While the revolution of self-directed learning has been brewing for a while, the last few years have given many people more time and an increased desire to learn new skills in a self-paced way. We are shifting toward more accessible and self-directed learning experiences in every area of life; in our schools, this shift started as a necessity, but it continues to this day with the evolution of online communities dedicated to connecting educators with best practices.

BL Connect, our library of self-directed courses, puts the best resources in the hands of all teachers and makes them accessible 24/7. But we also know that professional learning should bring an intentional connection between asynchronous resources like BL Connect and synchronous, personalized resources like instructional coaching. When coaching is available to support self-directed learning, 6 magic things occur.

1. Teachers have a thought partner in designing unique solutions.

Self-directed learning creates a foundation, but an educator’s unique needs and situation can make it more difficult to implement a strategy that looks fairly easy on paper. Working 1:1 with a coach allows educators to have the support of a thought partner to help them design a unique solution to their challenges. 

For example, a course on how to introduce blended learning rotations could compel a new teacher to start working with small groups for the first time and equip this teacher with the resources to implement new ideas. Having a coach helps each teacher think about how to gradually launch this new strategy. The thought partnership with a coach creates a dedicated team that can anticipate and plan to overcome obstacles as they arise.

Teachers with ongoing support from a coach are significantly more likely to implement and master a new teaching practice.

— Truedale, Knight, and Corrett

2. Teachers discover that failing forward is possible.

We know that mistakes are an important part of the learning process and that failing forward is a great way to improve upon a new skill. But teaching is a lonely and challenging art, and the sting of a failed experiment can easily lead to giving up on a promising strategy.

With access to 1:1 coaching, teachers can have a space to learn from the "failure" of a new strategy they just tried and design modifications for their strategy to make it work the next time.

Teachers change their beliefs about a teaching strategy only after students are successful. If strategies are not immediately successful, they tend to revert to what they were doing before.

— Guskey 

3. Teachers can connect with an accountability partner to stay true to their goals.

In my first year as a BetterLesson instructional coach, one of my teachers bluntly said to me: "Don't take it the wrong way, but one of the best things about your coaching lies not in what you share with me when we meet (ouch!), but in the fact that I know that I will have to see you again in 2 weeks and that you will ask me if I was able to try what I said I would."

Self-directed learning is powerful because choice and need are at the center of it. But self-directed learning can have a ceiling—internal motivation can erode over time, especially when faced with the grueling challenges of a year of teaching.

Having a coach to support your teachers makes it possible to have a kind accountability partner and cheerleader even if the first attempt at a new strategy fails. It can help make change stick overtime.

On average, it takes 20 separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill, this number increases with the level of complexity.

— Joyce & Showers

4. Your school experiences data-driven differentiation.

One of the criticisms I hear most about PD is that it is often teaching about differentiation in the classroom but the PD itself is rarely differentiated to meet the needs of different adult learners. Teachers want to be able to have a voice in their professional learning and growth, choosing areas that are most important and most interesting to them. Meanwhile, school leaders also want to be able to provide different levels of data-driven professional learning intervention where they see teachers struggling or in need of additional support.

With the data generated by self-directed learning, leaders can easily see which subgroups of teachers are thriving in an asynchronous space that gives them more time and autonomy. They can also see when teachers are ready and in need of virtual coaching that provides the guidance and differentiated instruction a teacher needs. When coaching is made available to supplement the asynchronous learning experience, coaches and leaders can provide the just-in-time support for teachers that meet their needs and goals..

5. Teachers build an impactful relationship with an expert.

Learning at your own pace from the comfort of your couch and with high-quality tested resources is a valuable learning tool, but so is connecting with an expert in real time.Through the connection with a supportive coach, educators can find a way to see something difficult modeled, explained, and gradually implemented into their own practice until they can see a positive impact. They also build a relationship through the learning process, one that can help them through challenging times and reminds them that everyone who is now a master at their art, started with the same questions and challenges they are facing now. 

6. You invest in a strategy proven to support teacher retention.

We have known for a long time that coaching is a key lever to support teacher retention. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that 1:1 coaching improves teacher retention by providing job-embedded and non evaluative support. As of 2021, 96% of teacher coaching participants surveyed reported their morale improving as a result of working with a coach, and 94% expressed being more likely to stay in the profession after having worked with a coach.

Coaching provides a unique value that few other professional learning methods can provide: It can be both a morale booster as well as an impetus to explore outside of our comfort zone. If you’re ready to jumpstart your teacher professional development with asynchronous courses and instructional coaching, contact BetterLesson today to learn more.


Romain Bertrand, Senior Manager, Solution Design at BetterLesson

Romain Bertrand is a personalized learning leader, blogger, consultant, coach, and practitioner. During his 20 years in education, he has led numerous education innovations including coaching and blended and personalized learning programs, supporting hundreds of teachers and in-school coaches across the US to use personalized learning as a tool for equity.

Posted in Professional Development Professional Learning Instructional Coach Teacher Retention

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