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.


She blinded me with science!

Many instructional coaches are learning the science of data work.  This work can be time decisionsconsuming, tedious, and often more valued by administrators than teachers. This work can also be overwhelming, as more and more data sources are available each year.  To help alleviate these concerns, develop a data plan with your adminstrators and teachers.  It may help to consider the following:

  • More data is always better, until you have too much.  As the coach, you may need to be the Goldilocks of data. What’s too much, what’s too little, what’s just right?
  • Present data in as simple a form as possible, but not simpler.  As much as I love a beautiful spreadsheet, data presentation is an art, not just a science. It’s the art of communicating data in the way that makes the most impact.
  • Data needs a face. We need to remember that our data is not about the weather, it’s about our students. Whenever possible, use student names or even pictures when working with data.
  • Use data that’s worth it.  What data sources are both effective and efficient?

So, what data is “worth it”? Consider using the E vs. E graphic organizer (available on our Help Yourself! page). This tool will guide your discussion about each data source regarding Effectiveness versus Efficiency.  Ideally, every data source would fall in Quadrant I: Highly Effective and Highly Efficient. When you find data sources that fall in Quadrant II or IV, your discussion can then move to improving on the area of weakness.  If you find your discussion regarding particular data sources centers in Quadrant III, some serious change may be needed.

Summing up (see what I did there?), educators need good data. We need data sources and processes that are both effective and efficient. Instructional coaches need to guide others to a future where we all not only say:

“In God we trust; all others must bring data (W. Edwards Deming).”

But we also say:

In data we trust, but only if it’s worth it.