Feedback in Coaching

Coaching teachers and Students

Pointers for Promoting Self-Reflection for Powerful Teacher Growth:

Often the word feedback in the adult world might mean: “top-down judgement from another person who is not in my shoes.”  While coaching others, I want them to look forward to feedback, knowing that it will not be top-down, but rather an opportunity to self-reflect in order to grow and become a better teacher.  I want the teacher to believe that I’m approaching the feedback coaching session as a collaborative partnership that will enlighten us both to better growth for higher student achievement.

I would like to create a new definition of “feedback” in the context of partnership coaching. Feedback:  Insights from a teacher’s self-reflection about a high-student achievement goal using classroom data collected by a coach who carefully crafted thought-provoking questions to lead this teacher to his/her own “next step statements.” 

Partnership coaching can occur with a principal and teacher, instructional coach and teacher, or teacher to teacher.  This approach works in all situations – even in the business world!  If you really want to challenge your thinking, it works beautifully teacher to student too!  Reread the whole article with that perspective in mind to help you see the power with this type of feedback with students.

A feedback coaching session, a dialogue after a coach visits the teacher’s classroom to collect data on the goal that the teacher set for higher student achievement, can be a very powerful opportunity to help a teacher self-reflect on how to grow and accomplish his/her student achievement goals.  This coaching session can last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, although, there are times the teacher actually tells me to continue after the 30-minute alarm goes off (I set a timer to honor the teacher’s time).  I sometimes call this formal coaching opportunity, a “Post-Conference.” Before a Post-Conference, there is a Pre-Conference and a classroom visit.

Let’s examine what happens before the whole feedback session.  I have already had a Pre-Conference, a 15-20-minute dialogue with the teacher about the lesson she is about to teach and how the teacher is trying to reach or approach her goal during that lesson.  I ask several questions to help the teacher reflect (if you want to know more details about the Pre-Conference, please email me for a cheat sheet on how to have an awesome Pre-Conference:  After this Pre-Conference, the teacher might conclude how she can change her lesson to improve student achievement, engagement, and/or to help her approach her goal better.  We conclude together the details of the classroom visit (usually the next day, time to arrive, where to stand, etc.) and how I will collect the data that she has asked me to collect.  I create a potential data-collection page (some people create on iPad), and receive feedback on my understanding of what the information looks like and sounds like.  Often, we tweak the form to make it better.  Then, I visit her classroom to collect that data and that data only!

This brings me back to the details of the Post-Conference.

The Post-Conference is so powerful because it is a time for the teacher to self-reflect after each strategic question that I create to help her determine what the classroom data is truly saying.  She will come to her own conclusions about how to grow toward achieving her goal, but I will facilitate her thinking through questions that lead her to powerful reflection. Pam Robbins, author of Peer Coaching (2015), says: “Questions posed by the coach begin a conversation that cultivates reflection and the germination of insights and new ideas, as well as the opportunity to create new knowledge about one’s practice.  As a consequence of this rich interchange, the inviting teacher consciously refines teaching practices and invents new ways of providing learning experiences with the goal of increasing student learning.  The coach develops and refines questioning strategies that assist the inviting teacher in discovering which instructional approaches have the most profound influence on teaching and learning.”

Some coaches might say, “It’s much faster to just tell the teacher about the data and tell him/her the correct next steps to change in order to improve the instruction.”  Yes, that is the fastest approach, but we have learned through years of motivational research that it doesn’t work for the majority of the people!  When we insist, they resist.  We need to practice motivational principles to help people grow and change the most.  Below are just a few pieces of research that help explain the best approaches for changing people.

  1. Daniel Pink, motivational expert and author of Drive said there are three factors that lead to better performance.  They are:  Autonomy (People have the desire to be self-directed); 2.  Mastery (People have an urge to get better at stuff); and 3.) Purpose (People need a reason for doing something).  Coaches should be highly aware of these three factors during the coaching process.

Some examples of coaching behaviors and actions that encourage autonomy among those we coach:

  • Invite teachers to be coached with the many benefits shared
  • Create questions to help them reflect and determine the best next steps for their students in their classroom; they should analyze how they are doing with their goal achievement
  • Believe that the teacher has positive intentions – wanting to grow and improve; desiring high student achievement
  • Provide data to show the teacher so that no judgement can occur

Some examples of coaching behaviors and actions that respect the desire for mastery among those we coach:

  • Invite teachers to write their own goals to support high student achievement. Create questions to help them arrive at the “just right” goal with several strategies they take one at a time to achieve that goal (Email LeAnn for a list of these questions:
  • Give teachers self-assessment tools to determine what goal to focus on, level of goal achievement, and rate of growth.
  • Create questions to help teacher determine what the level of mastery should look like and sound like. Help the teacher to gather resources and videos to determine the criteria for mastery.

Some examples of coaching behaviors and actions that support a bigger purpose among those we coach:

  • Share the goals of the district and school and show the research that support those goals – the big picture. Understanding the “why” behind the initiatives
  • Design questions that help the teachers reflect on why he/she chose this career – what was the “first love” behind teaching?
  • Brainstorm together the benefits of goal achievement. EX:  Teaching will get easier when we teach with data in mind; students will feel more successful and therefore, self-efficacy will be raised.
  1. Showers, Joyce, Bennett (1987) – Based on this research, an estimated 95% of teachers who receive ongoing support and guidance through coaching are more likely to learn and implement new practices consistently and correctly in the classroom.  Researchers also estimate that teachers generally need to utilize a new instructional strategy or tool approximately 25 times before it is transferred into their daily teaching routine.  When they receive feedback on the strategy, they can implement it faster and more effectively.
  1. Employees will support the change process better if the following pieces are in place: they know the reason behind the changes; understand the bigger picture; can participate in the decision-making process; have connections with the leader; receive timely, meaningful communication; feel understood and valued; and know that their concerns are important to others.

Now that we know how powerful coaching, questions, goal-setting and reflecting can be, here are some pointers to use during this powerful Post-Conference time that have worked very well for me and coaches across the nation:

  • Positive relationships are paramount before feedback sessions.  This quote from Dylan Wiliam, feedback expert and author of many books and articles, explains the power in our feedback and our relationships – they go hand in hand:

“In the end, it all comes down to the relationship between the teacher and the student.  To give effective feedback, the teacher needs to know the student – understand what feedback the student needs right now.

And to receive feedback in a meaningful way, the student needs to trust the teacher – to believe the teacher knows what he/she is talking about and has the student’s best interest at heart.  Without this trust, the student is unlikely to invest the time and effort needed to absorb and use the feedback.” (Dylan Wiliam, 2016)

Reread the quote above with the following word changes:   Change “teacher” to coach and change “student” to teacher.  That’s the goal in coaching!!!!

  •  Always show up with classroom data that the teacher wanted you to collect during your visit (always based on teacher’s goal).  For example, during the classroom visit, you could be collecting data on how many higher level questions the teacher and students ask during the lesson, who responded and how, and how the teacher responded to the students after answers were given.  This data is pretty intense, but a quick table created in Word, can keep all of this data organized.  I might even tidy up my data collection page before the feedback coaching session because I want this teacher to analyze her own data.  In fact, when a coach has classroom data to share, all judgement is taken out of the conversation – it’s about the coach and teacher sitting side by side as partners to analyze what the data is saying.  Design questions to ask the teacher to help that data talk.   (Other goals that the teacher might be working toward might be:  formative assessment process, students responding to differentiated tools, student self-assessment, gradual release of responsibility, student engagement in small groups, writing or reading strategies, and the list can go on and on…) (Goal sheets could be tally marks, scripted remarks by teacher/student, disruptions, student work – evidence of learning, etc.).  Effective feedback comes from setting a goal, planning for that goal, collecting data toward that goal, and then analyzing that data to determine if goal was accomplished.

John Hattie (2012), well known educational researcher, said; “Gathering and assessing feedback are really the only ways teachers can know the impact of their teaching…When teachers listen to their students’ learning, they know what worked, what didn’t, and why they need to change to foster student growth.” (p. 23) As coaches we are collecting the data to help them assess student learning.

  • Feedback is not the coach telling the teacher all the things he/she did incorrectly, but rather several pre-planned (and many impromptu) questions guiding the teacher’s conclusions about the correlations between that classroom data and student achievement and his/her goal.  I’m listing some of my favorite questions that are generic and will need to be tailored to match up with the teacher’s lesson and specific goal.

Question Stems to Possibly Use:

**NOTE:  These are just suggestions – do not use all of these questions.  Pick and choose the best ones.  I find that having a couple of questions from each category make for a more powerful Post-Conference.

Questions About the Lesson (goals, student achievement, overall, etc.)


What do you think worked well today?  What did the students respond to positively?

What do you think you did well in this lesson?

Did you do some specific actions to catch the interest of particular students?

Did your students accomplish the learning target or outcome?  How do you know?  What evidence told you so?

Which strategies produced student learning?

What did you do to keep students involved in your lesson?

What did you do that caused your lesson to go well?

What would you do differently if you could “redo” this lesson with the same group of students?

What part of your lesson do you feel did not go very well today?  Why?  What would you do differently in those sections?

What was least effective in your lesson today?

What did you find most difficult about teaching this lesson?

Is there anything that didn’t go as well as you had planned?

How do you feel about the lesson helping you progress toward your goal?  What data from this lesson gives you evidence of goal attainment?  What could you have done differently to get closer to your goal?  What revisions do you want to make to your goal?

Questions About the Student Data Collected What facts or patterns do you notice with this data?

What were you surprised by?

Do you see any trends?

How did the strategy of ____________ help a particular student?

What specialized instruction or differentiated instructional tools did you use that were effective?  Ineffective?

In what ways did the instructional practices move students forward/help students make progress toward the outcome/learning target?  How can we further support progress with the following students?

Questions Analyzing the Data What hunches do we have about the causes of our observations?

Why are we getting the results we are?

This pattern or trend might be because…

Maybe we’re not seeing… because…

A reason for this result could be…

Questions to Determine Next Steps So What?  Now What?

What did you learn about teaching in today’s lesson?  How can this information help you improve tomorrow’s lesson?

How will you respond tomorrow to this data?

Do you feel that you accomplished your goal?  Which strategies or tools helped you?  Do you feel this goal should be your focus for the next coaching session?  Why or why not?  Do you want to change anything about your goal?  Do you want to construct a new one, change a strategy, or revise the whole goal?

What support do you need from me between now and the next time we meet?

What are you willing do to differently next time?  Try next time?

How did I do in coaching you to reflect on your lesson in deeper ways?

Some of my favorite questions that promote self-reflection at different stages of learning are at this website by Edutopia:  40 Reflection Questions.  (  I also love Keith Rosen’s list of 10 coaching questions that work in any conversation:  My favorite questions that he submits are:  What would it mean to you if you could (achieve this, resolve this, etc…)?   How would this impact/affect you (your team, career, students, your school, your district…) if this (continues, doesn’t change, doesn’t get resolved)?

  • We cannot change people’s belief systems; we can only present ways to allow others to reflect on their beliefs and expectations.  We need to use the most nonevaluative language (verbal and nonverbal) possible during our coaching sessions.  Feedback in a Post-Conference coaching session can come from the following types of actions:
  • The teacher’s conclusions drawn from analyzing the data from the classroom visit
  • The teacher’s thinking and reflecting about the questions asked by the coach
  • Our clarifying statements or questions that we create based on what the teacher says during the coaching session
  • The teacher’s reflections about the video clips that the coach prepared to show him/her (if teacher invites this approach)
  • Our silence as coaches to help the teacher think about his/her answers to the questions that we ask

The following are actions that a coach can take in order to assist the teacher with reflections and drawing his/her own conclusions, or self-feedback.

Coaching Responses Meaning/Purpose Examples
Silence or Wait Time To help others reflect and dig deep “This question is important – let’s take more time to think about it.”
Paraphrasing To show that one was actively listening and comprehended what was said; involves restating what was said with other words – message not changed, just synthesized. “So basically, what you said was…”

“In a nutshell, you want to see your students… and that will happen when you…”

Rephrasing Question To use different words to ask the question; To clarify so speaker feels understood and respected; checking for understanding by saying what person said “differently” with a question about the content possibly. “Let me rephrase the question this way…”

“Did you mean to say… rather than…”

Affirmations To create rapport and support


“I love when Natasha responded to your question with a higher-level question to the whole group.  She stumped everyone!”

“What a great question you had to promote that discussion.”

*Note:  This is NOT an example: “Great lesson!”  This will not help the teacher grow – not specific enough.

Reframing To shift the point of reference to consider the question from a different perspective “I wish I could have used more technology in this lesson to engage the students more.”  The coach could respond: “Has there been a time in the past in a different lesson when you used technology in that manner?  If so, would any of those strategies work for your next lesson?”
Pressing for specificity – elaboration To invite elaboration and more precise information; to be able to visualize what is being said better; to comprehend at a deeper level. “Can you give me an example of that strategy?

“What would that look like when I’m watching it?”

“What if…”

(List of ways to respond (meaning and purpose) as a coach from Elena Aguilar, 2013)

  • Coaches should always prep the feedback session with the following items ready to go –   Here is a checklist that I use to remind me:
  • Bring the filled-out data collection page that you used during the classroom visit or observation. Make sure it’s legible so the teacher can read and analyze it in order to answer your questions.
  • Create the questions about the data to help teacher come to own conclusions about the effectiveness of the instruction (remember you will still probably create several off-the-cuff questions based on the teacher’s responses). The more you get comfortable with coaching, the more fluent this process becomes.
  • Create a plan for the conversation. How much time it might take, comfortable environment for the dialogue, what research or books you might have ready just in case, and a hope in your mind (visualize what you hope the teacher will conclude during the self-reflection; the next step(s) the teacher will take, etc.)
  • Bring a copy of the teacher’s goal just in case the teacher wants to make any changes to the goal for the next round of formal coaching (Pre-Conference, Classroom Visit, Post-Conference).
  • Bring a Coaching Binder to document the follow-up from this coaching session. (Email LeAnn to get ideas of what to place in this binder –
  • What if the teacher DOES want ideas, strategies, and help from you?  Go for it!  In partnership coaching you want to give the teacher the first opportunities to come up with ideas and conclusions on his/her own – remember change theory – more powerful when the teacher comes up with the next steps. If this teacher asks for assistance, start to problem solve, brainstorm, list ideas, create, and refine together! After all, two heads are better than one.  I usually wait for the invitation from the teacher before I give suggestions or recommendations.

Grant Wiggins (2012), an assessment guru who left a legacy for us educators, said the following about feedback: “Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.”

These pointers will help you have powerful Post-Conferences that give teachers the best type of feedback out there – guided self-feedback that comes from self-reflection.  Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author of The Dance of Connection (2001), said, “Our conversations invent us.”  Make our coaching dialogues so powerful that they change both people – the teacher and the coach!  I still learn so much about teaching while I’m coaching.  My coaching sessions grow the teacher, and they grow me.

Coaching teachers and Students

Aguilar, Elena. (2013).  The Art of Coaching:  Effective Strategies for School Transformation).  Jossey-Bass.
Hattie, John. (2012, September).  Know Thy Impact.  Educational Leadership, 70(1), 18-23.
Robbins, Pam. (2015).  Peer Coaching:  To Enrich Professional Practice, School Culture, and Student Learning.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.
Showers, Joyce, and Bennett.  Synthesis of Research on Staff Development:  A Framework for Future Study and a State-of-the-Art Analysis, 1987.  ASCD
Wiggins, G. (2012, September).  Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.  Educational Leadership. 70(1), 10-16. Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.
Wiliam, Dylan. The Secret to Effective Feedback.

Author: LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed. is the author of 11 books focused on teaching strategies: Deeper Learning (2008) and Bringing the Common Core to Life (2014) are the more recent books. LeAnn specializes in cognitive science in education by using the best tools to reach every student. LeAnn is passionate about schools becoming more empathy-centered. You can contact her: or visit her website:

Leave a Reply