By Diana Nunnaley, Director, TERC’s Using Data

Two thoughtful building administrators wanting to invest in a meaningful and effective initiative for data use in their schools recently came to me and asked. Who is the best person to lead a school’s data initiative?

Both of them, in their initial thinking, wondered if the best approach might be to have a district or building  “data person” present analyzed data findings, student learning problems, and identified solutions to the faculty. While this solution might address budget and scheduling constraints, in my experience it falls short of building and sustaining meaningful data use in a school. five football players in a huddleI have found that, in many cases, the “data person” is better with formulas and answers than with helping a broader group of stakeholders ask the right questions in order for them to recognize their own place in the CAUSE, as well as their place in the SOLUTION, toward enacting improved student achievement.

So…who IS the best person to lead a school’s data work? The best person is really a data team, led by a designated data coach who assumes the responsibility of organizing data meetings and resources, but who shares responsibility for meeting facilitation, data analysis, verifying causes of student learning problems, and identifying solutions. Together, the team members participate in focused professional development that builds common vision, language, and facility with an iterative process for engaging in data dialog. The REAL question is, “Who should be on the data team?”

If your school is fortunate enough to have a data person, it’s extremely helpful to have that person participate on the team. He or she might be the one most familiar with the data systems, data reports, and data support resources that the district and school can provide for the team (state-level data, district benchmarks, demographic and attendance data, etc.).

However, learning to use the data is so much more than just having the right data queued up. Therefore, a critical member of the team is a content specialist in the subject related to the data being examined. If you’re drilling into English language arts (or mathematics or science) performance data, the team will benefit from having a literacy coach or language arts specialist. If your school has no building-level content coaches or specialists, your strongest content teacher in the grade level(s) being examined can serve in this role. Their pedagogical content knowledge will sharpen and clarify the focus of observations and inferences coming from other team members as they analyze the data.

teachers sitting around table with data chartsThe MOST IMPORTANT members of the team are classroom teachers. They bring deep knowledge about student thinking, engagement, and struggles, drawn from their day-to-day classroom experiences. They will ask the most insightful questions and take the inquiry to more productive thinking as the team begins to take the data apart. They will add to the conversation about available data sources, including informal common grade-level assessments, informal formative assessments, student observations, surveys, and the like.

Should the principal or headmaster be on the team? YES – but as an equal member of the team, not as the facilitator. In our experience facilitating the TERC Using Data process, if you assume that the administrator needs to facilitate the analysis of data, the team could be held back from developing their own trust and confidence in the data and their own ownership of student learning problems and their solutions. The principal’s key role is to learn how to support the teachers during their inquiry process and then support the implementation of their responses to the data—moving toward a model of distributed and shared leadership.

Consider the situation where the school administrator or any other data team member retires, moves to a new building, or is replaced. If you have developed a strong data team, the capacity to continue the initiative remains, and the students in that school continue to reap the benefits of meaningful data use that supports excellent teaching and strong learning.

Related Blog Post: Using Data Tip #1: Be a Data Leader