Guest Blogger: Jennifer Unger, Director, The GroupWorks, LLC and Senior Facilitator for TERC’s Using Data

Listening to President Obama’s speech at the Tucson Memorial Service last week, I found myself revisiting the events of the week and my reactions to them. I reflected on how quickly I had been sucked into the whirlwind of inferences and assumptions that raged about why this tragedy had happened. I was taken aback at how quickly I had found myself agreeing with this one or disagreeing with that one, trouble shooting a solution; and all this, without any data. I was running on gut instinct alone.

Thank you, President Obama, for slowing me down and helping me to reflect with you about this terrible tragedy.Blank Road Sign

It occurs to me how very important this message is—to slow down, to reflect, to be able to turn to one another, to be open to listening deeply to one another, to contribute to the talking, to develop a shared meaning based on facts and data, to understand what research we have that can help us confirm or refute our assumptions and inferences. It’s important to learn and to KNOW before we move to action and solution. But hanging out in uncertainty is hard.

It also occurs to me that I have been here before; ready to jump to conclusions and solutions without sufficient reflection and information — the Challenger disaster, the Gulf Oil crisis, the Christmas Day 2009 “near disaster” in Detroit, and the Toyota “acceleration problem.” (Let’s see, it wasn’t bad drivers or the floor mats, was it?)  And, yes, I have been here before as I work with schools to facilitate the effective and meaningful use of data in the Using Data process.

Student achievement in many schools is a tragedy – students are “injured” and “pass on” everyday. It’s a natural reaction that we look at school and district results and anxiously jump to solutions – more time, a different curriculum, a different set of textbooks, a different teacher, different students – smarter ones, and so on.

I understand the need for urgency. When it comes to kids, we can’t afford to wait. But I also understand the need for a process that will slow us down, help us turn to one another and stop the “blame game” long enough to listen deeply based on a thorough and rigorous analysis of the data and research before we generate and act on possible solutions. The schools that have been able to do this have seen the results.

Hanging out in uncertainty is hard, but I believe necessary to finding genuine causes and the right solutions. I resolve to remember to slow down, to reflect, to learn; then act.