Thursday / April 25

When Evidence of Student Learning Isn’t Enough

visible learning

Have you heard comments like these from educators you’re leading or coaching when you’ve presented solid evidence for a research-based instructional strategy?

  • “I tried that. I had to go back and reteach everything—what a waste of time.”
  • “These students aren’t ready.”
  • “My classroom is rigorous”
  • “I am differentiating.”

In my nearly 20 years of instructional coaching, I’ve learned that these comments mean I’ve somehow failed to bring the right evidence. To differentiate how I coach, I keep in mind that I might need to present

  • Evidence that a teacher’s own beliefs aren’t working
  • Evidence that contradicts a teacher’s beliefs
  • Evidence that helps form new beliefs.

Further, coaching would be easy if we all saw the world in the same way, but unfortunately, we don’t. I know, for example, that I see the big picture first. And I’m very comfortable trying new strategies that connect to my big picture of how classrooms work. Now, imagine if I’m coaching someone who wants implementation details—and interprets my new strategy as “experimenting” rather than trusting the big picture. They need different evidence, don’t they!

Two big ideas remind me why solid, research-based evidence may not be enough: cognitive biases and “differentiated” evidence. Let’s look at each of these before considering all the forms evidence might take.

What evidence might overcome natural cognitive biases?

First, remember that our brains have default mechanisms for processing the infinite information that bombards us every day, and for reaching quick decisions. Otherwise, we’d all still be at home deciding which socks to put on. However, at times these become biases that block us from seeing what truly is. You can search the web for information on a multitude of cognitive biases (this is one of my favorite summary charts), but two particularly relevant ones to keep in mind when coaching are:

Outcome bias: Our tendency to judge the quality of our decision by the results. Thus “My students did fine on the test” may block a teacher from realizing that a different instructional strategy may have produced even better results, or better information retention, or better engagement, or a number of other, better outcomes.

Confirmation bias: Our tendency to only note information that reinforces what we already believe. While it only takes one piece of evidence to confirm a belief, it may take ten pieces of contrary evidence before we begin to entertain a new idea.

Thus, presenting the right evidence to each teacher becomes crucial.

What evidence might meet this educator’s informational needs?

In the chart below, “Coach as Collegial Mentor” best describes my natural style. Yes, educators come in infinite varieties, and are influenced by many factors, but the following four categories can reduce the guesswork, and actually reduce the chance that my own cognitive biases (yes they’re a danger for the coach as well) don’t have me labeling teachers as “stars” or “resisters” or “deadwood” or other harmful labels, when in fact I’m not meeting their needs.

Coaching Style To Meet Their Needs:
Coach as Useful Resource


Provide hands-on, relevant lessons that produce immediate, tangible results.  Collect “exit tickets” that demonstrate student thinking, agree on classroom observation criteria such as students on task or the complexity of questions being asked, or model a strategy so the teacher can observe student reactions.
Coach as Encouraging Sage



Meet the teacher’s needs for encouragement, clear goals, and concrete tasks. They aim to help each child and may blame themselves when new strategies are difficult to implement. Point out evidence of what they are doing right, report on student behaviors that show engagement, and share stories of students similar to theirs who benefited.
Coach as Collegial Mentor



Engage in conversations to help these teachers use their creativity. They dread anything that might suggest that students are standardized “products.” Student surveys, focus groups or discussions that show evidence of engagement or students finding their own voices, as well as evidence of conceptual understanding, resonate with these teachers.
Coach as “Expert”



These teachers expect a coach to answer any question to satisfy their informational needs. Allow them to probe suggestions, fit them into their own mental models, and then improve upon them. A response of “That’s plausible” to your most brilliant idea is high praise from these teachers. They often prefer test scores or other “hard” data.

Adapted from Kise, J.A.G. (2017). Differentiated coaching: A framework for helping educators change, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, p. 38.

Check Out the Framework for Yourself

Want to learn more? Each copy of the second edition of Differentiated Coaching comes with one free access to the TypeCoach Type Verifier, an engaging, interactive way to better understand this coaching framework by discovering your personality type.

Bonus! The first 100 people who respond here will get a free promo code to receive a customized personality type report at no charge.

You’ll be asked to set up an account so that you can access the site more than once to view coaching videos and more. Once you get the free access promo code, you can verify your own four-letter personality code and then download the related report designed for educators.

For more impact, find someone whom you know just doesn’t think like you and share the code, then compare reports. How might the information help you better meet each other’s needs and avoid the cognitive biases that can keep anyone from believing the evidence that is right in front of them!

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Written by

Jane Kise, an educational consultant with extensive experience in leadership, instructional coaching, differentiation, and effective mathematics instruction, is considered a worldwide expert in Jungian type and is certified in Neuroscience and Jungian Personality. She has authored and co-authored numerous books, written magazine articles, presented workshops, provided consulting services, and has received awards for her differentiated coaching research.  Her current research involves identification of differences in how students with different type preferences master mathematical concepts.

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