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Differentiated coaching creates steady growth at Denison Elementary

Student achievement at Denison Elementary School has been rising for years. This year, Denison was one of Cleveland’s top elementary schools for academic growth.

What drives this growth? According to Ashley Squires, Denison’s ANet coach, it’s all about targeted support—for leaders, for teachers, and for students.

Denison has partnered with ANet for the past four years—and they’ve succeeded in reaching their student performance goals every year. “Denison’s teachers and leaders have really committed to ensuring kids get the high-quality instruction they deserve,” says Ashley.

At Denison, everyone in the building focuses on the same instructional priorities and invests significant time and energy in professional learning. “Sometimes, though, educators require different kinds of support,” Ashley explains. “As a coach, my job is to identify how I can help each team member—and how I can help leaders support teachers.”

Focused support for leaders

At the start of the school year, Principal Clark and Assistant Principal Cox focused on ELA. “I worked with the leadership team to identify instructional priorities that would foster the changes in literacy instruction they wanted to see,” Ashley recounts. “Then, together, we aligned the school’s professional development, observations, and teacher support to address those priorities.”

After the fall semester, Ashley met with Principal Clark and Assistant Principal Cox for Denison’s mid-year meeting. They reviewed data and student work and were excited to see improvements in ELA, but math growth had stagnated.

“Math had taken a backseat,” says Ashley. “To address that, we wanted math teachers to get the same level of  support.”

Ashley narrowed the leadership team’s focus on fourth- and fifth- grade math, and the team homed in on effective lesson planning. “We wanted to see teachers confidently using their new Eureka math materials rather than spending time combing through the internet and printing out lesson plans,” Ashley explains. With her support, the leaders worked to deepen their own understanding of math standards and the new curriculum’s materials.

Set teachers up for success

After the mid-year meeting, Ashley worked directly with Denison’s fourth- and fifth-grade math teacher to support with lesson planning. “We started seeing growth right away,” she recalls. Ms. Ehlert made remarkable improvements—and the key was targeted, individualized support. Ashley and Ms. Ehlert began the new semester by reviewing data from ANet interim assessments, and they identified where students needed a second shot: fractions.

“We studied the Eureka math materials together, making connections between the lessons and the standards they wanted to target,” Ashley recalls. “I modeled how she could adapt lessons to fit her students’ needs. She spent time annotating modules to hone students’ skills and strategies.” Next, Ashley modeled delivering the lesson. Ms. Ehlert noted three things she wanted to prioritize in her own practice:

  1. Doing the math: Completing the math problems herself would help Ms. Ehlert anticipate where students might struggle.

  2. Using Powerpoint slides: Preparing slides would help students visualize the math and deepen their conceptual understanding.

  3. Differentiating exit tickets: Using differentiated formative assessments would help Ms. Ehlert get a better sense of each student’s progress and what support they needed next.

Ms. Ehlert’s renewed confidence shined through in her spring classroom observation, where she received a Skilled rating for her planning and delivery. “Her class is more engaged,” says Ashley. “You see students started struggling productively, explaining their thinking, and tackling problems with more confidence.” And her students’ interim assessment data showed that her hard work had paid off: Her class outpaced their peers across the district—especially on fractions!

“She did a phenomenal job,” Ashley exclaims. “She was always very game for feedback and planning and collaboration. She invested a ton of her time and energy, and her practice improved as a result. It’s evident in her students’ growth.”

For Ms. Ehlert, a focus on lesson planning has been the key to success. For other Denison teachers, other focuses are making the difference. “Teachers tailor their instruction based on individual student needs,” says Ashley. “When leaders and coaches support teachers in that same personalized way, that’s when schools can really grow.”

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