Principal Gail Withers was ready for change.
With nearly a decade of experience at Detroit Edison Public School Academy (DEPSA) and in her second year as a leader, she knew her school well—and she wanted to push student achievement to the next level. Last August, when her new ANet coach arrived, she told him her goal: I want to craft a strategic plan that pushes my students to achieve their best outcomes.
Marvin English, a first-year ANet coach and former principal, recalls, “Principal Withers has been an outstanding partner since day one. From the very beginning of our work together, she was ready to dig in and make bold shifts.”
Evidence informs action
Building on Principal Withers’ deep knowledge of her school, Marvin worked with her to craft a plan that would turn evidence to action.
“We made evidence and artifacts a big part of our work from the start,” Marvin explains. “After we set our goals, we set up systems to keep track of our progress. It’s not enough to have a plan. You have to support that plan in real time.”
To do that, Marvin and Principal Withers increased classroom observations and made video review a regular part of their agenda. They analyzed the evidence, asking, Has there been change in teacher practice?
“Every quarter, we look at each action item alongside the data and artifacts we’ve collected,” says Marvin. “We determine if there’s been significant progress, some progress, or none. Are we moving toward our goals and the practice outcomes we want?”
Together, Marvin and Principal Withers would refine and modify the strategic plan for the next quarter, with a harder focus on items that hadn’t made sufficient progress. “To set up a leader for success, we have to make sure what’s happening in the classroom aligns with instructional priorities and outcomes. We have to make sure we’re making progress; and if we aren’t, that we have the data to show us why.”
Analysis and reflection get results, shift mindset
This focus on evidence, artifacts, and analysis has helped Principal Withers address goals such as increasing rigor, facilitating more student-led discussions, and boosting teachers’ use of data in their own planning.
As the year nears an end, Principal Withers is seeing results. “I’ve changed my mantra around what my support should look like,” she says. “I’m supporting teachers to support students. Getting those student outcomes we want, over time, comes from what teachers are doing right now. So we’re looking at that data, at the story it’s telling, and then we’re diving into instruction to bridge the gaps.”
Marvin agrees. “Principal Withers and her teachers are taking the strategies we’ve talked about and putting them into practice,” he says. “She’s taking time to reflect, to come to conclusions, to lead the discussion on where we want to go—and the evidence drives it. There’s been a shift in mindset.”