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The Impact Cycle by Dr Jim Knight - Book Review by Sophie Paterson

The Impact Cycle is a powerful resource for Instructional Coaches to partner with teachers to envision and realise improvements to student engagement, achievement and classroom community. The Impact Cycle is a 3-stage coaching process to identify, learn and improve pedagogy in order to have a positive impact on student learning and wellbeing.

This book will extend educators who have a strong experience base of high-quality teaching and those who recognise that quality collegial conversation and relationships are the key to work performance and satisfaction. The book is user friendly with concept maps, chapter summaries and flowcharts that make it easy to follow and easy to dip in and out of for specific insights.

Every step of the Identify-Learn-Improve Cycle and every strategy for improving teaching and learning in the classroom is based on more than 20 years of research by Jim and his colleagues at the University of Kansas, yet it is not an arduous read. Jim’s genial writing voice connects easily with his readers and he offers optional sections to go deeper into the research if you’re interested.

We’ve all experienced the challenge of designing best-fit strategies to improve student performance and engagement and know how complicated a task it can be; but Jim strips away much of the complexity and simplifies it in a way that makes it seem really doable. The cycle is designed to meet the individual needs of each teacher and to stick with them until the goal is achieved. We love this kind of professional learning that treats teachers as professionals, goes the distance and goes deep.

Jim advocates for student-centred rather than teacher-centred goals, the difference being that a goal is not achieved until the students are demonstrating the desired behaviours. This focuses the coaching partnership on purposefully analysing the connection between student data and teaching strategies. The Instructional Coach’s role is to adopt a non-judgemental partnership stance with the teacher to support them in learning, implementing and adjusting their strategies until their goals are met.

The Impact Cycle is jam-packed with QR-code links, ready-to-use, real-life primary and secondary videos, templates and high-impact teaching strategies that exemplify real-life practice. If you were to opt into a supportive professional development cycle with a trusted colleague, and you wanted to start today, you could. The Impact Cycle is superbly designed to fit into what you are already doing, it’s not ‘on-top of’; and that is a bonus in teachers’ time-stretched weeks.

There are many of us who have arrived at coaching through formal or ‘pure’ coaching training, and have wrestled with applying these skills in our classrooms and staffrooms. Jim has travelled from the other direction, where he’s iterated, over decades, the best ways to develop teacher capacity to arrive at a mode of partnership that he calls Instructional Coaching - and so it’s here that we meet.

Jim describes three different approaches to coaching - dialogical, directive and facilitative. Whether or not you enter into a coaching cycle as described in the book, distinguishing between these three approaches to recognise the situation-specific features of each mode and to determine the most helpful approach at any given time can be helpful learning for both teachers and leaders.

You will recognise in The Impact Cycle many of the effective coaching skills, goal-setting strategies and questioning techniques that you may have learned with your GCI colleagues. To my mind, these skills can only enhance the application of The Impact Cycle. If you are coming to the book and its approach with limited coaching skill training, there are helpful questions and strategies to enable you to have effective coaching conversations straight away.

Past participants in any GCI program will have explored the ‘conversational continuum’, on which formal coaching, coaching-approaches, mentoring and even supervision and clinical relationships all have their place. Jim’s dialogical coaching approach fits neatly into this conversational continuum. In dialogical coaching, the coach and the teacher think together to explore ways forward and the teacher is positioned as the prime decision maker.

Both the GROWTH coaching approach and the Instructional Coaching approach described in The Impact Cycle share a dynamic system of a coaching model, coaching skills and a coaching way-of-being.

Jim advocates for a crystal-clear picture of the current reality of your teaching and student learning before setting a goal. Accurate start-point data makes light work of the pathway to achieving the goal. Jim’s strategies for clarifying the start point are some of the most impactful aspects of this cycle. A very compelling case is made for the increased use of video to capture “a clear picture of reality” in the teacher’s classroom. The challenges and benefits of using video are covered in some detail and it is hard to argue with these. Again, all of this is set within the context of the utmost respect for the teacher, their needs and their contextual knowledge.

Jim characterises the nature and quality of the supportive collegial partnerships that engage in the Impact Cycle, distinguishing them from top-down approaches. These principles will resonate with teachers as they typify those stand-out respectful relationships we’ve experienced in teams. It is affirming to recognise these well-known qualities coming to life in the coaching strategies and questioning techniques.

From the first to the last word, The Impact Cycle positions teachers as autonomous, competent, connected professionals and the coaches who partner with them as respectful professionals who can share their instructional expertise in a way that enables teachers to flourish.

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