Incremental Coaching – A Better Alternative to Formal Observation?

Chalkboard illustration of a man walking up stepsIt is common practice in many educational institutions for teachers to be observed just once a year.  This annual observation can be a stressful experience; often high stakes with the outcome directly linked to performance management.  As a result, teachers can feel under pressure to ‘perform’ and deliver a lesson which bears little resemblance to what happens in their day-to-day teaching; quite often they will pull out a lesson which has been well rehearsed.  The whole process is rather unnatural – writing lengthy and detailed lesson plans with carefully thought out aims, learning outcomes, anticipated problems and minute-by-minute details on procedure.  In contrast, many experienced teachers will usually just write a brief running order as a lesson plan for their regular, unobserved classes.

Incremental Coaching, as advocated by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo in his book Leverage Leadership, could provide an alternative, leading to a shift from summative assessment of teaching to a more formative approach.  The basic premise is that of a cycle of less formal, shorter and more frequent, non-judgemental learning walks.  Each learning walk is followed up by an action-based coaching conversation focussing on just one specific aspect of teaching, giving the teacher a week or so to put things into practice before their next learning walk.

Recent research, including that by Matthews (2017), has shown that adopting an incremental coaching model can lead to rapid progress and development in teaching practice.

My colleagues and I at Cambridge Regional College have recently undertaken some action research into incremental coaching – the findings of which I will be presenting at this year’s International House London Future of Training Conference on Saturday 9th November 2019 and the International House World AMT Conference on Saturday 12th January 2020.  Come along to learn more and hear about the impact it is having on teaching and learning in our context.


Screenshot 2020-01-13 at 22.46.27

To see the slides from the presentation, click here.


  • Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2012). Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools. Jossey Bass.
  • Matthews, P. (2017). The power of incremental coaching – improving teaching quality. Professional Development Today, 19.1, 40-50.
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