TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Coaching for Inclusive Practices

Coaching for inclusive practices is essential to bridging the application gap between professional development (PD) and teacher or administrator practice (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). It is also critical to build a system's capacity to use evidence-based inclusive practices with fidelity. As you develop the  Action Plan for the initial implementation of inclusive practices, the need to think about the coaching process might seem a long way off. However, thinking through the need for coaching early in the planning process is essential for considering how to build the knowledge, skills, disposition, and infrastructure (e.g., structures and processes) to support implementation.

 Your system may already have a well-developed coaching program for specific subject areas (i.e., reading and math coaches) or specific groups of staff (i.e., first-year teachers). If so, check with your colleagues responsible for these programs to get more information on their procedures and processes for selecting and developing individual coaches and a coaching program. The possibility of melding coaching systems and using similiar development processes for coaches may have already been considered during the Initiative Inventory. System alignment are pieces that help to build sustainability of inclusive systems. 

Inclusive Practices Coaches

Coaching requires two primary skill sets: content-area knowledge and interpersonal skills.

Inclusive Practices coaches do not need to be an expert on every aspect of inclusive education. However, they should have a strong belief in the value of inclusive education and knowledge/skills in the following areas:

  • daily operation of general education classrooms,
  • classroom instructional configurations,
  • general education curriculum, and how to adapt it for students' disabilities, including those with significant cognitive disabilities,
  • instructional strategies, including effective strategies for students with mild to significant disabilities,
  • effective use of staff (including teachers, paraprofessionals, and specialized support personnel) in inclusive classrooms, and
  • data-based decision-making.

If a prospective coach lacks knowledge in one or two of these areas, they may still be a good candidate as long as they are provided with the PD/coaching/ mentorship to support their learning in these areas. Concurrently, the knowledge and use of evidence-based practices for effective coaching are essential to support changing practices.    

Potential coaches need strong interpersonal skills and the content area skills mentioned above. Effective coaches form a collaborative relationship with the individual and/or the team being coached and have a positive attitude about the potential for success. Coaches clearly define and communicate their role (supportive, not evaluative), build on coachee strengths, and offer feedback in a non-judgmental and respectful manner. Coaches describe and model behaviors that will focus on performance feedback and use data to document improvement in the focus area.

Real-World Example

Kylie was excited when she was selected to be an inclusion coach in her district. She had been a middle school special educator in the district for several years. She had good experience collaborating with general educators, matching teaching strategies and accommodations to individual student needs, co-teaching in a general education classroom, and data-based decision-making. Her strong belief in the value of inclusive education was sparked in her Master's degree program and continued to the present. Kylie did not have experience teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities or modifying general education curriculum assignments and activities to meet their needs.

Over the next year, Kylie received ongoing support (including monthly onsite visits) from a TIES Inclusive Education Specialist. Through this collaboration, Kylie added the knowledge and skills she needed to her skill set. She is now leading her district's efforts to increase inclusive education for all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities.

Applying the Components of Effective Coaching to Inclusive Education 

Coaching Components

Application to Inclusive Education

Relationship building

  • Use a professional yet relaxed approach
  • Share your enthusiasm for inclusive education
  • Empathize with teacher concerns regarding their confidence about implementing inclusive practices
  • Frequently reiterate that you are there to support the coachee as they implement inclusive practices and that the coaching process is collaborative not evaluative
  • Co-determine the specific evidence-based practices to be coached
  • Co-create a data plan to measure progress in implementation of inclusive practices
  • Assume good intentions and answer any questions about the value of inclusive education with evidence-based information


  • Co-create schedule to eliminate barriers to observing specific lessons, activities, and/or interactions with specific students
  • Co-determine the coach’s role during observation (i.e., silent observation with feedback later on, offer helpful feedback as appropriate during the session, interact and model during the session)


  • Implementing evidence-based practices (EBPs) for inclusive instruction
  • Collaboration strategies
  • Facilitating peer interactions
  • Engaging students with significant cognitive disabilities in the lesson
  • Data-based decision-making

Performance feedback

  • Give feedback related to strengths and needs
  • Give feedback related to overall inclusivity of class in addition to specific target areas
  • Ask reflective questions rather than providing answers
  • Present formal and/or informal data about the coachee’s use of specific EBPs for inclusive education