“As we look at how we allocate funds to meet teachers’ needs, we knew we needed to be more consistent in how we captured data about professional development.”
The Midwestern community of Fort Osage in Missouri has been using KickUp to track coaches’ time and feedback so that they, in turn, can better support the district’s teachers in keeping up with students’ evolving needs.
Named for a former military outpost and trading site nearby that dates back to the Lewis & Clark expedition, the Fort Osage R-1 School District outside of Kansas City, Missouri serves students from the surrounding rural, suburban, and urban communities. Although the vast majority of Fort Osage students are white, more than half are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
With a wide range of student needs across its schools, Fort Osage has been trying to figure out how to prepare new teachers for the unique challenges they will face in this sprawling community – while also helping more experienced teachers grapple with the evolving needs of students and the Fort Osage community.
For instance, many of the district’s teachers – including those who have recently graduated from one of the area’s university-based teacher training programs, which is the district’s main talent pipeline – are unprepared to teach literacy using the science of reading, says Emily Cross, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services. This squares with what the National Council on Teacher Quality has found in Missouri and many other states: most of the state’s teacher preparation programs still aren’t teaching the reading methods most likely to be effective with the highest number of students.
What’s more, Fort Osage administrators have noticed that their new teachers struggle with addressing the high numbers of students who come in and out of its classrooms throughout the year. The district has a 15 percent mobility rate – far lower than some of the state’s urban districts, but that still means hundreds of students transfer in and out of classrooms over the course of the school year, which is taxing on teachers. “You have to learn your kids quickly and onboard them so you can maximize their learning time,” adds Cross.
In particular, she and her colleagues have noticed that their new teachers are adept at planning and delivering an individual lesson, but struggle to move students toward proficiency over the course of the year. “Newer teachers need a lot of collaborative support to understand big ideas and how we’re going to get there in terms of planning units of instruction and designing backwards,” agrees Erica Wood, an instructional coach at the district’s Fire Prairie Upper Elementary which enrolls 800 students in fifth and sixth grades.
Finally, as in so many other districts, Fort Osage is trying to figure out how to ensure that teachers and leaders have consistent professional learning experiences across the district so that students have continuity as they move from the district’s elementary schools into its middle and high schools.
To bring greater consistency and quality to instruction, during the 2019-2020 school year, Fort Osage began to search for a tool for capturing data about its professional learning activities, including the way its eight instructional coaches are spending their time. “We just did not have common structures or clarity on how coaches were spending their time,” says Wood. “Different coaches were developing different systems for how they did that, and there was not a consistent system or venue for providing feedback.”
“As we look at how we allocate funds to meet teachers’ needs, we knew we needed to be more consistent in how we captured data about professional development, including what’s offered by external vendors and what we do internally throughout the year,” adds Cross.
Tracking their time has also been beneficial for Fort Osage coaches. “KickUp has added a layer of accountability and allows us to have objective conversations about how time is spent,” says Wood. When reviewing her own KickUp data, Wood noticed that she was spending a lot of time on classroom management and routines. “That tells me I need to focus on more professional development in those areas, rather than just in individual coaching,” she reflects.
Teachers also provide feedback on their coaches twice a year, and coaches use that feedback to develop individual goals and determine whether they are spending their time in service of those goals, adds Wood. Cross notes that this feedback has also helped to frame for new coaches what their responsibilities are and how they can and should support teachers, illuminating the need for better on-boarding for those coaches that haven’t had the benefit of many years to build relationships with the teachers at their school site.
Fort Osage administrators say they now consider coaches a more integral part of the district’s professional development offerings, and have noticed greater consistency across coaches and schools. “Now that we track coaches’ time across the building, how we are spending that time, and who is benefitting from that, we are able to have conversations at the district level about how we all spend that time,” says Wood.
These district conversations have led Fort Osage leaders to reallocate resources. When school-based instructional technology coaches found that they were doing more technology support than actual coaching, the district decided to move those coaches from into district-level instructional coaching roles.
Next year, Fort Osage leaders will begin to use KickUp to help calibrate school leader and teacher leader observations of effective teaching practices so they can use common language in their walkthroughs, in providing feedback to teachers, and in developing professional learning that responds to their needs.
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