In medicine, there’s something called the “mind-body connection.” The idea is to not only treat a patient’s physical health, but also consider other more subjective aspects of well-being.
For teachers, it can be easy to slip into analyzing a student’s growth or potential just through numbers or by what is observed while the student is in just one classroom a day. Using Race to the Top funds, Delaware schools are taking on a national trend in “data coaching” by meeting in small groups of staff to not only talk about grades and test scores, but also share teaching successes and failures and behavior reports in the hopes of cracking the code for student success.
“This year we are full-blown,” Daniel Cruce, Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) deputy secretary /chief of staff, said of the data coaching program. Last year the program was piloted in a few schools before being fully implemented this year.
The coaching takes place in weekly meetings with “Professional Learning Communities” (PLCs) when teachers meet in groups according to academic subject, grade level or even with a particular student in mind. PLCs meet once or twice a week, for a total of at least 90 minutes each week.
Race to the Top grants are funding the program to the tune of $8.2 million for two years and Delaware selected Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Wireless Generation to provide data coaches. While the coaches are Wireless Generation employees, DDOE has had final approval on each hire. These coaches visit schools twice a month.
There is 100 percent participation across the state in the program, but there are two models from which schools can choose. In the “coach the coach” model, Wireless Generation coaches train school staff to facilitate the PLCs while the outside coaches supervise the work.
“Direct Facilitation” is the other option; the outside coaches take on a more hands-on role. Wireless Generation coaches are facilitating the PLCs directly to get staff up to speed on using both the hard numbers and colleagues’ best practices to improve student growth.
Administrators made their choices based on a number of considerations, said Donna Lee Mitchell, deputy officer for the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit at DDOE.
“Some schools that have been using PLCs for years and have a very effective data driven cultures chose Direct Facilitation while other schools who may not be as data savvy and don’t have a long history of collaborative planning implemented Coach the Coach,” Mitchell said. “Some did so to build capacity to sustain the project beyond Race to the Top.”
There is no longer the number crunching of how Johnny scored on this math test or how many times he was absent this month. It’s now about attitude and comparing Johnny’s performance in Language Arts class to Social Studies class. Teachers discuss methods they use for better results with a particular student and whether that method can work for more than one curriculum.
Data coaching is not a new concept, said Victoria C. Gehrt, superintendent of New Castle County Vocational Technical (NCCVT) School District. Originally it started specifically with literacy and math coaching. Now those concepts have shifted to encompass data.
“You want to analyze what the teachers are doing and collaborate,” Gehrt said. “You look at objective data, but you get deeper.”
NCCVT was one of the pilot programs last year and uses the “coach the coach” model.
“To me (the coach the coach) model is sustainable,” she said. “If we’re going to do something in the district, it has to be sustainable. It’s providing the professional development our folks need when it comes to perfecting our programs.”