Educators are exposed to a wide range of rich data and need to be able to discern their usefulness. When you think about data, what usually comes to mind are numbers, graphs, percentages, etc., presented with little context, and at times, with even less clarity. Some of the data may appear to be irrelevant or redundant to teachers or administrators; this can make it difficult for them to make meaning of the data and use it to inform their teaching or administrative practices.
The role of the educational coach is to mediate thinking. Mediation is stepping in between educators and their thinking by filtering, amplifying and extending their thought processes to better inform their decisions as it pertains to interpreting data. Data drives the educational coach in a coaching conversation. The coach is clear that there are qualitative and quantitative data that would benefit from mediation.
There are two ways in which coaches use data in coaching conversations. One way, qualitative, is to use the coaching skill of asking effective questions to assist teachers in using data to inform their practice. For example, asking probing-for-specificity questions allows the coach to challenge assessments, which is asking for data to support an opinion or judgment. A clarifying question assists the coachee in surfacing the meaning he/she attributes to language in the data that may have multiple meanings and interpretations. An inquiry question may be asked by the coach to extend thinking or explore a hunch about the implications of the data. These three types of questions greatly assist the coachee in understanding and interpreting the data to improve practice and make changes in their instruction.
The second way coaches use data, quantitative, is as a mechanism for feedback. Coaches use a structured model for feedback called Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) that uses the quantitative data gathered after an agreed upon observation to enter the coaching conversation. Coaches understand that change in practice does not occur without a change in thought. Conversation around the data is essential for teachers to understand what the data means.
An additional way that a coach uses quantitative data in the coaching conversation is referred to as “third point” wherein the data is placed in a neutral point (space) where the two parties can observe the data together. Third point is nonjudgmental, without blame, in a nonthreatening space. When the coachee reviews the data they come to their own conclusion as to the data’s meaning. (“Oh, fifteen of my students fared poorly. I’m surprised!”). This frees the coachee to have an open conversation with the coach to design strategies for action.
Mediating thinking through skilled coaching is a powerful strategy to build capacity within others and, ultimately, to create lasting improvements in teaching practice. The use of data is one avenue to enrich the coaching conversation.