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Using AI to Support Teacher Coaching

By Patty Hagan
August 15, 2023
Teacher Coaching AI

When I became a coach at St. Vrain Valley Schools more than a decade ago, I was passionate about supporting early-career teachers. That passion remains today. There’s nothing more fulfilling than providing effective coaching to help my colleagues develop and grow.

I’ve learned that it takes expertise and time for effective coaching to take place. Coaches need to provide teachers with best practices and strategies aligned to their professional goals. But delivering this to teachers is not a quick process for coaches, who, just like the teachers they support, are often stretched thin.

So when I heard about the premise of artificial intelligence for instructional coaching, I was intrigued. Could this new technology actually enhance my own coaching and strengthen the in-person professional learning already taking place with teachers?

Supplementing in-person instructional coaching with AI coaching

Early in my coaching career, I spent 24 hours per year with each of my first-year teachers, which proved unsustainable from a time and bandwidth perspective. St. Vrain ultimately adopted a triad model, where trained building mentors collaborate with first-year teachers and then we all convene for monthly coaching meetings.

In this model, I typically work with 10 to 12 first-year teachers and lead coaching conversations related to self-reflecting, problem-solving, planning and goal-setting. I also provide short-term targeted coaching for experienced teachers.

Over the years, video coaching for teachers has supported this work. As transformational as this has been in improving teacher practice and helping teachers become truly self-reflective, there can still be a lag between when teachers upload video of their classroom practice and when they receive feedback from their mentors.

AI Coach by Edthena, which St. Vrain successfully piloted and is now implementing with approximately 125 of our teachers, has the ability to change that. Using the platform, teachers work with a computerized coach as they self-reflect and comment on videos of their teaching.

The coach provides on-demand guidance as teachers work through the process of developing goals and strategies for improving specific areas of their instruction, which nicely addresses one of the ISTE Standards. Standard 2.1.a. encourages educators to “set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.”

AI coaching a great supplement – not a substitute for – the in-person coaching we provide, and it helps our teachers become even more self-reflective.

I’m excited to see how the depth and breadth of our teachers’ comments, goals and results change as they work through the process.

Edtech Coaching Primer

Supporting instructional coach development with artificial intelligence

In addition to supporting teachers, AI coaching has the potential to support coaches in their own development.

AI Coach guides educators' self-refection within the platform. 

When I first used the platform during the voluntary pilot, I uploaded a video of a teacher candidate co-teaching with their cooperating teacher in a biliteracy classroom. I put myself in the shoes of the teacher candidate while going through the Analyze, Reflect, Enact and Impact phases of the AI Coach platform coaching cycle.

The AI Coach platform guided me to focus on a couple key areas as I was reflecting on this video. The virtual coach asked open-ended questions like, “Are you seeing any patterns?” and “How would you tell the story to someone else?”

What did this help me notice? In this particular video, the teacher candidate was engaging her students in the given math lesson; however, when she asked questions to check for understanding, the students were coming up with the wrong answers. Then the cooperating teacher stepped in and started using visuals and hand movements, and the students started making progress with the lesson objective.

This was an important reminder to me as a coach to encourage my teachers to use more visuals and frequent checks for individual understanding during their instruction. In this way, the AI-powered virtual coach was able to help me notice something I might not have otherwise and sharpen my own skills.

Looking ahead with AI coaching for teachers

St. Vrain is an acclaimed district in Longmont, Colorado, that is very progressive in its use of technology. Whenever we invest in something new, the rollout is thoughtful and intentional — just like it has been with introducing artificial intelligence into our coaching model.

Throughout the pilot of AI Coach, we found the platform’s Analyze, Reflect, Enact, and Impact process closely aligns with the coaching model from expert Jim Knight, which we have used for several years. Plus, the virtual coach within the AI Coach platform supports our teachers with their positive, student-centered and data-driven approach to teaching, which is something we prioritize.

Some educators might worry that a virtual coach powered by artificial intelligence will take away from meaningful in-person connections to colleagues and coaches. But I see the use of the AI instructional coaching technology actually leading to more in-person collaboration and self-reflection. Teachers and coaches will be able to engage in more data-driven conversations around specific teaching practices and the impact these practices have on student growth.

While we are still getting our feet wet with using artificial intelligence within our teacher professional learning model, we know that this next-gen technology will be a valuable, added support that will benefit our teachers and coaches alike.

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Patty Hagan is a teaching and learning coach at St. Vrain Valley Schools in Longmont, Colo. She has been with the district for 17 years, having started as an English teacher before transitioning to professional development 10 years ago.