Looking at Data with a Coaching Cycle in Mind
Written by: Tim Daugherty
I was reading the other day and came upon this quote by W. Edwards Demmings, “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” This quote made me think about how many times as educators we may assume or use our “gut” to determine best instructional practices. Early on in my teaching career so many times that is exactly what I did. Not because I didn’t want to use data. I just did not know how. Many times our grade level would have data digs or data meetings and I would leave with a lot of terrific information, but I did not know how to put this information into practice. Thinking back, I wish I would have had an instructional coach to help support me in making informed instructional decisions, not just my opinion.
Data can be a powerful tool for understanding and improving various aspects within school districts, classrooms and beyond. Data in my school seems to have a dual nature – it can be a valuable asset for those who appreciate its ability to guide decisions and help make improvements; while for others, it may evoke discomfort or concern, especially if it’s perceived as a measure of personal or professional effectiveness. I do not know about your school. but mine, we often experience data overload. Always collecting it, but not sure how to use it effectively. The key is not just in collecting the data but in using it strategically to inform decisions and drive improvements.
“The key is not just in collecting the data but in using it strategically to inform decisions and drive improvements.”
Instructional coaches play a crucial role in helping teachers leverage data effectively for continuous improvement. First, coaches need to build a culture of trust. They must foster an open and non-judgmental space where the emphasis is on improvement rather than evaluation. Two ways to do this is:
- Build trust by always collaborating not seeming to be in charge, or have all the answers, but working together
- Demonstrate genuine interest in teachers’ perspectives, concerns, and experiences. Actively listen to their insights and feedback
This shows you value their input and are open to understanding their unique challenges and successes. It is hard, but I always try to never use phrases like; “When I was in the classroom…” “If it was me…” “You asked for help…” These phrases and others like them will hinder in building trustful relationships. This step cannot be skipped; building this culture of trust is a must to bring about true transformation.
After the trust is built, a necessary role of instructional coaches is using data to identify and address strengths and weaknesses within a school. Reviewing data at multiple levels, from the entire school down to individual classrooms, allows coaches to gain insights into the overall performance and areas that may need improvement. Data provides a comprehensive view of the educational landscape within a school. It allows coaches to understand how different grade levels and classrooms are performing, offering a holistic perspective on strengths and weaknesses. This understanding is important for you as the coach to plan your goals or next steps when looking at data.
Coaches can identify trends and patterns that may not be immediately apparent. This enables a proactive approach to addressing issues and capitalizing on strengths. I experienced this in our school when looking at data together with our first grade team. We realized that historically our first graders performed lowest in vocabulary when compared to other subcategories on our universal assessment. Realizing this, we understood more focus was needed in our tier one instruction on building vocabulary. After deciding we needed more focus on building vocabulary. One solution was the need for read-alouds to be re-introduced across the grade level, and, because of this, several coaching cycles transpired.
After analyzing is when coaches can play a pivotal role in designing and implementing professional development initiatives that target these areas of improvement. For example, a school I was working with noticed math scores on state assessments, the school’s universal assessments, and teacher classroom assessments were showing significantly lower performance rates when compared to surrounding schools and state averages and also compared to the school’s own ELA performance. This resulted in many different opportunities for coaching across several grade levels, from new curriculum study groups, analyzing tier 1 math instruction, the need for training on using math manipulatives.
Data helps coaches provide targeted support where it is most needed. Whether it’s addressing a specific curriculum area, teaching method, or student demographic, coaches can tailor their support to meet the unique needs identified through data analysis. Data also helps coaches to build responsive professional development. The weaknesses highlighted by data become opportunities for professional development. Coaches can design workshops, training sessions, or resources that directly address the identified areas for improvement, ensuring that professional development aligns with the specific needs of teachers and the school as a whole. I personally believe nothing is worse than professional development time being used for training that the majority of teachers do not see a need for. Administrators need to plan PD with their instructional coaches because coaches have insight into what teachers are asking for at the moment or what is needed across the school.
“Data helps coaches provide targeted support where it is most needed.”
Data analyzing provides opportunities for collaborative problem-solving. The process of reviewing data fosters collaboration among educators. It creates a shared understanding of challenges and encourages a collaborative approach to problem-solving. Coaches can facilitate these collaborative efforts, fostering a sense of collective responsibility for improvement. This collaborative spirit will help build an attitude of every student is each teacher’s responsibility regardless of their grade level. Coaches can facilitate this because they see all grade levels and can help teachers develop unique perspectives of the entire school or several grade level bands when trying to problem solve.
Data analysis is an ongoing process. Coaches should be continuously monitoring data trends to assess the impact of interventions, curriculum, school-wide initiatives and adjust strategies as needed. This iterative approach contributes to a culture of continuous improvement. Coaches, more than anyone else in the building, see the school’s data as representing what the next steps or goals should be. This allows the coach to reach out to teachers or grade levels based on what the data is showing. I love when as a coach a teacher really desires to become better in an area but struggles with knowing what data to look at. Simply, helping collect the right data and collaborating on how to interpret the data will bring excitement to the teacher and to you as the coach!
Most importantly, through data analysis and targeted support, coaches empower teachers with the information and resources they need to enhance their instructional practices. This collaboration helps build a culture of professional growth and learning. The thoughtful analysis of data by instructional coaches is instrumental in identifying areas for improvement and developing strategies for school-wide enhancement. It’s a dynamic process that requires ongoing collaboration, responsiveness, and a commitment to using data as a tool for positive change in education. Many times after collaborating with teachers to plan a coaching cycle, teachers become emboldened to try new approaches because of what the data conveys. This is one of the most exciting effects of coaching educators is when you see their passion and pedagogy increase. So the next time you look at data, keep in mind how it may direct you to your next coaching cycle.