The Importance of Being a Data-Informed Leader

Data-Informed… Not Data-Driven

It has always bothered me to hear people talk about being data-driven. Recently, I  even heard the term “data-driven culture.” Seriously? Who wants to live in that type of culture? Clearly, data is critical, and we don’t have enough of it. This blog is about why we need more data on coaching, but let’s keep data in the proper perspective. I hope that leaders are using data to inform decisions rather than using data as a driver of decisions and especially not as a driver of culture. As I tell my team, data is a starting point to help you ask the right questions and solve problems that are real. However, data should not be in the driver’s seat. Real leadership means using data, experience, intuition, and context to create elegant solutions and make wise decisions.

Coaching is Catching On!

I am excited that so many districts are implementing coaching. From the very beginning of e2L in 2011, we took the stance that we would not waste taxpayer dollars; therefore, we will turn down business rather than provide training without coaching. Research shows that training without coaching only transfers to implementation at a rate of 5%, but training with coaching transfers to implementation at a rate near 95% (Joyce & Showers, 2002). Additionally, according to The Effect of Teacher Coaching on Instruction and Achievement, recently published by Brown University: “Effects on achievement also are larger than pooled estimates from 27 causal studies of almost all other school-based interventions reviewed by Fryer (2017) including student incentives, teacher pre-service training, merit-based pay, general PD, data-driven instruction, and extended learning time,” (Kraft, Blazar, & Hogan). I am excited that leaders are using this research to make decisions because it means that all dollars (estimated at $8 billion annually) spent on professional learning has a chance to make a difference. That difference can impact learners’ lives and public education as a whole through talent transformation.

Where’s the Data?

Here are the challenges that we have now that so many districts are implementing coaching. 

  • Is coaching being implemented in a way to get these results?  
  • Is it being treated like the powerful tool that it is? 
  • Is it being studied and defined precisely and iterated in order to improve it? 
  • Is it being documented?  Most leaders with whom I visit outside of our partner districts say that they do not have a way to know what is actually happening. I recently saw data on student performance and accountability ratings shared and credited to a particular coaching model without any data having been collected and analyzed on the actual coaching. 
    • How many conversations led to those increases? 
    • How many observations? 
    • What was the content of the coaching process? 
    • What were the coaching standards? 
    • Which teachers or leaders grew the most? 
    • Was the growth from coaching for adults correlated to the increases in scores for learners? If no data is collected or if it collected in separate locations, then nobody really knows. 

It is like going on a trip and not taking any pictures. Would we consider taking a trip without documenting it? If you did, it would be fun while it lasted, but there would be no record to remind you of any of it. You might remember the experience, but you wouldn’t have the details, and it would be more challenging to communicate about the trip to others. Or, to apply a metaphor closer to home, would we have students learn lessons for a week without documenting any progress or needs for growth?

Coaching is a good thing, but with so many definitions and so many ways to do it, we need more data to analyze in order to decide what works best. Everyone I talk to has a different definition. Some think of it as just talking, providing resources, or problem-solving. Others are using a model they have read about in a book. Still, others are using it to create “robots” of teachers who can follow scripted strategies. With the money that we are now investing in coaching positions and coaching resources, we need to be sure that investment is done well! We need to document what we are doing, so the value is not limited to the moment. We need to have more data to be able to analyze. We need to be able to define what works so that people can make wise decisions, and we can truly use coaching to build capacity within the education profession that will outlive the latest trends.

Coaching Done Well at Scale

Finally, we need to ensure that we are only satisfied with tools and options for coaching that can be replicated at scale. Since we know that the power of coaching is available and right for every person, we need to ensure that the solutions we choose are only those solutions that can be provided within the current context of time and money constraints. For example, the lengthy coaching cycle that includes multiple observations and conferences per strategy for one teacher might be effective, but it is not scalable. Research has proven that this type of coaching cycle is not affordable over time for everyone (source).

As a leader, ask the questions that will ensure you get the results you are promising – from the coaching your stakeholders are supporting through taxpayer dollars. To continue to justify coaching positions, accurate and solid data on the coaching process is critical. 

We are providing a webinar series that defines the five components of coaching done well from what we have learned from our data coaching 75,000 educators and the data we have collected in our coaching platform, eSUITE. We have respected coaching and the investment in it from the beginning and collected data to prove what works we have been able to use the data to iterate our processes over time. For example, we have reports in eSuite that show how many coaching sessions it takes to get teacher growth and have been able to correlate that to student growth. We also know which type of coaching touch yields the highest results. Educators need more data. I challenge everyone who is providing coaching, providing coaching training, providing coaching books, and contributing to this movement to enhance professional learning and the outcomes of professional learning through coaching to take the next step and begin to provide data that can ensure that wherever coaching is happening, it is coaching done well. 

5 Critical Coaching Components:

  1. Codified Standards
  2. Evidence-Based Conversations
  3. Personalized Pathways
  4. Layered Coaching
  5. Tracking Systems

Follow the engage2learn (e2L) blogs for more information on this topic and others to help guide your mission.


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