Understanding Relationship: Maximizing the Effects of Science Coaching


  • Ruth Anderson LFACET Innovations
  • Sue Feldman Lewis and Clark College
  • Jim Minstrell FACET Innovations




coaching, professional development, science education



There is growing empirical evidence that instructional coaching can help teachers transfer their learning from professional trainings (e.g., new strategies) to classroom practice and that coaching promotes greater collaboration and reflection among teachers. At the same time, however, research on the effectiveness of particular coaching models and the underlying reasons for their effectiveness is only beginning to emerge. Why does coaching “work” when it does?  What causes it to break down and to what extent can it be repaired?  Our five-year mixed methods study of science instructional coaching in a single school district set out to answer these and other questions.  Data from multiple sources (surveys, interviews, classroom observations and coaching logs) confirmed a strong correlation between improvements in teacher practice and the time teacher and coach spend together (at least 10 hours for elementary teachers and 20 for secondary) the focus of their work (narrow as opposed to broad); and most importantly, the quality of their professional relationship. In this paper, we present preliminary findings from a follow-up analysis intended to help explicate how relationships seemed to matter in coaching. We believe the findings from the secondary analysis help to clarify coaching interactions and to specify what contributes to or detracts from their productivity.  These findings may not only help to inform decisions related to the design, implementation and ongoing maintenance of coaching programs but also provide fodder for considerations related to the organizational capacity, flexibility and adaptability of the schools and school systems.



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Author Biographies

Ruth Anderson, LFACET Innovations

Ruth Anderson, Ph.D., is an Education Researcher at FACET Innovations in Seattle, Washington.  Her professional experience includes fifteen years of classroom teaching (K-16), curriculum development, and program evaluation across academic disciplines. As a program evaluator on several large-scale STEM education projects, she has had ongoing interactions with educators and students at all levels and the opportunity to study a variety of learning environments, educational reform efforts and models of professional development. With a strong background in the humanities (languages, literature and linguistics) and more than a dozen years working in science education, she brings a unique perspective to her work on STEM projects. Her ongoing research interests range from classroom discourse, and diagnostic learning environments to collaborative learning and educational partnerships.

Sue Feldman, Lewis and Clark College

Dr. Sue Feldman, is Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Lewis and Clark College, Portland Or. Sue combines her background in cognitive psychology and education leadership and policy to form an interdisciplinary research agenda exploring the intersection of learning-focused leadership, equity policy and organization.  Sue has worked as an education researcher with the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy at the University of Washington, and as a research scientist with FACET Innovations, a learning sciences research group, in Seattle Washington, focused on how people learn science.  In addition to ten years of experience working in teacher education, Sue brings a wealth of school and district leadership experience to her research including ten years working in school improvement administration at the school, district, and regional levels. All of her work stems from a deep interest in learning and an abiding commitment to the promise of public education to equalize recognition and participation in generating democracy. In addition to working on the function of coaching in education, Sue is currently studying how school leaders enact locally-situated equity policy. 

Jim Minstrell, FACET Innovations

Jim Minstrell, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scientist and co-founder of FACET Innovations, a Seattle-based research and development company focused on bridging research and classroom practice in STEM education. Jim spent 30 years teaching high school mathematics, physics and integrated science & mathematics and also maintained a  “parallel career” conducting classroom research. An award winning science teacher, Jim is well known in the science education community for his research of learners’ conceptual understandings of physics and the development of “Facets of student thinking” –a framework for interpreting, assessing and building on learner thinking.  In addition to conducting research, Jim works regularly with teachers, and teacher educators across the country.




How to Cite

Anderson, R., Feldman, S., & Minstrell, J. (2014). Understanding Relationship: Maximizing the Effects of Science Coaching. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 54. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22n54.2014



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