Wordsmithing By: Casey Veitch, Emily Coklan & Jenni Labrie
Bring up the word “data” in a group of educators, and watch what happens. Are you seeing skeptical eyes narrowing? Disgusted pushing away from the table? Or the opposite, leaning in and focusing?
In this way, talking about “data” can be a lot like talking about “dating”. The incredible array of experiences people have had with data ranges from “dumpster fire” to “until death do us part”. Since the GLG never resists a good metaphor, let’s even frame this by talking about a specific type of story, particularly in the romantic comedy genre, where two people meet, cannot stand each other, but somehow end up deliriously happy together by the time the credits roll.
Data: The Love Story
Unless taken as an elective or it is part of a masters degree deep dive, analysis of instructional data is not something any of us (aka members of The Grounded Learners Guild) were exposed to in our teacher preparation programs. It is just something we are expected to use. This may be one reason teachers respond negatively to calls for “data-driven” instruction. Educators want to do well, and analyzing data for some might bring up feelings of insecurity.
There is a lot of pressure on educators to use data. It’s like a fix-up - an education professor, administrator, or team lead tosses a “data driven” or “data informed” out there and it sounds like this incredible, easy way to discover the secrets to improving instruction/student learning.
But for a lot of us, our first real experience with it plays out like this:
From Bridget Jones Diary, 2001
GIF by: https://i.gifer.com/BbhE.gif
Data, especially for educators just starting out, can be not-so-impressive. It may start as numbers in a gradebook, or on a score on an assignment. Teachers need support and small wins in how to use that data to make instructional gains for students. For example, the quick sort and my favorite no are instructional strategies that leverage classroom data for determining teaching next steps. Providing a quick win that infuses data into daily practice is a great first date for the data novice.
Mistakes, Missteps, & Misunderstandings
Those who have those visceral reactions to hearing the word data in educational circles probably have at least one sordid love affair from their past. Perhaps the school improvement plan for the past four years has shined a giant spotlight on the same underperforming grade level. Or the school board is raising alarm bells because the data they are being presented with lacks context or captures only one small piece of the narrative. Or maybe even someone got hurt: someone lost their job or was remediated for not meeting expectations for student performance.
When those mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings happen, save yourself from the runaround that usually comes from those conflicts. Show the raw data and work with a group to unpack the meaning and come to conclusions together. If a misconception has already occurred, name “the thing” and clarify specific steps stakeholders WILL make to set it right.
There is always a second chance
As with any rom-com where hating turns into dating, there’s always that moment where a major shift occurs in how someone is viewed. A lot of times it involves the previously misunderstood object-of-loathing stepping in to help or do something awesome and suddenly “BOOM” everything is different. So how can educators get a “BOOM” moment with data?
From 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999
GIF by: https://thumbs.gfycat.com/OrganicLameAlleycat-size_restricted.gif
Because of the instructional time we have lost, educators returning back to school in the fall will need regular and frequent time to create quality formative assessments as well as opportunities to review those results in teams to form their instructional decisions moving forward. They need data collection and analysis tools to streamline collection as well. Tools embedded within an LMS can help, but even conditionally formatted spreadsheet templates can help as well.
Outside of the classroom, when we are talking about a larger system’s data, use data to praise what’s working as much as you use it to identify what isn’t. It can even strengthen praise by making it specific and targeted. “Your reading scores are up 18% - I know how much work must have gone into this” can be so much more meaningful than a “thank you for all your hard work!” If leaders’ critiques and improvement plans are always informed by data, why not then apply this same methodology to compliments and expressions of gratitude?
A Call To Action
In your system, what stories are you creating when you ask your teachers, students, and leaders to use data? How are you intentionally rewriting the narrative to transform your data “from the boyfriend who lives out of state”, to the “soulmate” that a strong, learner-centered educational community needs.
Data can be utilized to tell other stories as well in addition to a romance. To hear more authentic conversation about whether your data story is akin to a greek tragedy or an epic, hero’s journey, check our The Grounded Learners podcast episode called Data: A Twisted Love Story, on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or visit www.thegroundedlearnersguild.com.