How Teacher Growth Leads to School Improvement

Testing season is upon us, and while most schools are dreading test results after this year of teaching through crisis, some schools feel that testing couldn’t come soon enough. Why is this? 

Since 2017, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has issued a school report card with A-F ratings based on the State Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test. TEA considers three domains before determining a rating: 1.) Student Achievement, 2.) School Progress, and 3.) Closing the Gaps. If a school receives an F rating in any of the three domains on the TEA school report card, then they are labeled Improvement Required and are mandated to create a plan for growth.  

Campuses that received an Improvement Required rating on the 2019 STAAR test have been working tirelessly to improve their schools in hopes of removing the IR label on the 2020 STAAR assessment. However, because of the pandemic, that test never happened. This meant that those schools would go into the 2020-2021 school year with the same undesirable status.  

There are many approaches that campuses can take in response to an IR rating, and both Arlington ISD’s Short Elementary and Abilene ISD’s Reagan and Lee Elementary recognized the value of investing in teacher growth for student improvement and sustainability. When they chose to partner with engage2learn, they took two different but effective approaches to supporting teachers and knew they would have to continue the momentum into the current school year – even through a pandemic.

Campus-Wide Teacher Coaching

Short Elementary School, Arlington ISD

Economically disadvantaged Short Elementary School in Arlington ISD was charged with making significant gains in student data after receiving another Improvement Required label and being one of the lowest performing elementary schools in Arlington. The district partnered with engage2learn to support their low-performing schools with campus-wide coaching during the 2019-2020 school year. Those schools would receive seven one-on-one coaching sessions focusing on the research-based High Yield Best Practices throughout the course of the school year.  

As the engage2learn teacher coach at Short, I was able to facilitate coaching sessions on campus for three consecutive days each month. In between sessions, I was able to do classroom visits, debrief with teachers and the leadership team, model lessons, and facilitate workshops after school.  

Katina Martinez was entering her second year as principal of Short and was determined to make it a turn-around campus. Improving Tier 1 instruction was the ultimate goal. Coaching was essential, and she ensured that every scheduled coaching session happened without conflict and arranged time to debrief with me at the close of each coaching week. Consistent communication with the principal and campus instructional coaches proved to be highly valuable in aligning teacher and campus goals and in celebrating teacher growth. As part of their recognition system, teachers displayed Best Practice badges that they were earning during coaching sessions outside of their doorways, which contributed to the positive culture that Short was working hard to achieve and evidence that Tier 1 instruction was improving in classrooms.

By the time district Common Assessments were given, teachers had been coached on only 2 of the 7 Best Practices but were already showing double digit gains in all three domains. Short Elementary was projected to move from an F to a B on the TEA school report card in less than one year, proving that personalized coaching was making a big difference.

Like everyone else, Short was closed in March of 2020, forcing teachers to move from in-person instruction to virtual. However, this transition was not as difficult for the staff at Short as it was for other campuses.  

“When my teachers had to go into shutdown, they were so well prepared,” Mrs. Martinez reflected. “They had utilized Seesaw and Canvas, they were doing (digital) Choice Boards and varied activities that were focused on Best Practice.”

However, when the announcement came that STAAR would not take place, teachers and administrators knew that despite their growth they would remain an IR campus for another year. Nevertheless, Mrs. Martinez didn’t give up. Instead, she and her teachers were resilient in the face of adversity. She knew that she had to keep the momentum going and advocated for another year of campus-wide coaching on the e2L Best Practices for Blended Learning.  

As the coach, I noticed a tremendous difference in the level of implementation of Best Practices in teachers that were in year two of coaching. During the first year of coaching, teachers were working to understand and implement Best Practices at a basic level, but by the second year of coaching they really began making connections to what their classrooms would look like if Best Practices were implemented at a deeper level.  

Not only are teachers at Short working to close previous gaps in student achievement, but as a result of COVID-19, they are also challenged with mitigating learning loss. They know that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work and mitigate learning loss by creating Buerk Rubrics and scaffolding assessment questions to pinpoint exactly where each student is and to differentiate appropriately. In almost every classroom students are able to identify which rubric level they are on, what their goal is, and know which Choice Board resources to utilize to support their growth while teachers are facilitating data-based small groups.  

Students practice autonomy through leveled choice boards and take exit tickets when they feel ready to level up.

“Our teachers are growing, they’re feeling successful, and they’re trying new things,” Mrs. Martinez said. “It goes completely into the classroom in that students are learning, students are succeeding, and they’re trying things in a different way.”  

At engage2learn, we believe that when teachers are growing, students are growing, and Short Elementary is proving us right.

Unit Design Days

Reagan Elementary, Abilene ISD

Lee Elementary, Abilene ISD

Both Lee Elementary and Reagan Elementary in Abilene ISD were labeled Improvement Required on the TEA school report card following the 2019 administration of the STAAR test. Like Short Elementary, these economically disadvantaged schools are also fighting to rid themselves of the IR label and are putting in the work to get that done.

Abilene ISD made the decision to partner with engage2learn by providing campus coaching for their Improvement Required campuses in an effort to increase student achievement through the implementation of e2L Best Practices in January of 2020. Teachers would receive six coaching touches by engage2learn coaches to target Tier 1 instruction that would result in increased assessment scores for all learners.

However, in response to the pandemic, schools remained closed after Spring Break, and Reagan and Lee also found themselves left with an Improvement Required label going into the 2020-2021 school year.  Both campuses, piloted by goal-oriented, visionary leaders, recognized that teachers were going to need both coaching and planning time to get the results that they wanted during this unprecedented year.  Teachers were tasked with facilitating both in-person and virtually, and the gift of collaborative planning time was well-received.

When thinking about how to best spend funding this year, Leslye Roberts, principal at Reagan Elementary, shared: “We chose to use our money for Unit Design Days so that teachers would have time to analyze standards for a deeper understanding and to intentionally plan and create pre-assessments, leveled rubrics, differentiated activities, and common formative assessments.”  

Lee and Reagan teachers were given six half-days throughout the year to plan instruction together as engage2learn facilitated the process. Teachers collaborated in grade-alike or content-alike groups and took a deep dive into the upcoming Essential Standards by creating Buerk Rubrics (standards aligned rubrics) and aligned assessments to track student mastery. Unit Design Days were focused on very specific e2L Best Practices that yield high results: Standards Alignment, Assessment/Formative Feedback, Differentiation/Scaffolding, and Small Group Instruction. It was evident that teachers were transferring the Design Day work into their classrooms, and both campuses landed on the district leaderboard for earned Best Practice Badges.

After benchmark data was collected, teachers were able to use Unit Design Days to track student mastery on Essential Standards and create new facilitation plans targeting student needs. Teachers reflected that it was a whole new way of looking at data. “We know our student needs better,” Mrs. Roberts shared, “we know our standards better because of the work that we’ve done and the time that we’ve taken to look into that data.”

When asked for feedback on the success of the Design Days from a teacher perspective, 100% of teachers agreed that protected time for instructional planning, the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, and the alignment of the design work to Best Practices was invaluable.  

“I earned a differentiation badge this year, and that’s something I’m really proud of,” third grade teacher Corina Saldana said. The Unit Design Days were a big part of implementing differentiation in the classroom. “What’s so exciting is that through my learning, my students are also showing growth, and I can see that with their data.” 

Lee and Reagan teachers have the opportunity to collaborate with each other to create rubrics and assessments.

Leading Through Adversity

In A Beautiful Constraint, Adam Morgan and Mark Barden state, “The most effective leaders zoom out to see the big picture, stay true to their values, and see the opportunity to change. And, they invest in their people as the most important asset.” That’s exactly what these three campuses chose to do: invest in their teachers to give them what they need.

If you want to learn more about how growing teachers leads to student growth, visit  4 Reasons Why Personalized Coaching Matters! by Luz Martinez as she proves that personalized coaching support is worth investing in. If coaching sounds like something that your district could benefit from, check out engage2learn’s services to start a partnership today!

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