Education graduate Tiffany Patton seeks to revitalize instructional coaching in Riverview Gardens School District
After Tiffany Patton graduated from Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis, she continued on the STEM path, enrolling at the University of Missouri–Columbia to study computer programming.
She spent her first year of college trying to connect with the coursework, but despite her best efforts, computer programming never clicked.
“I felt very disengaged from the work and also recognized that sitting behind a computer and looking at code for eight hours a day, possibly more, was not going to fill my bucket,” Patton said. “I had to take a step back. I took some time off to figure out what I really wanted to do.”
Patton returned to St. Louis, and upon reflecting, she decided to pursue education – a field she’d always admired but had been initially hesitant to explore.
“I always felt like it was a great career path in terms of helping people and having a meaningful career,” she said. “I had some teachers throughout the years who really just poured more into me than the knowledge they were expected to teach, and so I felt like it was a great way to give back to the community.”
Patton transferred to the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where her academic and professional career took off. After graduating from the College of Education with a bachelor’s in elementary education, Patton went on to earn a master’s and EdD in educational leadership and administration at Saint Louis University. Over the course of her successful career in education, she has served as a teacher in multiple school districts, school leader at KIPP St. Louis and principal in the Hazelwood School District.
In February, the Riverview Gardens School District appointed Patton as its new director of professional development. In the new role, Patton oversees professional development for all staff to ensure the district’s practices comply with Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines. She will also manage the development of instructional coaches and a new teacher mentor program.
“This role feels like everything that I love about teacher development, which is a passion of mine,” she said. “I love teaching students, and trust me, I could do that forever. But I know that more of an impact can be made if I move out of the classroom. Because I am a teacher at heart, though, I just look at this as the ability or capacity to teach adults, and so this role connects to what I love to do, which is develop and teach.”
UMSL is where she began to discover that passion.
After coming back to St. Louis, Patton took several courses at St. Louis Community College before transferring to UMSL. She wanted to stay near home and was attracted to the prospect of a quality education at an affordable price.
In the College of Education, Patton found a community of like-minded individuals dedicated to teaching and learning. She was struck by the passion her professors had for their content areas and also appreciated the hands-on nature of the instruction in many of her classes. For instance, in a teaching methods course for reading, students were required to read many of the popular chapter books for elementary school students at the time.
“I still remember being in a teaching methods course for mathematics and learning a technique for adding up multiple numbers at a time that I still use to this day as an adult,” Patton said.
Those practical exercises connected Patton and her classmates to the realities of teaching in the classroom. Patton gained further hands-on experience participating in an internship before her student teaching practicum designed for future teachers who aimed to work in urban schools. The program exposed her to the real challenges of teaching in that environment and how to navigate obstacles to lead a classroom effectively.
In addition to her studies, Patton was highly involved on the UMSL campus. She participated in intramural athletics, worked as a student mentor in the Office of Multicultural Student Services and served as service director of the Golden Key International Honour Society.
Patton’s term as a student senator in the Student Government Association also foreshadowed her current volunteer work as a board member of Access Academies and Empower Missouri and taught her much about decision-making processes.
“I absolutely connect that experience, seeing how governance works from that student senator role, to the passion that I have to work on boards now,” she said.
After graduating in 2006, Patton began working as a third-grade teacher in the Riverview Gardens School District. She moved to the Hazelwood School District, where she taught fifth grade, after a couple of years. In both roles, she was able to raise state test scores and proficiencies among her students.
Looking for a new challenge, Patton decided to move to Brooklyn to take a position as English language arts lead teacher at Explore Schools.
“I was responsible for doing a lot of work with the ELA unit planning and curriculum, as well as daily lesson plans, and work with a cohort of students who were lower performing in the school than the rest of the students,” she said. “We were able to show significant growth for them on the New York state test that year.”
Around that time, the impending birth of Patton’s daughter motivated her to move back to St. Louis to be closer to family. Patton made a brief stop at St. Louis Public Schools before joining KIPP St. Louis as the founding assistant school leader, eventually being promoted to school leader. In 2018, she took advantage of an opportunity to serve as principal at Grannemann Elementary School.
At the time, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education designated it as a comprehensive school – a school among the lowest 5% of schools receiving Title I funds.
“We were able to make some significant progress,” Patton said. “Of course, there could always be more, but the growth that was shown in terms of the MPI scores for the school in math and ELA met and exceeded the state’s target for progress.”
Patton attributes her success at improving student learning at Grannemann, as well as her previous school, to a simple formula – data-driven instruction plus a strong, responsive school culture. It’s vital for teachers to be clear on what rigorous instruction looks like and to ensure they have the support to deliver it. For Patton, that involves action plans with regular cycles of assessment and data analyzation.
“An action plan is a cycle that I’ve always implemented and followed, and the frequency of that is literally on a weekly basis,” she explained. “When you put that in place, you usually will see some improvement because everyone is then meeting weekly to discuss how students are performing based on data, not based on perception or feelings or a lesson plan, but actually based on a student’s work.”
In order to build a strong school culture, it’s important that all teachers have high expectations for their students and that the students see themselves reflected in the environment. Patton explained that when students feel seen and know their teachers care about them, students will go above and beyond even high expectations.
As a school administrator, Patton has endeavored to provide support to teachers and students to make those things possible. It’s partly why she decided to pursue a doctorate in educational leadership and administration. Now, Patton is working very closely with teachers in the Riverview Gardens School District as director of professional development.
Her first big project is restructuring and remobilizing the district’s instructional coaching program. The goal is to implement coaching models that are more effective for the district’s current academic environment, which includes many long-term substitute teachers.
“We need to develop them quickly to be effective in the classroom,” Patton said. “So, I really want to bring that coaching model to this environment so that our coaches feel comfortable and confident coaching on more of a micro coaching cycle with micro action steps that they can use to really change teacher practice quickly.”
Patton anticipates instructional coaches working with teachers on weekly cycles instead of more traditional four-week cycles. Additionally, the coaches will provide models and videos to teachers during sessions to demonstrate action steps with explicit, clear visuals. Then coaches will help teachers unpack what they saw and practice the action steps while providing feedback. Overall, Patton plans to make the district’s professional development processes much more practice-oriented.
It’s important work that also happens to be her calling.
“It’s essentially everything that I loved about being in administration without all of the other things,” she said. “So, I am feeling like this is a joy to be able to really hyper-focus on the thing that makes me the happiest about education.”
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