Structural Supports for Learning Coaches: Lessons Learned from the Model Schools for Inner Cities (MSIC) 

Coaching as a professional development strategy for school-based educators is a relatively new capacity building practice in Canadian elementary education. Teaching coaches provide direct on-site professional support and learning through their school visits on a regular basis over a period of time. Their professional support is meant to go beyond attendance at occasional workshops or seminars led by field experts, and extend to collaborating with educators to support classroom pedagogy by providing hands-on support on school premises.

In the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the roles of learning coaches have undergone two distinct implementation phases between 2007 and 2020:

1. MSIC Central Model – a more centrally coordinated approach under the MSIC Office with 15 learning coaches serving 150 MSIC schools between 2007 and 2016 

2. Learning Centre Model – a more decentralized and autonomous approach under the four Learning Centres since the Board restructuring in 2016; with about 15 K-12 learning coaches serving both MSIC and non-MSIC schools in each Learning Centre pre pandemic.

Given the importance of paying close attention to individuals affected by educational reforms in ensuring success (Fullan, 2007; Mangin, 2009), this research is particularly timely.

Our approach

This study investigates if and how system-wide restructuring has affected the roles and experiences of learning coaches in supporting educators and leaders in local schools. The research clarifies lessons learned in terms of systemic structures and conditions from two learning coach implementation phases in enhancing the roles of learning coaches to promote local school improvement and equity. The research question used to guide this study is: What were the experiences of learning coaches under the two implementation phases, with a focus on lessons learned?

Semi-structured focus groups were held with learning coaches, along with semi-structured interviews with MSIC administrative staff members, including principals, vice principals, and central TDSB staff in 2018 and 2019. Participants varied in their level of experience in their professional roles.

What we found

Based on the qualitative thematic analysis of the focus group and interview data, the following structures and conditions were identified as important infrastructure to support learning coaches in their coaching role at local schools: 

What are the takeaways from this study?  

Participants noted that learning coaches benefit from regular peer communication and collaboration, and having infrastructure in place to support this communication and collaboration was cited as something helpful. They also shared that ongoing and integrated professional development opportunities with an equity lens would be helpful for all staff, and highlighted the importance of school leaders’ buy-in and support of the work of the learning coaches, along with mentorship for new leaders and staff. Participants noted the need for clear and consistent Board-wide messaging around the goals, responsibilities and expectations of the learning coach role, along with adequate resource allocation. Overall, coherent system level leadership was seen as essential to the aforementioned structural supports. The findings of this study have implications for equity focused educational initiatives.

Click here to read more about the study.

To read more about the TDSB’s MSIC initiative and GEEC’s research, click here.

Document citation:

Patel, S., Yau, M., & Bemister, K. (2021). Structural supports for learning coaches: Lessons learned from the Model Schools for Inner Cities. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.

This is an ongoing study funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership for Change: The RBC Immigrant, Diversity and Inclusion Project, Ryerson University, and the Toronto District School Board.

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