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Equity Look-Fors During Instructional Coaching Observations

What's the first thing you look for when you go into a classroom?, asks the instructional coaching interview panel.

I've always struggled with this question. I look at and for a lot of things, and context matters.

I look for evidence of learning, opportunities for all students to meet appropriately rigorous goals, evidence that every kid knows they belong, evidence of teacher content knowledge, ongoing assessment practices, responsiveness to data, and routines, procedures, and an environment in service of those other outcomes. But what's first or most important? I don't have One True Answer.

However, there is no doubt that when we enter a classroom, there are some meaningful things we can notice as we partner with teachers to make schools more equitable spaces for all students. When our radars are tuned into these kinds of indicators, we can gather data that can habitually ground conversations about equity in classrooms.

Here are some examples:

Student Voice

Literally, do we hear students making meaning of and demonstrating their learning?

Who do we hear from, and who do we not hear from?

Whose work is displayed? Whose work is used to model achievement, creativity, and excellence?

Are we hearing from the same few kids over and over, or is the teacher actively bringing in multiple students into the fold?

The Task

Is the task at grade level, or quickly building towards it?

Who is provided scaffolds and who isn't?

Do the scaffolds and supports build up to the grade-level learning, or bring down the bar?

Students of color, those from low-income families, English language learners, and students with mild to moderate disabilities have even less access to these resources [grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers who hold high expectations] than their peers. -The Opportunity Myth, TNTP


What roles do different subgroups of students play in class or group work?

Who is in a "helping" position?

Who is doing the cognitive heavy lifting?

Who is doing the documentation or secretarial work?

Who is holding the tools in hands-on classes like science labs, engineering, woodshop, or art?

How are roles assigned? Are they formalized? Do they rotate? Are they earned?

Status & Belonging

Who is ascribed status? For what? Who isn't?

Whose contributions are elevated?

Who receives shoutouts, affirmations, and other public praise?

Is there room for multiple perspectives, approaches, and ways of thinking? Are those perspectives celebrated, or merely tolerated?


What is the ratio of positive, neutral, and negative statements from the teacher to specific students?

What's that ratio like when disaggregated by different subgroups of students?

What language and tone is used to respond to similar behaviors of different students?


Who is actively engaged in the learning of the lesson? Who isn't?

Who does the teacher actively try to bring back into the lesson? On the flip side, who does the teacher not attempt to re-engage, even as the student is off-task or has their head down?

Evidence of Learning

Who's getting it? Who isn't yet?

Who is supported to meet high expectations? Who is held to lower expectations?

How does the teacher respond to evidence of student learning? To students who are still struggling?

In the End, It's About Impact

One more time for the people in the back. Instructional coaching is not a gotcha. Our observations and data collection are not about judgement or evaluation. Nor should we focus our conversations on whether or not inequitable practices are based on negative intent. I would put money on the assumption that 99.99% of teachers are NOT coming in with negative intent. But it is always the job of the coach to ground conversations in our desired and real impact on students. Supporting teachers to explore, work through, and set goals around patterns of impact is where shifts can happen.

What about you? What questions of educational equity do you ask yourself when observing classrooms? I'd love to hear from you. Send in your thoughts or leave a comment. And don't forget to share the Problem of Practice blog or newsletter with other coaches and school leaders who may benefit from these ideas.

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