Guest Post: Climb Every Mountain!

Whether you’re a new coach or a seasoned veteran, data chats probably bring you mix of thrill and trepidation.  screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-42-09-pm

The thrilling part:  Seeing quantifiable data to prove our students are gaining new knowledge and skills to become proficient readers and problem-solvers.

The trepidation:  What to do with the mediocre or not-so-great news?!

Data, though immensely valuable, has taken on a larger-than-life place in education.  It has been misunderstood, misused, and abused by many.  This, unfortunately, has led to a variety of ill side effects, mainly skepticism, blaming and shaming teachers.

So how do we approach these conversations with compassionate honesty to move our students forward?  

The answer for our school was a mix of motivation, reflection, and action – and a WHOLE LOT of sticky notes.  


We try to start each PD or data chat with “positive vibes” just like we expect our teachers to do with their classes. But, it’s not just fluff.  We are strategic about incorporating “meat” in our positive messages. For our first data chat we focused on “Scaling the Summit” which has been our Superintendent’s theme.  We used inspiring quotations and added a personal message to let our staff know that our team is capable of elevating our school to “A” status.  Our guiding question was:  How can we strategically use our resources, strengths, and time to create proficient readers and problem solvers? This question sets up our focus to shift attention away from blame, shame, and deflecting and onto reflection and action.  


Instead of looking at broad numbers, percentages, or trends, we focused on individual students first.  Each teacher received a file folder with a red (at-risk), yellow (threshold), and green (mastery) section for English Language Arts and Math.  Next, they received 4am8q9uv-jpg-large-2sticky notes with their students’ names printed. They used copies of their data from our data system to sort their students on their folders.  Students on the verge of proficiency or nearing threshold levels were placed toward the top of their level.  Finally, we used a “Here’s What/So What/Now What” protocol (available here) to identify the data trends, what conclusions we could draw, and action steps to increase our class proficiency.  Everyone was able to share their reflections and brainstorm action steps.  

This data is revisited after the each benchmark assessment and teachers are able to move their stickies up/down based on their recent performance and reflect on success and identify opportunities for improvement.

About our Guest Author: Sarah Van Brimmer is a first-year literacy coach at Vero Beach Elementary in Indian River County. She is a mother, wife, teacher, and reader.  She can be reached at and on Twitter @svanbrimmer.

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