Hope with the Coach Approach
I have listened to my mentor Scott Urquhart say over and over that “in order to have equity of outcomes we need to get to equity of opportunity.” The Four Directions Graduation Coach Approach keeps this thought at its centre. What we have learned over the last four years of design and implementation is that this is hard work, and it takes a commitment from all adults in the students network of support to “do whatever it takes,” (Four Directions Report).
Rewind to four years ago. Based on the graduation coach work from both South Dakata and Edmonton Catholic District School Board, Keewatin Patricia District School Board, the research supported from the Ontario Ministry of Education began to implement a graduation coach approach named Four Directions.
The implementation strategy was to start with one cohort of Grade 8 students transitioning to Grade 9, support them alone until January, then add another cohort of the same age group. Four years later, the first cohort is in their Grade 12 year, and in January, the fifth cohort will begin transitioning.
In the first year we were nervous to use credit accumulation as an indicator, but were shocked to see the initial impact. A typical board’s First Nations, Metis, Inuit grad rate of 45 per cent should be over 65 per cent for four year grads. Fifth year grads can potentially exceed the provincial average with over 90 per cent on track for a five year graduation.
In order to get to this point it has required a strong team approach that surrounds each student, as well as the coach and school based administration to coordinate the work of each team member in order to set the students up for success. The coach is the champion cheer leader, the adult in their corner and their key connector to get all of the right experts working connectedly in order to continue to help the student see their personal path for success.
This involves work with family, community, school, agency, and the Ontario Ministry of Education. Each student has the support from these areas that they need, connected and working collaboratively in their best interest. The coach works with the student to identify current and potential barriers to well-being, academic success, and school/community engagement. The coach then pulls in the right stakeholders to help with the barrier removal. This could be guidance, administration, the Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT), parents, guardians, child and family services, mental health support, doctor, friendship centre, coach, chief, or any other adult that can help out!
We use a prescribed and flexible approach. We meet regularly and in an ongoing way about every student. We ask ourselves, ‘Where are they and How are they doing?’ We identify new risk factors, and remove old ones. We tier students and continuously link them to supports. We develop leadership skills, and use peer mentors to build the school community.
Students have found and amplified their voice. In the school and in the community they are able to drive programming, lead events, and celebrate who they are. This has led to wide scale school culture changes and a reframing of how we work with our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students. Understanding who our students are and what their reality is like has led to students knowing they are understood and that they will be treated with empathy.
The school community is set up so that every student has a team behind them. When they know they have this team support, it is much easier to create equity of outcomes, because each student is getting the same opportunities that all students are receiving.
Are you interested in learning more about Four Directions? Check out this video from the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board.