Coaching, Data, and Practice Builds a Winning Team

by Dr. Joe Davis

If you watch professional football, baseball, or basketball, you expect to see the coach on the sidelines. In fact, it would be strange not to see the coach, right? The coach is there guiding the quarterback or other players throughout the game. Sometimes, the coach can be heard giving direction during the play or after a play has ended. If we expect to see coaches with players at the top of their field in sports, why do we seem resistant to see coaching in education. If pro athletes benefit from good coaching, surely our educators can benefit from good coaching as well.

In the Ferguson-Florissant School District we have embraced the lessons from Elena Aguilar’s The Art of Coaching. We know that we have great teachers in our schools, but we also know that we have significant work to do if we are to provide a great and equitable education for all of our students. We are opening up our practices, so they are no longer silos of education but connected and collaborative environments where we learn from and guide each other. All across the nation, classrooms tend to be isolated. Teachers go in and close the door. Administrators hope for the best and gauge teacher performance based on a few isolated observations and student performance on a few high-stakes tests.

Turning principals and teachers loose without a strong game plan is a disservice to those educators. However, with some focused coaching rooted in research and data-based practice, our teachers can create an environment where all students flourish.

This is just one aspect of the Framework for Powerful Results and our focus on the Instructional Core of student, teacher, and content. A second significant aspect of our focus on supporting what happens in the classroom is our use of data to guide teaching and learning, so students master content rather than just preparing for a test. Our goal is not to produce great test takers. Our goal is to provide a high quality education so that all, and I mean all, of our students can experience success in a college or university. Not all of our students may choose to attend a college or university, but we want them to have the option if they so choose. Too many students have been reaching graduation

without truly being prepared for life beyond high school. Our data strategists pore over a variety of data and use that information to inform their coaching in the schools. Principals and teachers working with their coaches use the data cycle to guide practice. As we examine our data, we realize that our students desperately need additional instruction toward improving reading comprehension.

We have adopted a powerful practice of Close Reading. Our data strategists and Instructional Leadership Teams have focused on reading for deeper learning, and Close Reading is the tool we’re using. Close Reading is a process where students engage challenging text over multiple readings with a different focus each time. This practice will build reading comprehension skills that will carry over to other courses and prepare the student for future success. But, how do we know that this practice is being implemented with fidelity and across the school? Our ILTs regularly practice educational rounds, much like a team of medical professionals conduct hospital rounds to work together as thought partners to accurately diagnose and treat a variety of medical conditions. Our ILTs conduct those rounds or walkthroughs and this opening up the classroom creates another opportunity for coaching based on actual performance.

All of these elements combine to create an opportunity for our students and teachers to field a winning team. Without a comprehensive transformative approach to our educational practice we will not see the results our students need for life-long success. We are not interested in reforming a system that doesn’t serve all students well. We are interested in transforming a system so all students succeed. We are doing this work as One District United!