GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Senior Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

As powerful as an inquiry process might be, it is only good if practiced regularly.

Recently, we met with teams of teachers in Florida who are learning the TERC Using Data process of school-based collaborative inquiry. Between our two scheduled face-to-face sessions, these data teams returned to their schools to apply the process they had learned and dig deeper into their own data analysis with colleagues. One returned with an epiphany. “I thought we were learning a quick way to ‘fix’ things. I now realize that there is no quick way to do this. You just have to take the time to engage in the process, understand what to do to get results, and do it!”Clock face overlaid on a calendar

Meaningful data analysis, pinpointing student learning problems by triangulating multiple data sources, deconstructing student work samples, finding root causes for emerging problems, and launching a plan to tackle these problems takes time.

Anyone who has ever integrated inquiry into classroom instruction knows how time-consuming it is…and how valuable. The same holds true for a data analysis process based on collaborative inquiry.

Given the frantic pace of the school day and the school year, finding time in schools, even for the most worthwhile activities, can seem almost impossible. However, there is no way to have an inquiry-friendly culture without allocating time for teams of teachers to use data, plan, monitor, and reflect. For most schools, that requires rethinking how time is allocated. Here are some ideas and strategies that successful Using Data schools are using*:

Freed-up time

This strategy entails freeing teachers from regular instructional time to participate in data-focused professional development or data analysis activities. It is achieved by hiring substitute teachers or by recruiting administrators, parents, or other volunteers to serve as subs. Volunteers can also cover teachers’ recess and lunch duties.

Restructured or rescheduled time

This solution requires formally altering overall instructional time—the school day, the school year, or teaching schedules. Examples of this time-creating strategy are a move to a team-teaching approach, a year-round school schedule, or a revised schedule that allows for regularly-allocated early student release days.

Common time

Many schools encourage common teacher preparation and planning time, rather than individual prep time. This enables teachers to meet as grade-level or subject-area teams. Common meeting time, when coupled with a lunch break, for example, can result in approximately 90 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Better-used time

Most schools already have time built-in for teachers to meet, such as staff, department, and grade-level meetings. Encouraging a culture of electronic communication can greatly reduce the amount of time spent at these meetings on administrative-related activities. And more time to engage in inquiry. Additionally, comprehensive reassessment of existing professional development plans, and using more of that time for data analysis and collaborative problem-solving, can often lead to greater gains overall.

Purchased time

Some schools and districts are able to reallocate existing funds and occasionally provide stipends for teachers to engage in improvement planning activities outside the school day.

Wise education leaders, as well as classroom teachers, who recognize the power of inquiry and collaborative data analysis to improve learning, work hard to find creative solutions to the time crunch. They concede that they do spend more time planning up front, but the time is well spent. Time isn’t wasted solving the wrong problems or taking actions that won’t get results. And taking time to set up a good data management system adds to the efficiency of the process. So think of this time spent as an investment—one that pays off when results show student achievement on the rise!

*Excerpted from Using Data/Getting Results, TERC, Cambridge, MA.