Blog Post

Building Capacity in CS Ed through Coaching, Part 1

Computer science education is an important and popular topic these days – in fact, at the time of writing this blog, the Compact to Expand K-12 Computer Science Education had just been signed by 50 governors while over 500 business, education, and nonprofit leaders across the nation have urged governors and education leaders to “…update the K-12 curriculum, for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science.”

How might we truly achieve the goal outlined in the Compact?

As educators, we know that one of the most important factors in determining equitable student experience and success in CS is through developing (and supporting) high quality teachers!

Data show that each educator has the potential to reach about 3,000 students over the course of our careers. Prioritizing CS ed training, with a focus on inclusive practices, for K-12 educators helps to ensure that instructors feel confident and prepared to plan, deliver, and differentiate computer science lessons and activities to reach all of their students. In fact, when examining equity across computer science education ecosystems, the CAPE Framework below suggests that capacity for teaching CS is foundational to ensuring equitable access to, participation in, and experience/success for students within CS classes and activities.

graphic of CAPE framework


But not all teacher training models are as effective as others.

According to a 2020 report by Digital Promise which examines outcomes from teacher professional development based on varying delivery methods, it is clear that some strategies are much more effective than others.

When considering the outcomes of increasing teachers’ knowledge level of the content, skill attainment and proficiency with practices, and transfer to practice by regularly implementing instructional practices in the classroom, the most effective professional development model was found to be coaching, in which participants receive “ongoing support and guidance” upon their return to the classroom.

chart showing efficacy of teacher PD


As CS educators, we know that we are often the only ones teaching computer science in our school, district, or region, which means that we may be asked to take on the tasks of researching curriculum, seeking out training, and teaching various different courses, as well as doing outreach and advocacy for broadening participation within our CS programs, and supporting students who are interested in next steps with CS – all on our own.

The CSTA and Kapor Center’s 2021 Computer Science Teacher Landscape Report, a survey of CS educators across the U.S., found the major challenges to CS education were: lack of school buy-in, lack of student subject knowledge, lack of teacher subject knowledge, lack of hardware/software resources, lack of student interest/enrollment, and lack of curricular resources. See the image below, from the report, for the percentage of survey respondents who ranked each challenge as a major issue facing their CS program.

graphic of results from teacher landscape survey


Coaching can be incredibly effective at supporting teachers as they navigate through these and other challenges at the classroom, building, and system level, because it is a “structure through which we can reflect, grow, and refine our practices; it’s a way we can learn to use new tools and incorporate new approaches; it’s a method for improving teacher and leader practices and improving student outcomes” (Aguilar, 2020).

A note about coaching models: Beyond instructional coaching

Coaching in computer science education is most effective when it is embedded within the job of the teacher, ongoing throughout the school year, and differentiated to meet the participating teacher’s needs (Aguilar, 2020). CS coaching often follows an instructional coaching model, in which: “Instructional coaches partner with teachers to improve their ability to plan and deliver effective instruction for all students. Through iterative cycles, coaches work to improve outcomes for students by providing differentiated, collaborative, and reflective support to their teachers. Together, coaches and teachers build on a foundation of mutual trust and respect while building toward the goals of building teachers’ content and pedagogy and increasing students’ engagement and learning.” –CSTA CS Coaching Toolkit

In addition to instructional coaching, a lens of transformational coaching, as defined by Elena Aguilar in her book Coaching for Equity, can be especially effective at tackling larger issues impacting computer science education programs that transcend individual classroom lessons. Within transformational coaching, three components are considered: the behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being of the coach; the behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being of the client; and identifying and understanding the larger systems in which we live and work with a focus on taking action to transform them to address inequities (Aguilar, 2020).

Relationship Building

Relationship building and establishing trust is arguably the most important piece of the coaching process – as a first and ongoing step. Dedicating time during each step of the coaching process for the coach and classroom teacher to get to know one another and connect will help to build respect and trust so that both the coach and classroom teacher can be open, honest, and fully participate in the reflective coaching process.

Resources for relationship building:

Questions for a first meeting (via Elena Aguilar)

Review and select coaching strategies from the ‘Coaching Lenses’ big idea from the Cornell Tech CS Coaching Cards (via Cornell Tech)

● Establish / outline a Coaching agreement (via Elena Aguilar)

● Share your CS Learning Journey (both coach + teacher) (via Cornell Tech CS Coaching Toolkit)

● Create a share a coaching Purpose Statement to describe your purpose and motivation as a CS coach (via Cornell Tech CS Coaching Toolkit)

Explore and share identity markers (both coach + teacher) (via Elena Aguilar)

● Engage in the CS Visions Quiz & discuss results together (via CSforAll)

Explore and share your top values, personally and professionally (via Elena Aguilar)

● Engage in and discuss the How to Build Trust activity (via Elena Aguilar)

Reference: Aguilar, E. (2020). Coaching for Equity. New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp.98-101.


CS for All Teachers Community Ambassador Andrea Wilson Vazquez is the Director of Educator Training and School Partnerships with non-profit Code Savvy in Minneapolis, MN. She is also a CSTA CSforELs Teacher Leader and Facilitator and an online facilitator and course designer for the University of Texas at Austin’s Strategies for Effective and Inclusive Computer Science Teaching (SciPs) course.