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Supporting High-Impact Work, Helping Stakeholders Inform Policy: A REL Coaching Experience in Idaho

By Jennifer Esswein | November 2, 2017

Jennifer Esswein
Jennifer Esswein serves as a senior advisor of educator effectiveness for REL Northwest.

Everyone at REL Northwest plays many roles—we’re researchers, evaluators, and technical assistance providers, to name a few.

First and foremost, though, we’re capacity builders. In our work, we strive to expand the capacity of our stakeholders and their organizations to value data and evidence and engage in data-informed inquiry and action.

We had this capacity-building framework in mind last year when we worked with stakeholders in Idaho to provide coaching related to equity planning.

Specifically, the Idaho State Department of Education (ISDE) requested support with examining data on the distribution of new educators and those teaching outside of their field across historically underperforming student groups statewide.

REL Northwest worked with a team of more than 10 coordinators and directors at ISDE, holding both in-person and virtual meetings over several months.

Our goal: build the team’s capacity to use evidence to change policies, ultimately, to ensure historically underperforming student groups in Idaho are not taught at higher rates by educators who are inexperienced, underqualified, or teaching outside of their field.

The coaching helped the ISDE team learn about new ways to look at, obtain, and use data—and it helped inform Idaho’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. (Every state’s ESSA plan must include equity policies.)

According to Karen Seay, director of federal programs at ISDE, the team had a positive experience and appreciates that its work had ESSA-related applications.

“The data dive was the first opportunity this group had to look at the data deeply, and it allowed us to begin robust discussions about Idaho’s needs that involved people from all over the department,” Seay says. “Through this work, we were able to identify actionable next steps. Having outside expert support for our work has added a richness and depth that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.”

Because the members of the ISDE team were so pleased with the experience, they wanted to continue working with REL Northwest and take their coaching to the next level.

Thus, in our current contract, we are partnering with ISDE to provide coaching and evidence-based technical support that will build on its earlier work. Specifically, through the newly formed Idaho Educator Pipeline Alliance, REL Northwest will support multiple stakeholder groups as they examine the relationship between equity and teacher recruitment and retention.

We look forward to continuing our partnership with education stakeholders in Idaho—and building the capacity of stakeholders across our region to make evidence-informed decisions.