Charlie Coleman

Charlie Coleman has been a principal at all school levels (traditional K-12, plus alternate, virtual/online and blended learning) in ethnically and socioeconomically diverse communities. He is currently District Principal of Indigenous Education.

A Delicate Dialogue On Data

Charlie Coleman is principal at Quamichan Middle School in Duncan, BC, Canada. Charlie has 18 years of experience in education and has been a Professional Learning Communities at WorkTM Associate since 2006.

Teachers and principals in a number of schools and districts have asked, "How do you have the tough conversation about data without offending teachers?" and  "What do you do in response to discouraging data?"

Here is an illustration I have shared in several workshops:

It was the end of the first report card term at Quamichan Middle School and a week before our faculty meeting where we would discuss data and analyze results for the first time. We had spent the fall taking the initial steps to becoming a PLC. Because of these conversations, staff knew this was coming and were both excited and anxious about this new focus on "results, not intentions." As I consolidated the data into a manageable document, one particular class was a major cause for concern. The math class in question had an 85% failure rate! This stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the subjects and grades across the school. While we would not be sharing the data with teacher names attached, it would be quite easy for staff members to assume which class and teacher these results came from. I did not want this first delving into data to derail our PLC journey, so I took some proactive steps.

First, the teacher and I had a private conversation. I told her that while reviewing the Term 1 results, one of her classes really stood out as a cause for concern. Before she could feel attacked or defensive, I suggested that this must be a very tough class with a number of students who had obvious learning challenges. This set her at ease, and she was able to share with me a number of her concerns and challenges with this particular class. I apologized for not noticing the challenges sooner and asked her how I could help support her and these students. Together we brainstormed some possible solutions, and I promised to work toward some of them. She remembered that we would be sharing all our data at the next faculty meeting and was relieved to know that we would use the dialogue on data as a solution-seeking opportunity, not a finger-pointing exercise.

Following that conversation, we spoke to our learning assistance teacher about ways we might support this teacher and these students. The two teachers were encouraged to meet before the next faculty meeting to see if they could put an intervention plan in place. They worked on this in collaboration with our Student Support Team. By the time the entire faculty met to review the Term 1 results, there was a plan in place and the teacher felt comfortable sharing both the troubling results and the resulting support plan.

The intervention plan we put in place made a dramatic difference. That one class went from 85% failing at the end of Term 1 to 85% passing by the end of Term 2. This was cause for celebration! The process we followed also enhanced trust and collaboration. Staff now know that a focus on results does not mean punishing teachers. They also saw that from the results flows responsive intervention and improved student achievement.


Jennifer Bolinger

We have just started really digging into the data. As I listened to the teachers looking at their data, it was interesting to find that we were all eager to share the success stories of students but no one mentioned the students who were falling behind. Even the program that we were using only showed the particularly proficient and above. What about the unsatisfactory kids?

Anyway, I want to say thanks for this piece as it is such a delicate subject yet so very, very important in the schools of today.

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I work in a small school where most of the staff is made up of veteran teachers. Many of these teachers are struggling with the idea of change this late in their teaching careers. They are not at easy with the idea of opening their doors and allowing others into their kingdom. They are also very uncomfortable with the idea of giving and receiving open and honest feedback. How do we move beyond this and becoming a school that is focused on learning and not teaching?

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Becky DuFour

Hi Nadine,
Here is an article that was posted on this blog on April 4, 2008. It should help clarify the PLC/RtI connection. Most teams devote about an hour each week to the collaborative team meeting focused on learning. In the early stages of the PLC journey, most teams do want more than just an hour - your teams are fortunate to have the 3 hour weekly collaborative planning time!

Hope this helps,
Becky DuFour

How will we respond when students don’t learn?

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Help! Where does RtI fit in the meeting during PLC team talk? We are piloting RtI for our district (along with a few other schools) and we are new to PLC at our campus. Teachers have 3 hour planning time, one afternoon a week - and it is during that time that we dialogue on PLC - look at class and grade level data - and then, talk about kids in the RtI process - it is raking over 1.5 hours - is this the norm? Is it just that this is new to us?

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jen groves

Thank you for this piece Charlie. It is an important reminder that the whole school is responsible for the achievement of its students, not solely individual teachers. It sounds as if this teacher had all the tools she needed, and that along with true support systems, she was able to help her students succeed. A true team effort.

The way you handled this situation helped to empower this teacher instead of the opposite, which can happen so easily sometimes. It takes thought and reflection to figure out how to handle a situation like this so that your conversation and actions focus on the results and what to do next, rather than the "why did this happen?" questions that tend to focus on the past. Thank you for your careful consideration and your thoughtful solutions which helped both the teacher and kids come out on top.
Jennifer Groves

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