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Special Article

The Power of Kagan Coaching

Melissa Wincel,
Kagan Trainer and Coach

To cite this article: Melissa, M. The Power of Kagan Coaching. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #63. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Illustration of Kagan coach and teacher

“Our teachers loved the training!”

“Teachers are so fired up to try out Kagan Cooperative Learning in their classrooms!”

These are comments we often hear from principals when Kagan Trainers follow up after a training. Then teachers go back into their classrooms, close their doors, and try out what they have learned from the training. For some teachers, the training changes their teaching lives forever. They drink the Kagan Kool-Aid and want more because it’s making a significant difference for their students. Their students are more engaged and learning more. Their students’ social and communication skills are improving. They are getting along better with one another. Teachers are enjoying teaching more and being more successful; they are teaching smarter, not harder. This is fantastic! This is exactly what we like to hear!

However, this is not the case for all teachers. When principals share challenges, they usually fall into one of two categories. First, there are some teachers who struggle with implementing Kagan Structures into their lessons. Their use of the structures is not quite right. Oftentimes principals learn Kagan Cooperative Learning structures right alongside their teachers so they may not have the expertise to help their teachers…yet!

It is natural for teachers to revert back to traditional teaching methods. Creating change is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done training.

The second challenge I hear is that implementation has waned over time. Teachers started out gung-ho after the workshop. They experienced the Kagan difference themselves and wanted to create that level of engagement in their own classrooms. But as time progressed, many have defaulted to their familiar way of teaching.

Kagan Coaching is a wonderful solution for both of these issues! When we coach teachers at a school, we invite the principal (and other instructional leaders) to walk beside us to learn how to promote strong implementation of the structures. Teachers at the same school often select different structures to be coached on. As we coach on a range of structures, we process them with leadership which provides insight on how to improve implementation of a variety of structures. Plus, coaching offers that ongoing support to encourage and motivate teachers to sustain implementation after the initial training. It is natural for teachers to revert back to traditional teaching methods. Creating change is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done training.

7 Key Concepts

The focus of Kagan Coaching is coaching teachers on specific Kagan Structures. But as we coach teachers, we are also looking at the 7 Key Concepts that are the foundation of Kagan Cooperative Learning. Kagan Structures are central to Kagan Cooperative Learning. But the other six keys that surround structures can’t be overlooked! Kagan Structures are much more successful if the other concepts are in place. Students are in heterogeneous, mixed-ability teams. The classroom is a brain-friendly learning environment, attained through classbuilding and teambuilding. Classbuilding and teambuilding create a classroom community of learners where students get to know each other, like each other, and respect each other. Solid classroom management is in place, including modeling your expectations. Social skills are embedded in Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures; if not, you can add social skills to any structure. Finally, the four basic principles, PIES, must be in place to ensure that it’s truly cooperative learning.

Easy as PIES

The four basic principles (PIES) are critical. As we coach teachers, we always pay close attention to their implementation of PIES. When PIES are correctly in place, we are confident that good cooperative learning is happening. When they aren’t, even something that may look like good cooperative learning to the untrained eye can be improved.

Here are the critical questions associated with PIES:


Positive Interdependence
Positive – Does one doing well help others? Students feel on the same side.
Interdependence – Does task completion depend on everyone doing their part?  Students feel like they need each other.


Individual Accountability
Must everyone perform in front of someone? Students feel like they can’t hide.


Equal Participation
How do we get equal participation? Time or turns? Students feel like they have equal status.


Simultaneous Interaction
What percent are talking, writing, or manipulating at any one moment? Students feel more engaged.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

As a Kagan Trainer, I love inspiring teachers through our cooperative learning trainings. But coaching is where the power is; it’s where implementation is happening. Supporting teachers in their classrooms, with their own students, is so powerful. Here are a few comments from an administrator and teachers who have experienced the power of Kagan Coaching.

Jennie Mathews, principal at Sutton Elementary in Fort Smith, AR, says this about Kagan Coaching:

In-the-moment coaching is extremely beneficial to our teachers. It provides an opportunity for job-embedded professional development on structures teachers are incorporating into their classroom lessons. That in-the-moment coaching is relevant to what students and teachers need. Teachers are able to see how what they have learned in the training fits into the daily practice of teaching. Ms. Wincel has built a rapport with our teachers, and they know her helpful coaching is non-threatening and meant only to help them grow professionally. I’ve seen a huge difference in our implementation this year since we have had two (a fall and a spring) coaching sessions. Teachers stay pumped up and are willing to try new structures and keep growing. Last year we were only able to do a fall coaching session. We saw a decline in our implementation over the spring months that we are not seeing this year. To me, this is some of the most powerful professional development I can schedule for my teachers. Every teacher, regardless of what they teach, benefits from Kagan Coaching.

Sometimes we hear from administrators that their primary teachers are really struggling with implementing Kagan Cooperative Learning, saying that their students don’t have the communication skills or social skills necessary to be successful with structures. Kagan Coaching is all about supporting teachers with their classroom of students. If we can actually see what they are dealing with, we are better able to give them coaching tips that are useful, especially when those tips are applied immediately while students are engaged in the structure.

Preschool teacher Crystal Tanksley says this about Kagan Coaching:

Instant feedback with hands-on assistance has helped me to better structure the newly learned Kagan strategies. For example, when we were learning Match Mine, Ms. Wincel suggested taking a simple barrier away and having my students do one-to-one actions sitting side-by-side. We modified the strategy, and it helped my students better understand Match Mine instantly. When Ms. Wincel is at our school, her real time coaching suggestions are implemented immediately, and we can see the instantaneous improvement of the structure. Having Ms. Wincel in our classroom has helped because she can see how our classroom is set up and she has given great suggestions on how to incorporate Kagan at the preschool level. She has answered many questions that I have had about how I should implement several of the Kagan Structures, and my students LOVE cooperative learning! We wish she could come more often!

Kindergarten teacher Mindy Ellis shared this:

The Kagan Coaching with Melissa has helped in many ways.

  1. She gives me new ideas on how to incorporate the strategies as a whole and in literacy stations.
  2. She has explained the difference in strategies and how to properly use them (I was getting some of them confused).
  3. She helps me with what to do with the struggling students (academically or behaviorally) because she can see them in action.
  4. In class is always best because you see real teachers with real students in the classroom. I wish she could be here more often.

Support, Not Evaluation

Kagan Coaching is designed to be a non-evaluative, non-threatening support tool in the implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning in the classroom after training has taken place. Sometimes during the first coaching visit, some teachers are apprehensive because they remember the antiquated coaching model where the coach came in their classroom, sat at the back of the room and wrote pages of all the things they were doing wrong, that could be improved. As a Kagan Coach, building a positive relationship with each teacher is essential. We look to praise teachers for the positive things we see and hear in the classroom, like how their students are engaged in the content or their great choice of structure that matched their content and learning objective. Our goal as Kagan Coaches is to help teachers improve their skills with Kagan Structures and Kagan Cooperative Learning. We know the difference it can make in so many areas when teachers are implementing with frequency and fidelity.

In-the-Moment Feedback

Kagan Coaching feedback is offered in-the-moment. What that means is while students are engaged in the structure, the coach unobtrusively offers the teacher one tip that will have the biggest positive impact. The teacher then stops the structure and implements the tip. It is immediately apparent the difference that that one coaching tip has on the structure and the immediate impact on students’ learning. From that moment on, teachers are hooked on the power of Kagan Coaching!