Enhancing teacher efficacy through data-driven instructional coaching.
Location: Brooklyn, NY Website: Explore Schools Enrollment: 2,000+ SchoolMint User Since 2018
Explore Schools is a system of eight public charter schools based in Brooklyn, New York. The school has made instructional coaching for teachers a priority — but four years ago, they had a problem with accountability and efficiency in their coaching practices.
Each school in the Explore network handled teacher coaching and observation in its own way. Some coaches recorded notes in Google Drive. Some did it over email. And some used pen and paper.
Because they were addressing teacher coaching in different ways, they didn’t have a central place for data management. As a result, leaders and coaches couldn’t see what was going on in classrooms, much less across the eight-school network.
“Everyone was working really hard, but it wasn’t visible or efficient,” said Explore’s senior director of school support, Jarren Kanze.
On the educators’ side, Kanze and the teachers struggled, too. Kanze and her team needed a solution: an observation and feedback platform to meet Explore Schools’ needs, collect and store coaching data, and make it easy to collaborate with and help develop teachers.
Explore Schools implemented SchoolMint Grow (previously known as Whetstone), a teacher coaching and development platform.
With eight schools in their system, their most immediate challenge was implementation across the network. Being intentional with the rollout was critical to having buy-in from all stakeholders: leadership, coaches, and teachers.
Once they started using Grow at the first two schools, the benefits became clear enough to start pushing the platform in the other six schools.
“We take change management seriously, especially because schools are facing so many things,” Kanze said. “We wanted to ensure a thoughtful, intentional process for rolling it out.”
For the platform’s rollout, Kanze and the network team made the platform opt-in. They wanted to champion the right people at the right time, so they started with one school. This helped them identify pain points with implementation and get familiar with how Grow could uniquely work within Explore Schools. Finally, they differentiated their approach when implementing Grow with new schools and teams.
The biggest place to get buy-in was with leadership, and Kanze did so by demonstrating how Grow would make their lives easier.
“School leaders are so busy, so when we could show them how [Grow] would be better for them, their teachers, and students, we didn’t get any pushback,” explains Kanze.
This approach — starting with one school and slowly expanding to all eight — was slow. However, that proved to be the most effective approach. They implemented it in a way that their people bought into it because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.
Now, with SchoolMint Grow in each school, Kanze and the network team use it for everything: professional development, teacher evaluations, instructional coaching, meeting feedback, lesson planning feedback, RTIs, and more.
“Due to our strategic, controlled rollout, by the time [Grow] was mandated across the network, all eight schools were prepared and on-board with the platform. Our most hesitant schools were ready because we’d gotten really good at overcoming the pain points.” — Jarren Kanze, Senior Director of School Support
SchoolMint Grow’s biggest achievement in Explore Schools was to close feedback loops between teachers and leaders. Grow enables teachers to always be clear on what they’re doing well in, what they can work on, and how they’re doing over time.
“People feel better when they know how they’re doing, so that increased transparency has increased morale,” says Kanze.
For the network team, the most significant benefit of Grow is they can assist their leaders in making sure they’re being as effective as possible by building out thoughtful tools. “I can make everything align to our system and beliefs, which helps solve every stakeholders’ challenge without creating problems for every stakeholder,” Kanze said.
Since everything can be put into one platform, Grow has also increased efficiency across their network of K-12 charter schools. One feature leadership has found beneficial is Grow’s lesson plan feedback feature.
“It’s made leaders’ lives easier,” says Kanze. “We can track when teachers make changes to the lesson plan, and now the data is right there. Did a teacher meet the deadline? Did I review it? Did they make the revisions and then resubmit the lesson plan?”
For Explore’s teachers, it’s easy to track their own progress over time. Initially, it was stressful for them because they had to look all over for feedback, but now, using the Grow platform, it’s simple for them to locate the information they need when they need it.
Because SchoolMint Grow is such a flexible platform, it’s been helpful during Covid in a time where everything is changing day-to-day. “It was nice in a time where everything felt so different, being able to keep some consistency,” Kanze said.
Leadership teams needed different rubrics for virtual learning, and with Grow they could easily create a new distance-learning rubric to fit their needs. Explore had clear criteria for teachers and what their leaders were looking for in this new educational landscape. Grow usage increased during the pandemic, and teachers had more touch points with their leaders. Quick feedback was crucial and helped with interactions between teachers and instructional coaches.