KIPP San Antonio comprises five schools that serve nearly 1,900 students from kindergarten through college. Their growing network of charters focuses on rigorous curriculum, college preparation, and a culture of continuous academic improvement.
TeachBoost works with KIPP regions and schools across the U.S. to support their observation, coaching, and professional growth programs. We began our partnership with KIPP San Antonio in September of 2013.
By the start of the 2014-15 school year, KIPP San Antonio had already established a strong culture of collaboration and ongoing professional growth for all educators. Their observation and coaching model, however, was ready for a revamp.
There was no single system for setting goals, creating action plans, conducting walkthroughs, or managing and tracking every step in the process. “School leaders were documenting notes any way that felt comfortable, using those notes to inform a one-on-one coaching session with the teacher, creating an action step, and moving on,” says Jeff Price, former Director of Teaching Practices. That made it incredibly hard to calibrate feedback across the network.
“If, for example, we considered rigorous questioning as a goal, I needed data to confirm we needed help in that area,” says Price. “Then I had to be able to answer the questions: Who are the folks who are already doing that well? How can we leverage and elevate them? I needed more than an instinct or a feeling; I needed to be able to look at the data and see what it tells us.”
Seeking feedback from teachers and leaders on how to improve their schools’ practices, Price realized he already had a platform with the capability to address and resolve many of the issues that surfaced: TeachBoost.
TeachBoost was already in use as the network’s observation tool, helping to document and track the observation and feedback process. But Price saw its greater potential, envisioning a threefold role for the platform:
To achieve his goals, Price determined to leverage all TeachBoost has to offer. As a comprehensive instructional leadership platform, TeachBoost
For Price’s staff, it was the instructional coaching benefits that tipped the scales. “The ability to manage every step in our coaching cycle really appealed to everyone,” recalls Price. “We were able to use our rubrics, which are embedded throughout the platform, as a common language. It provided a great foundation for coaching conversations.”
School leaders could now document what they saw in the classroom, align their evidence to a teacher’s goals, then use the rubric to give reliable and consistent feedback. “For example,” says Price, “I could say to a teacher ‘I saw that you gave a really clear behavioral expectation for the students and checked for expectations, but you only stated academic expectations once and let the kids go. Let’s look at what the rubric says—it says communicate expectations clearly and consistently. So let’s work on consistency for now.’”
With that common language at the ready in TeachBoost, KIPP San Antonio’s educators could quickly, easily, and reliably track their growth over time. Price adds, “I have the ability to say, ‘This is where you were, this is where you are. This is where and when I saw it.’”
Brad Tarrance, a KIPP San Antonio school leader, agrees: “My teachers and administrative team love that formal observations and informal walkthroughs are aggregated into a single platform. TeachBoost integrated multiple systems that once operated in isolation. Now, observers look at a teacher’s profile and goals before they start an observation so that the visit is focused and feedback is streamlined. And teachers see the individual bits of feedback they receive, but can also take a more holistic view of their development over time.”
TeachBoost has had far-reaching effects for every educator in the region.
“TeachBoost has given us an entry point with every single coach,” says Matt Neal, KIPP San Antonio’s Chief Talent Officer. “It allows us to document classroom visits and coaching sessions, and then refer to them again and again in future discussions. We pull up TeachBoost and review the data together. Coaches can meet everybody where they are because we have a common language with the rubric, and now a common tool. ”
Across the network, on average each teacher is observed more than ten times a year. "We pull up TeachBoost and review the data together," says Neal. "I can meet everybody where they are because we have a common language with the rubric, and now a common tool.”
TeachBoost helped administrators meet the network’s ambitious goals for observations and coaching:
During the 2014-15 school year, KIPP San Antonio school leaders completed more than 1,400 classroom observations on TeachBoost.
In addition, coaches measure their own effectiveness more than ever before. Price offered an example of a coach who was unsure of their impact on instructional practices, but upon reviewing TeachBoost data and seeing a year of growth in their teachers, they had to laugh. “The growth was significant,” says Price. “We wouldn’t have been able to see the whole picture like that without TeachBoost.”
Teachers receive critical and constructive feedback on a regular basis. At Tarrance's school, KIPP Camino, school leaders visited every classroom between 18 and 40 times over the course of the 2014-15 school year. From the network's perspective, there are three clear benefits:
Teachers take advantage of the instant two-way feedback channel, logging in, reviewing their data, and requesting more targeted support. “For example,” says Price, “a teacher will say, ‘I’m working on a particular math goal and having a hard time, can you ask the math coach to come in and observe?’ This is only possible with TeachBoost.”
Teachers also spot anomalies in the data and press for more information. “When teachers notice a difference between their formal and informal ratings, they ask questions and seek more feedback,” says Tarrance. “This is yet another way TeachBoost helps all educators track and calibrate feedback.”
Small tweaks and big changes are in store for the 2015-16 school year.
Network leaders will use TeachBoost Insight reports like the Teacher Competency Matrix to fine-tune their practices and help school leaders pick their PD focus for the year. “We are able to shine a light on region-wide trends, both positive and negative,” says Neal. “If there are pockets of excellence within schools, we can easily examine what they’re doing differently, then create a plan for scaling those practices.”
Coaches will get a chance to hone their skills as well. “I’ll be working with our instructional leaders to improve observation practices, focusing specifically on observation frequency and the quality of feedback.”
From Tarrance’s perspective, “the most exciting enhancement is that we’re adding a video component to our quarterly observations. We’ll continue to script lessons, but by supplementing the script with video, teachers will have the chance to review their own practice and self-reflect in advance of our post-observation conferences.”
Finally, during the 2015-16 school year, school leaders will use TeachBoost data to determine a teacher’s level of autonomy over their respective professional development stipends.
As a supplement to the PD given region-wide, each teacher is allotted a supplemental budget for their own development. Using the metric of growth over time, Price’s team will use TeachBoost to assign each teacher to a PD tier. As teachers advance through the tiers, their control over their PD dollars increases.
KIPP San Antonio is a shining example of the positive impacts of frequent, meaningful walkthroughs; streamlined observation and goal-setting practices; and data-driven instructional leadership. “It really comes down to relational trust,” says Tarrance. “What are we celebrating? What are we sharing? What are we holding teachers accountable for? Our goal is growth, not perfection. With TeachBoost, our conversations focus around growth and honest feedback.”
Neal adds, “Now we can all keep the bigger picture in mind, and we’re thinking several steps ahead. Everything is streamlined and connected, and every educator owns her story.”