iPad for Instructional Coaches

I’m super lucky…over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with one of our school’s 30 iPads.  As I started to work with it, I focused mainly on researching and testing out different apps and iBooks to support literacy instruction.  Then I began to wonder about how I might use it to support the work I do as an instructional coach…hmmm…

After a few Google searches, I found a wealth of information on how to use the iPad in the classroom.  There was very little information however (none really!) on how to use an iPad as an instructional coach.  OK, I thought, I’ll just figure it out on my own.  Well, this figuring out piece ended up taking much more time than I thought…but I thought I was on to something.  Up to this point, I had been doing my observations and debriefs with paper and pencil and keeping them all in a binder.  I like paper and pencil because it feels much less intrusive in a classroom than a laptop and it’s also what I’m used to, so I feel comfortable with it.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I wasn’t doing a good job of making my notes accessible to teachers and my notes felt more like a jumbled mess than a solid record of our work together.

By using an iPad, I had the opportunity to not only improve my efficiency and effectiveness, but to also serve as a model for other teachers for how they might use an iPad.  So I persevered and finally came up with a functional system.  I’ve been test-driving my new system for the past few weeks and I like it…a lot.  In case you’re an instructional coach (or teacher) wondering how you might use an iPad to support your work, I hope the ideas below will save you some time in “figuring it out.”

Notes Plus

Notes Plus is $7.99. There are less expensive handwriting apps also available.

I knew that I didn’t want to use a big, bulky laptop to take notes when in a classroom observation, so my first task was to find an app that would support handwriting.  After some thorough review, I narrowed my choices down to “Notes Plus” and “Ghostwriter”  I tried using consumer reviews and information on each of their websites, but I couldn’t make up my mind…so I bought both.  The plus of Ghostwriter is that you can upload your notes to Evernote.  This is one plus however compared to the many pluses in my mind of Notes Plus (no pun intentended). With Notes Plus your handwriting feels super smooth and natural.   You can also easily organize your notes into “Coaching Notebooks.”

My coaching notebooks organized in Notes Plus

Once I’ve collected notes from a classroom observation, I upload them to Google Docs where I create a folder for each teacher I work with.  Without making any adjustments, you can upload your notes in a PDF format and add them to your teacher folders for later use.  I like to do some editing of my notes before I debrief with teachers however, and I prefer for these notes I share to be typed.  In comes the “convert handwriting to text” feature of Notes Plus.  Yes, it’s an extra $1.99, but it’s pretty cool and a feature I definitely use.   During the debrief, I can easily add information from our discussion to this existing document.  This is then housed in my teacher created folder, which I share with them.  In doing this, there is no need to email the teacher your notes (which I sometimes forget to do).  It also ensures that you both have an organized system for storing, accessing, and using information collected during the coaching cycle to support your work.

My teacher folders in Google Docs on my laptop

My handwritten notes using Notes Plus

My notes after converting to text

I also use Notes Plus to take notes during other school meetings.  I store these notes in a “School Notes” notebook. (see photo above)

One last cool feature of Notes Plus is that you can take pictures during a classroom visit or walkthrough and add it straight into your notes to refer to later!


GoDocs is $4.99

As an add-on to Google Docs, GoDocs allows you to quickly and neatly manage your Google Docs on your iPad.  You don’t need this, but GoDocs leverages the iPad interface making it easier to work with your Google Doc files.   I love how well organized my files appear and how quickly I can access my docs.

My teacher folders organized in GoDocs


Evernote is free!

For keeping up with small chunks of information and taking more thorough notes, I turn to Evernote.  I have the Evernote app on my iPad, computer, and phone and it’s free!  I have one main “School Notebook” setup with different stacks, which allows me to organize my information more thoroughly than I can in Notes Plus.  While I still use Notes Plus as my primary teacher observation tool, I prefer Evernote for other teacher meetings, planning sessions, and jotting down quick ideas.

Evernote on my computer


Wunderlist is free!

Awhile back I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and because I’m always looking for new ways to stay organized and on top of things, I was immediately hooked.  I tried out his system with a paper notebook, which worked for awhile.  Then I came across Wunderlist…love it!  You can sync it across all of your devices and it’s completely free.  When I’m out and about in the building and something pops into my head, I immediately pull out my iPad and record it.  When I meet with a teacher and we discuss any actionable next steps, I can create a list and share it with the teacher so that we both remain accountable.  My lists are pretty simple, but you can make them as specific as you want.  Everything in Wunderlist is considered an “actionable” item.  If something comes to mind that I don’t need to take action on right away, I store it away for later in Evernote to reflect on when I have more time. 

Wunderlist on my iPad


Diggo is free!

Last, but not least, I would recommend adding Diggo to your collection of tools.  An easy way to think about Diggo is that it’s a smart bookmarking tool.  It allows you to highlight information on a certain web page and add personal notes.  You can the share these notes and highlights with others.  With the Diggo iPad app, you can quickly pull up your organized bookmarks to refer to when meeting with teachers.




Although the apps and ideas described above have worked for me, you may find an iPad system that works even better for you!  Please feel free to share how you have used the iPad to support the work you do as an instructional coach or teacher.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 Responses to “iPad for Instructional Coaches”

  1. Stephanie January 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Thanks for the suggestions. I have an iPad but have struggled with making it useful in my coaching. Do you use a stylus pen with the handwriting apps or just your finger? I’m looking forward to exploring more!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Kristin Houser January 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

      Hi Stephanie!
      I use a stylus which I definitely prefer over using my finger. I just can’t write quickly enough with my finger and it’s not very comfortable :) Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts and have fun!

  2. Ceri Taylor June 27, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    Thank you so much for all of this helpful information. This position is new to our district, and I am fortunate to have been hired as one. Would you recommend getting an external keyboard for the iPad?
    Cheri Taylor

    • Kristin Houser June 27, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      You are welcome Cheri! And congratulations on your new position!
      If you anticipate doing a fair amount of typing on your iPad, I would definitely invest in an external keyboard. Since I mainly used the stylus with mine I didn’t find the need for one, but I know several teachers who use their iPad as their primary computing device and their external keyboards serve them well.
      Good luck!

  3. Barbara Brown July 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Thanks for the tips on which apps have been helpful for you. You have given me a starting point-THANKS!!

  4. Kristin Houser July 23, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    You’re welcome Barbara! Don’t you love a good starting point :)


  5. Tara August 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Thanks for all of the great suggestions. I’m a part time coach and my goal this year is to do a better job at record keeping. Could I eliminate the NotesPlus app if I had a keyboard attached to my ipad and used Evernote? I’m just trying to figure out if there is a way to eliminate some of the apps and keep everything in one place??? My biggest needs are taking notes at meetings, jotting down notes during observations and having a list of action items/to do list that I can easily see so we don’t forget something. Thanks for all of your work and your willingness to share with others.

  6. Kristin Houser August 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Hi Tara!
    Yep, I think you would be just fine without NotesPlus. It’s personal preference really. If you want to go with just one app that serves a variety of purposes, I would probably go with Evernote. I’ve been using it for awhile now and really like it.

  7. Tami Lawrence August 31, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    I would love for you to touch base with me. We are a district just starting with instructional coaches and would appreciate just having someone with experience to talk with right now. P L E A S E

  8. Tammy October 14, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    WOW! I am our new district literacy specialist and a friend found you on Pintrest and share your information with me. This has been so helpful for me!!

  9. Lisa November 22, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Hi Everyone!

    Kristin, thanks for the app suggestions. Has anyone tried CamScanner? I have added this to my iPad because it is difficult to find a scanner sometimes in the buildings that I serve. While the iPad camera is awesome, there are some documents to which a picture does no justice. Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Cynthia Khoury August 31, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Thank you so much for the useful information! I was looking for some helpful forms for leaving feedback to teachers (I’m a math coach). The information about apps is great! I was thinking of getting an iPad myself. I had a district issued one, but we could only download free apps. I am bookmarking this page to refer to later. Great stuff.

    • Kristin Houser September 1, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Cynthia! And good luck this year :)

  11. Laurie October 5, 2014 at 8:27 am #


    I am new to coaching/mentoring this year and I’m enjoying your blog. :) Thank you.

    I bought the NotesPlus app and have been messing with it a bit. I’d like to know how your notes transferred to text so smoothly? I used the zoom-in box to write, but my notes were a lot of gibberish. Am I missing something?

    Do you have a special stylus to make you handwriting more precise?


    • Kristin Houser October 5, 2014 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Laurie!
      I don’t have a special stylus, and I’m not sure why you’re notes didn’t transfer smoothly. I haven’t been using that app for a little while now, as I’ve been taking more paper notes, so I unfortunately can’t offer specific advice. Maybe just keep messing with it…I usually figure out things that way too :)
      Good luck this year!

    • Wendy October 11, 2015 at 10:56 am #

      I love the Adonit Jot pro because I don’t like most of the tip on the typical stylus needed for the iPad.

  12. Tisha October 24, 2014 at 10:21 pm #


    I just tried finding the Notesplus app. Has anyone been able to find it lately?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Heather March 14, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

      I had to search for the two words together, no spaces. It’s now listed as $9.99. It looks to be a great app. I’ll have to check it out sometime.

  13. Kristin December 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Hi Kristin!

    What a great place to start with the iPad! I was thinking of recording parts of a lesson to use as reflection with teachers. I even was thinking it would be great to analyze and reflect on videos of student group work during classes. I love the idea of the apps you suggested as well!


  14. Heather March 14, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

    This is a great list! Thanks for sharing! Is the Diggo app you discuss the same as Diigo? Just wondering if there’s a difference.

  15. Lisa August 3, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    I am also just getting started with coaching… thanks for the links to the Apps. I just found that Notes Plus has a free download so you can try the handwriting feature to see if you like it before committing to the price! It’s called: Inkredible.


  1. There’s an App for That! | Learning is Growing - April 18, 2014

    […] iPad Apps for Instructional Coaches […]

  2. There’s an App for That! | Kathy Perret - February 4, 2015

    […] iPad Apps for Instructional Coaches […]

Leave a Reply