Ayers Institute Case Study

Decatur County Schools

Coaching for School-wide Improvement

Partner Decatur County Schools
Location Decatur County (Tennessee)
Timeframe Started 2015; Completed 2016
  • Focus district leadership on building a culture of collaboration
  • Build capacity in teachers and leaders
Program Elements
  • Customized professional learning

Decatur County Schools is a rural district comprised of nearly 1,700 students, located in the picturesque region of West Tennessee.  This school system demonstrates a relentless focus on student success upon graduation from high school.  As their mission indicates, the educators in this district work to ensure that “all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life.”  Decatur County Schools’ engagement with the Ayers Institute began in the fall of 2015 when then-new Director of Schools, Branson Townsend saw the need for a focus on collaboration to improve student outcomes.

This initial vision put forth by Mr. Townsend led to a series of professional learning opportunities for district and school leaders, as well as instructional coaches and classroom teachers.  Coaches from the Ayers Institute worked alongside principals and central office staff to  facilitate an exploration of the current culture within Decatur County schools, as well as the essential components of professional learning communities.  This initial learning set the stage for more in-depth skills development with teachers and instructional coaches regarding how individuals should approach one another with a collaborative mindset.  At the conclusion these sessions, one school leader said, “I used to think PLCs were a good way to share effective instructional strategies (focus on teaching), but I know know PLC’s strengthen social capital which is the best way to increase student learning (focus on learning).”  Another leader said, “I used to think that all of this (PLC professional development) was good in theory; but not practical or attainable, but now I think that this is completely doable/realistic.” 

This initial professional learning partnership, centered on the district goal of collaboration, led to more individualized professional learning opportunities at Riverside High School, one of Decatur County’s schools.  Principal Hugh Smith, who attended both the district training and other Ayers Institute professional learning opportunities, engaged the Ayers Institute coaches to plan a series of professional learning sessions specific to Riverside High School’s focus on rigor and differentiation.
Decatur County Schools continues to engage with the Ayers Institute through Coaching Academies and other learning opportunities.

“I used to think it was all about the teacher. Now I know it is all about what students have learned.”  
--Decatur County Schools leader

“I used to think it was all about the teacher," said one Decatur County school leader. "Now I know it is all about what students have learned.”

Partnership results:

  • Increased understanding of how to approach colleagues with a collaborative mindset
  • Increased focus on rigor and differentiation at the high school level
  • District engagement in implementing the professional learning community model

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