ISTE Standard 4: Learning Designer ISTE Standards for Coaching

Incorporating Knight’s Seven Principles of Partnership into Modeling Digital Instructional Design Principles

The work of an instructional technology coach is multi-faceted and requires a multitude of skills for a meaningful coaching relationship to be developed and instructional goals to be achieved. To begin, an instructional technology coach is a specialist who possesses both hard and soft skills, which span from information and communications technology (ICT) to communications skills. In order for an instructional technology coach to support a coachee in utilizing instructional design principles to create an effective digital learning environment, the coach must work to build trust and demonstrate genuine support, respect, and confidence in their coachee’s work as an educator regardless how much knowledge or experience they have with ICT. The goals a coachee strives to meet with the assistance of an instructional technology coach must be approached with a coach/coachee relationship that is viewed, articulated, and respected as a partnership. 

This blog post focuses on integrating the seven Principles of Partnership (Knight, J., 2011) when modeling instructional design principles to create an effective digital learning environment. 

My question is as follows: How can the seven Principles of Partnership be utilized in peer coaching to collaboratively and respectfully model instructional design principles to create an effective digital learning environment? 

This question aligns with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 4 for Coaches: Learning Designer: “Coaches model and support educators to design learning experiences and environments to meet the needs and interests of all students,” and 4d: 

“Model the use of instructional design principles with educators to create effective digital learning environments” (ISTE). 

In his article, What Good Coaches Do, Knight (2011) introduces the seven Principles of Partnership, and discusses each one within the context of a coaching relationship between an instructional coach and a teacher. He provides practical examples of how each principle could be represented in coach-coachee interactions. The seven Principles of Partnership are as follows: 

  • Equality – both people in the coaching relationship understand that they are equals and the partnership includes shared decision-making.
  • Choice – the coachee decides what goals to pursue and which instructional practices to adapt.
  • Voice – the coaching relationship is grounded in trust, and the coachee feels safe and comfortable vocalizing their needs and concerns. 
  • Reflection – Knight refers to the instructional coach as a “thinking partner” who can assist the coachee in reflecting on the implementation of new instructional content or using new digital technology. 
  • Dialogue – engaging in a two-way dialogue with our coachee allows the best ideas to rise to the top (rather than the coach unveiling their ideas while the coachee passively decides to implement them). 
  • Praxis – part of the coaching relationship is to support the coachee in the practice of applying new knowledge and skills. 

Reciprocity –  in this mutually beneficial relationship, both the coach and the coachee have opportunities to learn.

What are some instructional design principles that should be considered to create an effective digital learning environment?

  • Determining appropriate content delivery methods: I am not a fan of the lecture style of teaching even in the face-to-face classroom environment because learners are passive and must rely heavily on the auditory learning style to acquire content imparted from the instructor. I have even stronger feelings against using the lecture style in online learning, such as a 60-minute lecture on Zoom. Forgoing lecturing on Zoom is reinforced by Vergroesen (2020).. It is likely that students will turn off their cameras and engage in another activity while maintaining their attendance in the class period. One style of instructional design I have used as an online instructor is the flipped classroom method. In my classes, asynchronous modules open at the beginning of the week, and students have three days to review course content before a discussion-based synchronous class session takes place. During the synchronous session, the asynchronous course content is reviewed from a critical thinking/application of knowledge lens. Various digital tools are integrated to keep learners engaged and interacting with course content, including Google slides, Google Jam Board, and Poll Everywhere. Short bursts of instruction are intermixed with full group discussions and small group breakout sessions. The module closes with a quiz and assignments or projects to demonstrate understanding of course content. 
  • Keeping learners engaged:  The teaching style implemented as well as the types of assignments, learning activities, and online tools available should all be taken into account when considering how to keep learners engaged. Offering a variety of opportunities for collaboration and dialogue, such as discussion boards, peer review, utilizing breakout rooms with corresponding interactive activities, such as case studies, realistic scenarios that include problems to solve, and project based learning offering voice and choice in topics, design, etc. can keep students engaged during the learning process and will create a sense of community (Hanning, 2019; Vergroesen, 2020). 
  • Offering regular feedback (Lynch, 2018): Weekly online quizzes offer timely feedback on acquisition of knowledge. Additionally, during class sessions, incorporating digital tools, such as Kahoot or Poll Everywhere, can provide students with immediate feedback on how well they are understanding course content in a fun, engaging way.  
  • Integrating 21st century skills: Higher education classes, whether taught in person or online, need to model and integrate opportunities to practice 21st century skills prior to students launching into the workforce. Class sessions, assignments, and corresponding course competencies should be intentionally designed with 21st century skills in mind. My colleague (Clum, 2021) wrote about integrating 21st century skills into higher education courses and provided examples within each category of the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communications, collaboration, and creativity.

“Instructional design skills can be the catalyst that helps educators overcome challenges in assessment, 21st century skills integration, engagement, and appropriate use of technology. So much so that, according to the 2020 Educause Horizon Report, instructional designers are taking a more central role in course design, shifting from a source of support to a critical part of the course and learning experience development process.”

Johnson, P., 2021

Instructional Technology Coaching in Action

In my current peer coaching sessions, I have been intentional about integrating Knight’s partnership principles. Below, I will provide examples of how I have been using these principles when coaching another instructor on incorporating various instructional design principles to create a more effective digital learning environment. 

After spending some time building a relationship of mutual trust and respect with an understanding that this relationship is based on shared decision-making and it is non-evaluative in nature (equality), my coachee and I engaged in a dialogue through which she described the course she is currently teaching, including the structure of online course sessions and various course assignments. I continued to seek a deeper understanding of her needs and concerns by using probing and clarifying questions, and paraphrasing (dialogue). 

Throughout our coaching sessions, my coachee reflected on her experiences teaching online course sessions (reflection). She voiced concerns with the effectiveness of using breakout rooms for small group discussions. She expressed that students are often confused about what they need to accomplish when they are sent to breakout rooms, and when she joins in, they are often off-task discussing unrelated topics. She felt frustrated that the students did not understand and/or follow her directions, and the time spent in breakout rooms was often unproductive (voice). As her “thinking partner,” I asked her if she was interested in some suggestions for modifying use of breakout rooms during online class sessions. 

With her approval, I introduced her to the idea of using Google slides. I informed her that I have used this instructional design technique many times before, and stated that there is accountability built into integrating this digital tool because 1) the instructor can see how students are progressing by viewing the slides while not being present in breakout rooms, and 2) student groups are asked to share their completed slides when the full group session has been resumed. Thus, there is accountability to both the instructor and to their peers. We brainstormed (dialogue) ways in which Google slides can be used as a learning activity tool,such as capturing solutions to a real world problem, discussing a case study, or answering discussion prompts. My coachee liked this idea and asked me to model how Google slides can be accessed, developed, and implemented. Since our coaching session was on Zoom, I shared my screen and showed her examples of the activities my students have completed previously using Google slides. Then I walked her through the steps of locating Google slides, creating a slide desk, and sharing the link with students in an editable format (praxis). 

Additionally, during her reflections on teaching online, she mentioned that it has been difficult to get students to respond to the discussion prompts (voice) during full group discussions. Since we were exploring Google tools at the time, I mentioned that the Google Jam Board is another digital tool that can enhance participation and dialogue in online class sessions. I went through the same process that I used when introducing her to Google slides to model how to use Google Jam Board (praxis).  

Lastly, in our most recent coaching session, my coachee was primarily reflecting on her course’s final project and we discussed ways to incorporate digital technology and 21st century skills. During this meeting, however, she randomly asked me if I could show her how to use Poll Everywhere (choice). I used the same modeling process as described above (praxis). However,when she asked me about the text option for accessing the poll, I realized I had never used this feature before. She and I both explored it on our individual phones, and worked together to figure it out (equality, dialogue). I told her I appreciated her asking that question as her inquiry enabled me to learn something new that will benefit my students if I am ever asked the same question while integrating Poll Everywhere in my classes (reciprocity)

The Seven Principles of Partnership (Knight, 2011) implemented into my coaching sessions have resulted in positive changes to my coachee’s online class sessions. Throughout our partnership, she has been able to identify changes to be made in her instructional design in order to increase engagement and participation. By incorporating digital tools, my coachee has:

  • determined more effective content delivery methods,
  • increased engagement and participation,
  •  incorporated 21st century skills into her breakout sessions, 
  • reached divergent learners by offering more choice in how students respond to discussion prompts,
  • and offered regular feedback during online class sessions. 


Clum, K. (2021). 21st century skills in the higher education classroom.

Hanning, J. (2019). 10 learning design strategies to engage learners. Learning Success.

International Society for Technology in Education.

Johnson, P. (2021). Instructional design is the catalyst. Studies in Technology Enhanced Learning

Knight, J. (2011). What Good Coaches Do. Educational Leadership, 69(2): 18-22.

Lynch, L. (2018). 5 instructional design principles to improve your course. LearnDash.
Vergroesen, L. (2020). The top challenges for E-learning instructional design in 2020. Eduflow.