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CURRICULUM, COACHING AND CULTURE WITH SHAWN DAVIS – 5 of 8 Critical Growth Components in Autism Education

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen  


Autism Academy for Education and Development provides a curriculum, coaching and culture that defines the nation’s leading experts in Autism education. In doing so, AAED administrators strategically provide growth components in 8 areas of expertise focused on Autism education. Curriculum, coaching and culture is the 5th highlight of the school’s critical growth components. The Autism Academy for Education and Development is a rapidly growing Autism-only school with four campuses throughout the state of Arizona. The growth of the organization is a direct correlation with the school’s philosophy on curriculum, coaching and culture. Our ongoing weekly blog series contains 8 critical growth components. This fifth week features curriculum, coaching and culture with Shawn Davis. 

Critical Growth Components in Autism Education Blog Series:   

  1. Independent Living with Jennifer Sevier 
  2. Autism Academic Awareness with Kimberly Baltzley 
  3. Living Your Best Life with Katie Nieder  
  4. Positive Behavior Support with Darnell Cherry
  5. Curriculum, Coaching and Culture with Shawn Davis 
  6. Character Building and Development with Derrick Jamerson
  7. Fostering A Fun Atmosphere with Carrie Hatanaka 
  8. Speech, Occupational and Animal Therapies with Kalona Newcomb 

Shawn Davis is the new AAED regional director. She plans to take a four step approach toward enriching Autism education at AAED.   


  • Providing effective instructional leadership supportive of student learning and attainment of school achievement goals; 
  • Build a professional culture supportive of reflective practice, high expectations, and continuous improvement of teaching and learning; 
  • Engage school communities including teachers, parents, district leaders, and community partners in ways supportive of the school’s and district’s mission;
  • Effectively and efficiently assist leaders to manage all school operations including curriculum implementation, personnel, facilities, schedules, and budgets. 


Curriculum is based on the courses offered by an educational institution, including a set of courses constituting an area of specialization. AAED offers a comprehensive curriculum that empowers students with Autism to excel at a rate that accommodates where a student is on the spectrum. 

6 Key Ingredients to Quality Curriculum at AAED  

  1. Individualized and differentiated instruction in math, science, language, arts, history, social skills and physical education.
  2. Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) 
  3. Daily life skills program promoting independence. 
  4. Pathways to learning that include academic, vocational, functional vocational and essential skills. 
  5.  Weekly Explorer Program for interest-based learning. 
  6. Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) 

The school’s mission is to assist every student with Autism to be equipped and able to achieve academic, social and behavioral excellence in an environment centered on strong character values. Identifying curricular materials for students on the spectrum can be a challenging chore. AAED staff has identified materials that best facilitate academic and social development. The AAED curriculum ranges from English and math to career explorer, athletics and much more. It is important to incorporate curriculum and programs that are successful and research-based.  

“My plan is to explore technology, create inclusive strategies for reaching a diverse student body, and develop skills in teaching students with Autism,” Davis said. “These skills combined will allow me to identify workable solutions for positive change.” 

That change is incorporated by progressively coaching teachers.  


Continued education and support is important for classroom teachers. Educators need more knowledge, skills, practice, and support in order to progress as quality educators. This is a leading component that creates growth at AAED. Research shows that mastering complex skills, as an educator, takes about seven years. While professional development is a key component, ongoing coaching is essential for many reasons.  

7 Benefits of Academic Coaches 

  1. It improves teachers’ craft 
  2. Implements new skills 
  3. Students learn more 
  4. Employ more effective strategies 
  5. Reinforces professional development  
  6. Builds skills and expands knowledge 
  7. Makes teachers feel supported 

Coaches are able to engage the intellect, behaviors, practices, beliefs, values and feelings of teachers and paraprofessionals. When AAED hires coaches, the administration demands 3 key expectations: 

  • The commitment required for coaches to transform schools; 
  • The readiness and discipline to coach within the guidelines of AAED curriculum and standards;
  • To measure teacher results and student achievement, based on new knowledge.  

It is the ultimate responsibility of coaches to understand and support the school culture and know what is expected. Research indicates that coaching can help create a healthy school culture and improve student outcomes. This is accomplished with the strategic use of data as evidence to produce expected results. A comprehensive coaching program promotes the development of leadership skills. It encourages professional learning and support for teachers to target innovative strategies to improve student outcomes. 

“I understand that improving teaching and learning is an intricate process that requires a willingness to change, an educational vision, and persuasive communication,” Davis said. “I plan to pursue action research and data collection to inform decision making and create continued meaningful professional development at AAED.” 

Davis says she plans to explore additional technology, strengthen diversity, and develop advanced skills for staff to teach students with Autism. The Autism Academy for Education and Development is one of the nation’s leading Autism-only schools. AAED provide free online blog content as an academic resource to accelerate learning for students with Autism in schools nationwide. 


Davis earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Augusta State University. She received her Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration from Cambridge College. With her Autism Specialist Certification, she has worked as a AAED principal since 2015. Currently, Davis has high ambitions as the new AAED regional director.