To the Editor:
How do you get to have the best-performing district in the state by the assessment of the accountability experts at the CT State Department of Education? You get there in significant part through having teacher coaches.
The Wilton Schools have 10.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) coaches (several are only part-time with the rest of their time devoted to classroom teaching, for a total number of those performing coaching functions of 12). That averages to one coach per grade level (with around 300 students in each grade level); however, in Wilton High School, for example, there are only 1.5 FTE coaches for the high school’s 1,200 students.
The concentration of coaches before high school grades is a reflection of where their usefulness is greatest, and over half (six) of those FTEs are for coaches in English Language Arts/Social Studies (ELA/SS) who had previously served as both “consultants” (an earlier term for coaches) and “interventionists”: literary specialists providing essential remedial reading services to students either individually or in small groups. For three of our district’s four schools, there is exactly 1.0 FTE coach for math/science for roughly 900 students per school. (The exception, Miller-Driscoll Elementary School, has all of 1.5 math/science coach FTEs.)
Certain members of the Board of Finance (BOF) have made recent public comments suggesting they believe that these coaches are expendable at a stated cost savings of $1.4 million annually. They make those comments notwithstanding their own admission that they are not professional educators and despite their on-going high compliments directed to (and rightly deserved by) those who are our professional school administrators.
Those BOF members also seem to believe that coaches are not “student-facing,” and student-facing is something these BOF members hold in high regard as, of course, they should. So what is it that coaches do exactly, and is any of it student-facing? And to the extent that it’s not entirely student-facing, is it nevertheless still highly important?
To answer those questions, I’ve spoken with a number of coaches and teachers in our schools. I’ve also watched coaches at work and spoken with administrators in other districts about what coaches bring to the educational table. The result for me has been very illuminating, and I suggest that our BOF members would do well to take a little time from their laudably dedicated and diligent examination of financials to do some investigative work themselves. If they’ve already done so, I’m all the more surprised at their thoughts about the elimination of coaches.
Here’s what I learned from speaking with both classroom teachers (in the traditional sense) and coaches and from some (albeit limited) personal observation of coaching work:
- Coaches engage in a lot of face-to-face teaching contact with students individually, in small groups, and in the classroom as a whole; 70%-80% of their days are spent in the classroom interacting with students. They are able to address individual students’ issues and help teachers identify students in need of special attention and to organize that additional attention effectively and in many cases help to provide it themselves.
- In the classroom as a whole, the coach often demonstrates new curricular materials by teaching the class himself or herself. In fact, students will introduce their coaches as, “Here’s my other teacher.”
- Coaches analyze new curricular materials and thereby save classroom teachers much time that they would otherwise have to spend individually in doing that analysis themselves, with the coaches then taking teachers through how the curriculum works and how best to apply it. This work not only helps teachers implement the curriculum more fully but also creates consistency in instruction across the team of teachers in a grade level so that students in different classrooms will have similar learning experiences and opportunities.
Here’s how the coaches break out by school:
- Miller-Driscoll: 4 FTE (2.5 for ELA/SS; 1.5 for math/science)
- Cider Mill: 3 FTE (2.0 for ELA/SS; 1.0 for math)
- Middlebrook: 2 FTE (1.0 for ELA/SS; 1.0 for math/science)
- WHS: 1.5 FTE (0.5 for ELA/SS; 1.0 for math/science).
I offer below a series of comments I’ve received from individual classroom teachers in conversations with them about the role of coaches in their classrooms in impacting their teaching and their students’ learning. The teachers with whom I’ve spoken ranged from those in their first year of teaching up to those with over two decades of teaching experience, almost all of it in our Wilton schools:
“Coaches spend 100% of their day working either for or with students.”
“Coaches help me to be my best self; they put me on my A game.”
“Coaches have been especially helpful during COVID and its aftermath that we’re in now.”
“Coaching availability was essential to my first year of teaching.”
“I would be lost without the help of a coach.”
“The students in my classroom have grown as a result of my coach’s help.”
“I came here from a school without coaches. It’s a night-and-day difference for the good here.”
“Having coaches in place was a real incentive for me to come to teach in Wilton.”
“My coach asks, ‘What are your students not achieving now that you’d like to see them accomplish?’ When I reply, the coach works with me and with my students to figure out how best to accomplish that objective. Coaches don’t wear capes, but in my book they are real super- heroes!”