Five Strategies for Data-Driven Instructional Coaching

Just as teachers need data to most effectively support students, instructional coaches need data to support their teachers. We recently spoke with Paola Valdivia, Manager of Teacher Leadership Development (MTLD) in Teach For America’s Southern Louisiana region, about how she uses data to support first- and second-year teachers, called corps members. Regardless of the grade-level, experience-level, or content-area of the teachers you support, or the school in which they teach, we think these strategies for data-driven instructional coaching will help.

teachers collaborating adapted from image by flickr user sbeez

1. Root goals in data.

One of Paola’s biggest priorities as a MTLD is helping her corps members set ambitious, feasible, and research-based goals for student achievement in their classrooms. Because some of these goals are rooted in data (e.g. “Students’ reading levels will grow an average of 1.6 grades”), Paola is able to support corps members as they develop and execute plans to achieve these goals by monitoring student data.

2. Establish clear expectations for giving assessments and submitting data.

Paola’s corps members give an assessment every month and enter their data in Kickboard by the first of the following month. She is able to track submissions using her dashboard, which shows each teacher’s standards mastery, how frequently assessments have been given, and the date of the most recent assessment, all for each course they teach. By establishing this routine, she ensures that corps members are giving assessments every month and that she regularly receives updates on how they are tracking towards their goals.

3. Let teachers know where they stand relative to their goals.

After she analyzes her corps members’ data, she sends each one an individual email letting them know how far along they are towards reaching the goals they set at the beginning of the school year.

4. Help teachers increase their own effectiveness in reaching their goals by teaching them to use data for problem solving.

When Paola and her corps members look at their assessment data together, she teaches them to ask the right questions so they can identify interventions. A few examples:

  • What were the state standards their students did well on?
  • Where did they struggle?
  • What types of students were struggling?
  • Are the same students always struggling?
  • What’s happening to standards mastery when you look at objectives with higher Bloom’s verbs?
  • Are you asking the right questions in class?
  • Should any students receive pull-outs during class time to receive individual or small-group support?

5. Help teachers understand what they should be tracking.

For some teachers, the topics that they need to track are cut-and-dry, particularly for tested courses in which teachers receive lots of documentation about how students will be evaluated. However, for other courses, this is more ambiguous. Paola explains it like this: if you had to give mid-terms in two weeks, how would you figure out how to review? What are the discrete topics that you would need to cover? What are the major skills or pieces of knowledge that your kids have to walk away from the course with? This helps teachers identify the specific topics that they will need to track and unpack vague or broad standards. To invest them in this process, she explains that getting a C on a unit test wouldn’t help you figure out exactly where students have struggled, and therefore how to allocate review time. It is only by looking at how they’ve performed on these specific skills and topics that you can know how to help them prepare.


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