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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sue Chapman

Why You Need an Instructional Playbook

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

In schools, every day is “game day.” Every day, teachers need the best resources and the best forms of support because students deserve the best we can offer them. The playbook aims to be that kind of support: the best strategies with the best research base that best target teachers’ goals for students.

The Instructional Playbook: The Missing Link for Translating Research into Practice, p. 18

What could you and your team accomplish if you had an instructional playbook, a personalized guide to maximizing student learning by strengthening teaching effectiveness?

An instructional playbook is a concept developed by Jim Knight based on his extensive experience with instructional improvement. It is a professional learning tool and a process to be used in instructional coaching. In their book The Instructional Playbook: The Missing Link for Translating Research into Practice, Jim Knight along with colleagues Ann Hoffman, Michelle Harris, and Sharon Thomas describe the idea and purposes of an instructional playbook and then walk readers through the process of creating a personalized instructional playbook for their unique contexts.

An instructional playbook is a tool coaches can use to help teachers choose teaching strategies that help them hit their goals for students. (p. 21)

An instructional playbook is a concise guide to instructional improvement that 1) deepens a coach’s expertise around a focused list of high-impact teaching strategies, and 2) supports teachers in learning to implement these strategies. Like playbooks used in football, an instructional playbook describes proven strategies for achieving specific goals. The end goal of an instructional playbook is, of course, maximizing student learning.

Instructional playbooks translate teaching strategies into “explicit, actionable knowledge” (p. 7) in the following ways.

  1. Help educators identify a focused list of high-impact teaching strategies that they will work on

  2. Deepen coach and teacher understanding of these strategies

  3. Build a common language for talking about these strategies within the coaching partnership or team

  4. Reduce educator stress by focusing collective efforts on proven pathways to success

  5. Foster educator hope by providing a clear vision of effective instruction and resulting student learning (p. 7-9)

The magic of an instructional playbook lies in its precision and succinctness. It includes only three parts:

  1. A table of contents that lists the instructional strategies

  2. A one-page explanation of each strategy that outlines its purpose, research base, and exemplars of its use

  3. Checklists for coaches and teachers to use together as teachers learn to implement the strategies in support of their students’ learning

Checklists are helpful, if not essential, tools for communicating about teaching strategies. (p. 95)

The Missing Link for Translating Research Into Practice

Here’s an example of these three parts of an instructional playbook from former Learning Forward Texas board member Dr. Karen Norris and colleague Rhonda Vincent with the Momentous Institute School in Dallas. As you look at Momentous Institute’s playbook pages, consider how an instructional playbook might support your current instructional improvement initiatives.

Example of a Table of Contents

The Essentials Unpacked

Emotional Tone: Practices that make students feel safe, valued, confident, and optimistic

  • Relationship Building

    • Home Visit

    • Morning Circle

    • Closing Circle

  • Lenses that Inform Practice

    • Trauma Informed

    • Culturally Responsive

  • Patterns of Interaction

    • Respectful

    • Private, Proactive & Principled

  • Explicit Instruction

    • Breathing Practice

    • Teaching about the Brain

    • Social Emotional Health Skills Lessons

Classroom Organization that makes students feel honored, empowered and included

  • Classroom Layout

    • Intentional Room Design

  • Management

    • Expectations

    • Routines and Procedures

  • Responding to Student Behavior

    • Reinforcing Student Behavior

    • The Discipline Conversation

    • Choosing Appropriate Consequences

Instructional Practices that give students opportunities to take risks, explore, think deeply and develop a sense of themselves as learners

  • Content Planning

    • UbD Units

    • Project Based

    • Learning Maps

    • Essential Questions

  • Continuous Assessment

    • Learning Targets

    • Checks for Understanding

    • Rubrics

    • Ethic of Excellence

  • Instruction

    • Thinking Routines

    • Quality Questions

    • Shared Learning

    • Authentic Learning

    • Field Trips

Example of a One-Page Explanation of a Strategy

Emotional Tone

Lenses that Inform Practice



  • Culturally responsive teaching provides all students with equitable opportunities for learning.


  • Teacher Student Relationships 0.72; Classroom Management 0.52


  • Acknowledging, responding to, and celebrating cultures provides equitable access to education for students from all cultures.


  • Positive perspectives on parents and families

  • Communication of high expectation

  • Learning within the context of culture

  • Student centered instruction

  • Culturally mediated instruction


  • Establish Inclusion – Highlight the human purpose for what is being learned and its relationship to the students’ lives

  • Develop Positive Attitude – Relate teaching and learning to students’ experience or previous knowledge

  • Enhance Meaning – Provide challenging learning experiences and critical inquiry

  • Engender Competence – Include multiple ways to represent knowledge and allow for self-assessment


Ladson-Billings, G (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.

Wlodkowski, R. J., and M. B. Ginsberg. (1995). Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

N.A. (2008). Culturally responsive classroom management. NY: New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Example of a Checklist for a Strategy

Emotional Tone

Lenses that Inform Practice





The teacher:

​Reflects upon own biases, attitudes and assumptions

​Becomes knowledgeable of students’ cultural backgrounds

Is sensitive to cultural differences in communication styles with students and parents

Is aware of and resists adopting stereotypes

​Offers explicit expectations

Engages students in discussions about class norms

​Models the expected behavior

Is aware of inconsistency in application of consequences




Display maps that highlight students’ countries of origin

​Post signs or banners welcoming students in the language(s) they speak

​Display posters depicting people of various cultural groups

​Include books that promote themes of diversity, tolerance and community

​Design activities that allow students to work together and help each other

Looking Ahead to Next Year

How might an instructional playbook power up the impact of your professional learning work next school year?

How might you and your team collaboratively develop and use a personalized professional playbook as a tool for instructional coaching?

You can learn more about instructional coaching and playbooks by attending Jim Knight’s session at the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference this summer.

Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.

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