Coaching data with lightbulb growing from a plant

Is Coaching About Data?

For the past few years I have been advocating for a coaching model of professional development for teachers. Recently, there has been increased awareness of the ineffectiveness of traditional professional development models. The National Education Technology Plan (2016) asserts that “across the board … professional development programs fail to prepare teachers to use technology in effective ways” (p.5). A recent study by Grunwald and Associates revealed that teachers are “generally dissatisfied with the professional development that they receive” (Davis, 2016).

Coaching is a professional development model that is focused on relationships, trust, shared goals, and a commitment to continuous improvement. As I was advocating for more coaching for professional development, I had a colleague ask me if coaching was mostly about using data to target areas for improvement. My answer to him was no… and yes.


First of all, coaching is about listening. One of the primary determinants of whether or not a teacher is going to adopt a change is his or her attitudes and beliefs. Coaches have to understand the attitudes and beliefs for each teacher in order to be a successful coach. That requires a lot of listening and observing.

In order for a teacher to feel comfortable with anyone as their coach, they have to have a sense of trust. Building trust takes a relationship. So at the heart of coaching is the relationship. Thus the “no” part of the question whether or not coaching is about data.

Now to the “yes” part. Data is a BIG word. Almost everything we see, hear, or observe in a school can be classified as data. Looking at a dashboard, gradebook, or reports gives us quantitative data. Talking to teachers gives us qualitative data. So everything is really data. If coaches only focus on the quantitative data, then they aren’t coaching.


Quantitative data gives us factual information that provides some insight into the classroom, but it is not going to be enough information with which to effectively coach. Often the quantitative data that is collected from looking at reports shows a symptom of the problem—not the actual problem. The issue needs to be diagnosed through conversations and observations—qualitative data.

Research shows that it takes an average of 40 hours of professional development for a teacher to fully adopt a single edtech initiative (Shaunessy, 2007). However, teachers are more likely to adopt a new strategy or technology in much less time when they are learning it from a trusted colleague (coach). That’s why the relationship piece is huge in coaching. Schools that want to find a professional development model that actually works should start to look at providing their teachers with authentic coaching.

Source: Davis, M. R. (2016, January 22). Opportunities risks for PD providers revealed in teacher survey data. EdWeek Market Brief.

Source: Shaunessy, E. (2007). Attitudes toward information technology of teachers of the gifted: Implications for gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 51( 2), 119­135. doi:10.1177/0016986207299470

Source: U.S. Department of Education (2016). Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Technology.

About the Author


Stacy Hawthorne

Stacy Hawthorne, Lead Strategist at Hawthorne Education, works with schools and districts across the United States as they design and implement technology-rich educational models. She started her consulting work with Evergreen Education Group, authors of the annual Keeping Pace report and a trusted consultant to some of the largest school districts in the country. Prior to her work with Evergreen, Stacy conceived and implemented a successful blended learning program as Technology Integration Coordinator for Medina City Schools in Ohio. Her passion for student-centric and technology-rich learning models grew from her experience as a classroom teacher.

Additionally, Stacy is the Past-President for ISTE’s Administrator professional learning network. Stacy was awarded the Silver President’s Volunteer Service award in 2015 for her efforts. Stacy was a contributor to iNACOL’s Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework that was released in October of 2014 and a researcher for the 2014 Keeping Pace with Digital Learning and 2015 Proof Points projects.