Reachable, Student Focused) goal focused on improving student outcomes. 
  2. Learn: Instructional coaches facilitate the learning for teachers by sharing instructional strategies that would help them reach their goal. Coaches can model the strategies in a variety of ways such as providing resources, co-teaching, visiting different classrooms, and watching videos. This is to ensure that teachers acquire the knowledge and skills needed to use the strategies in their own classrooms. 
  3. Improve: During this stage, teachers implement the strategies they have learned in their classrooms. Instructional coaches observe, provide feedback, and support teachers in refining their practices. They also help teachers gather student data to see if they have reached their goal through the strategies they used. Ultimately, they want to see that they improved student outcomes. 
The Impact Cycle and the Leadership of School Administrators

Whether I view this instructional coaching approach through the lens of an instructional coach or a school administrator, I am able to clearly identify how the Impact Cycle can be used to enhance my leadership. 

  • Coaching Leadership: School leaders who embrace the Impact Cycle become coaching leaders. They model the coaching process, showing a commitment to continuous improvement. This approach not only enhances teacher development but also sets an example of leadership through coaching for the entire school community.
  • Focus on Professional Development: The Impact Cycle helps school leaders identify the specific needs of teachers and tailor professional development accordingly. This targeted approach ensures that resources and efforts are invested where they will have the most significant impact.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: The framework emphasizes using data to guide instructional decisions. School leaders, by implementing the Impact Cycle, adopt data-driven decision-making practices, which are integral to effective leadership. They can make informed choices about resource allocation and curriculum adjustments based on student data.
  • Growth Mindset: The framework nurtures a growth mindset in both teachers and leaders. School leaders who encourage this mindset foster an environment where everyone, including themselves, is committed to continuous improvement.
  • Enhancing Teacher Leadership: When school leaders embrace the Impact Cycle, they empower teachers to take on leadership roles within the school community. Teachers, having experienced the benefits of coaching, are more likely to step into leadership positions, amplifying the impact of the coaching culture.

The Impact Cycle is more than just a framework for instructional coaching; it’s a transformational tool for school administrators. By adopting this model, educational leaders can create a culture of continuous improvement, data-driven decision-making, and growth mindset within their schools. Through coaching leadership and focused professional development, the Impact Cycle not only improves teaching but also elevates the role of school leaders as change agents and champions of excellence in education. It is a powerful approach that can shape the future of education by nurturing leaders who are committed to the growth and success of both teachers and students.

Julie Lam is the Director of Student Learning for Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois. She serves on the Advisory Council for Van Andel Institute for Education.