Capacity-building for district reform: The role of instructional coach teams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context: This study contributes to our growing understanding of coaches’ role in district reform by introducing instructional coach teams as a potentially important concept for understanding coaching activities that support systemic reform. Prior research shows that instructional coaches leverage their position between the district office and schools to coordinate policy implementation. This study builds this analysis by adding a group dimension to instructional coaching at the district level. No study to date has focused on the collective behaviors of coaches that facilitate reform efforts.

Purpose/Objective/RQ/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study is to examine the practices of effective instructional coach teams and conceptualize the role of coach teams in district reform.

Research Design: I used cross-case analysis that relied on social network, questionnaire, interview, and observational methods as sources of evidence to analyze how instructional coaches work together to build capacities for district reform. I identified two successful district-level coach teams with an explicit mandate to support reform efforts that were, however, operating in very different district contexts. The focus of this analysis was to identify and compare the circumstances that present in both cases that help explain why these districts have effective coach teams.

Findings: My findings describe how coach teams develop institutional capacities that enable districts to respond to policy demands. I find that differences in curriculum policy, district reform context, and professional collaboration are associated with differences in the teams’ relational structures. I link these differences to common process gains resulting from the collective working of coach teams. I found three important process gains: intranet systems, collaborative problem-solving, and collective expertise. Although both teams produced all three, they implemented process gains in very different ways.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This comparative study demonstrates the conceptual utility of instructional coach teams for understanding the link between coaching and systemic district reform. More theory and research are needed to better understand the behaviors of teams of educators, and particularly instructional coaches, engaged in collective work to support district reform.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


  • instructional coaching
  • school district reform
  • systemic reform
  • policy implementation

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