Making the Case for Live Coaching Pt. I

Rigorous and joyful instruction begins with the effectiveness of the teacher. Leaders of high performing schools consistently work to build this talent, equipping teachers with high-impact skills and techniques to make them more effective as swiftly as possible. One approach emerging in networks and independent schools is that of live coaching (also referred to as real-time coaching).

What is “live coaching”?

Live coaching occurs during actual instruction with students, increasing the amount of information the teacher is processing and reacting to as coaches observe and prompt teachers to help develop discrete skills. Leaders typically rely on four core techniques when live coaching:

  • Nonverbal prompts
  • Whisper prompts (also written prompts or prompts through blue tooth earpieces)
  • Audible prompts 
  • Live modeling/classroom takeover

These core techniques vary in their invasiveness – the amount of presence and voice inserted into instruction by the leader/coach. When implemented with intentionality and finesse, each technique can be powerful and drive rapid growth.

Making the Case

Live coaching exists outside of teaching, wherever individuals are supported to build skill quickly in high-stakes environments. For example:

  • Pilots: Flight instructors provide hours of support to student pilots on the ground, during takeoff, in the air, and when landing before any individual is permitted to operate even the smallest single engine aircraft independently.
  • Medical Residents: Upon completion of their degree, doctors embark on intense residencies, practicing medicine under direct supervision of an attending (master) physician.
  • Gymnasts: Coaches “spot” gymnasts, physically assisting the athlete to safely and correctly complete a maneuver.

Content knowledge and isolated practice are important but insufficient when it comes to fully developing the skills of teachers to perform at a high level while the pressure is on. Live coaching is a spot, an extra set of eyes, and a voice of positive but urgent support ensuring that teachers acquire techniques quickly and students learn at every moment in the school day.

Live coaching is a leadership skill that requires knowledge and planning. 

The effectiveness of live coaching increases dramatically with thoughtful planning and practice by the leader. Live coaching is not an innate ability – it a specific skill strengthened over time through observation and intentional practice. Leaders must practice and grow their ability to: deliver non-verbal prompts with an encouraging, positive face, quickly but audibly prompt a teacher, calmly and clearly take leadership over a classroom to model technique, and restore the teacher as the classroom leader once modeling is complete.

Leaders must have sharp eyes in the classroom, a command of core taxonomies, and a clear vision for the execution of those taxonomies that teachers need to master. Planning for live coaching includes clear articulation of which skills the leader will be looking for and how the teacher will be prompted into the skill when needed. The teacher should know exactly what coaching will look and sound like even if they don’t know when it will occur. All parties should have a clear understanding of which point the leader will take over and provide a live model.

Live coaching is a POWERFUL strategy, but COMPLEX

The strategy for growing teachers through coaching is complex in execution. Below are foundational success points for both the teacher and leader any time live coaching is happening:


  • The leader/coach is a second pair of eyes in the classroom to optimize delivery of instruction.
  • Leaders/coaches must be clear about exactly which skills (one to two per session) they are looking for the teacher to demonstrate.
  • Leaders/coaches must be explicit and clear about any live coaching technique that the teacher should expect them to use in support of the development of those particular skills.
  • Leaders/coaches must establish clear boundaries, protocols, and expectations with teachers for live coaching time.
  • Teachers, whenever possible, maintain primary authority and voice in the management of their classroom.
  • Teachers can ask or signal for advice and guidance from the leader at any point during live coaching.
  • Teachers should experience reassurance when a leader is present for live coaching. They should be clear on which skill they are working to demonstrate and the live prompts that will be delivered in support of them in strong execution.



Gymnasts need a spotter, medical residents rely on the expertise of master surgeons, and a pilot depends on their instructor before flying solo. For a teacher, the highest stakes are the quality of minutes students are receiving rigorous instruction that prepares them for college and life. Live coaching grows teachers at rapid pace – necessary for schools to ensure all students are realizing the ambitious goals for which we know they are fully capable of achieving.

View Part II of this post here.