Teaching, Students, Content ?

Before I officially begin this post, I’d like to credit The Novi Community School District (Novi, Michigan) for this post’s visual (see below). You can find it on their project-based learning page, as well as a wealth of useful PBL resources.

Not too long ago, I wrapped up teaching a five-week Introduction to Instructional Coaching seminar for teacher induction coaches. An integral component across our sessions was coaching through the lens of Richard Elmore’s instructional core: the relationship between students, teachers and content. According to Elmore, student learning occurs when there is increased (1) teacher knowledge and skill, plus (2) level and complexity of content, combined with       (3) students’ understanding of and engagement in the instructional process. As such, teacher content and pedagogical knowledge, together with an understanding of the stages of student development and identity formation, should have a substantial impact on how and what students learn and the level of engagement they have with the content.


While the instructional core concept isn’t exactly new, using it as a professional learning framework is an emerging approach to supporting teacher learning. For a little more context, check out this 2016 Australia case study. (I’d post the article here, but it’s currently only available for individual use). I’ll be spending some time reading the article in more depth over the next few days, though, so I’ll gladly share some of their findings, especially as they indicate a number of positive outcomes relating to the instructional core.

In the meantime, engaging in a Problem of Practice can be a powerful way you can apply the instructional core to your classroom. Identify a real issue you are struggling with that would impact student learning if you improved it. Then, ask yourself:

  1. What am I doing? What are students doing? What is the content?
  2. To what extent is my identified issue directly observable? What data can I gather about my issue that might inform my teaching and student learning?
  3. To what extent is my issue actionable? In other words, is it something I can improve and change, or is it an issue beyond my control?
  4. To what extent will addressing this issue impact student learning?

It’s ideal if you already have an instructional coach or colleague to support you in this process. If you’re out there on your own, however, I’ll gladly volunteer to be your thought partner! Just send me a message via the Contact page so we can connect directly.