A Must-Have Guide to Jim Knight’s Impact Cycle for Coaching

Cathy GassenheimerOver the past decade, the education world has really begun to embrace the concept of instructional coaching as an effective way to improve schools – opting for teacher ownership and collaboration over lock-step expectations and poorly targeted inservice training.

During this exciting time for professional learning, teachers, coaches and school leaders have been energized by the research and inclusive strategies of coaching thought-leader Jim Knight.

Knight’s ideas about improving professional practice by reframing coaching as the work of partners pursuing excellence – crystallized in books like High Impact Instruction – have helped shape our vision at the Alabama Best Practices Center and in many schools and district in our networks.

A practical handbook infused with Knight’s ideas

Knight’s most recent book, The Impact Cycle: What Instructional Coaches Should Do to Foster Powerful Improvements in Teaching, represents the next stage in the evolution of his understanding and reflection on the practice of coaching.

The book features a preface, five chapters, and an Instructional Coaches’ Toolkit. Each chapter begins with a learning map, which outlines the major concepts in that chapter. The chapters are organized around the following features (as described by Knight on p. 19):

  • Making it Real describes practical actions educators can take to turn the ideas in each chapter into actions.
  • To Sum Up provides a summary of each chapter.
  • Going Deeper introduces resources (mostly books), readers can explore to extend their knowledge of the ideas and strategies discussed in the chapter.
  • QR Codes are linked to videos illustrating the various parts of the instructional coaching cycle carried out by elementary teachers Crysta Crum and secondary teacher Cathryn Monroe in coaching conversations with [Knight].

The book is written in a conversational style; at times I could also imagine Jim having a conversation with me. He deftly describes – and shows in the featured videos – the three components of the Impact Cycle: Identify, Learn, and Improve.

The Identify stage involves the teacher identifying an area of improvement that could both improve teaching and learning. The Learn stage involves the coach dialoguing with the collaborating teacher about resources, materials, and ideas that could be useful. It is during this stage that Knight recommends the use of checklists, all of which are included in the Toolkit. Finally, the Improve stage involves the teacher implementing the identified teaching strategy and both the coach and teacher monitoring progress.

In practice, the Impact Cycle can be recursive as the teacher is “in the driver’s seat” and can decide to continue to work on the identified skill, take a break, or select another area of improvement. (You can read a helpful Learning Forward article, written by Knight and colleagues, that describes the three-part cycle and includes some useful tools.)

At the Core: The Partnership Principles

Like Knight’s other books, the partnership principles serve as the cornerstone of coaching. His brief description in the book of each of the principles is precise, concise, and clear.

The Impact Cycle is rich with ideas, concepts, and tips and can serve as one of the most important “go-to” resources of instructional partners and coaches. The Instructional Coaches’ Toolkit, alone, is worth the cost of the book. Many of the resources included in the Toolkit can be found on Knight’s Instructional coaching website. It’s a great place to explore.

If you have not already purchased or read The Impact Cycle, you might add it to your “New Year’s Resolution” list. Can I suggest adding it near the top? It will be well worth your time, and the time of the colleagues you coach.


Cathy Gassenheimer is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Best Practices Center