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

I was bolstered by this bit of news from Tennessee via Learning Forward about the efficacy of teacher teams that meet regularly to share data and strategies. The article is a sound-bite about the good news for student achievement in Wilson County that leaves me hungry for the details about how their meetings are structured,Three teachers collaborating in front of a large chart showing their school improvementy action plan what data they look at, and how that data inform practice. From the published results, they seem to have discovered the perfect storm where collaboration, data, and strategies/solutions meet to make a difference. I, for one—as a facilitator of processes to help conjure similar storms, applaud them!

But the news item also reminded me that there’s more to this kind of success than simply meeting as a team and sharing “what works.” Surely, many schools and districts provide common meeting time for PLCs (professional learning communities). Often, the members select a worthy professional reading and then discuss it together. Excellent knowledge expansion!

In most schools, grade level teams have time to meet weekly. These meetings generally include earnest informal sharing of strategies and tips for teaching concepts in new, interesting, and lively ways. As a former teacher, I identify with that mindset of “what’s mine is yours if it helps.” It feels good to be supported!

And undoubtedly, various teams (grade levels, vertical teams, content areas, improvement and instructional teams) meet to look at student data to determine if scores are heading up or down.

However, it’s the confluence and inter-relatedness of these three activities, driven by a collaborative inquiry process for analyzing multiple data sources—from state assessment tests to the work students produce in classrooms—that stirs up results like the ones reported in Tennessee.

Having just returned from Jacksonville, Florida where Using Data is working with teacher teams in Duval County as part of a study funded by IES to investigate the efficacy of a collaborative data-use process to drive improvement, I was heartened when one participant shared an ah-ha moment. “Before we created our Data Team and started the Using Data process, we already had PLCs and grade-level meetings where we shared classroom strategies.” She went on to explain that now it’s different. The analysis of multiple data sources is centered on a formalized collaborative inquiry process. This process helps the team to pinpoint the exact nature of student learning problems, which, in turn, leads to strategic selection of readings for their PLCs to investigate the best-practice research for addressing the identified problem. And when grade level teams meet to share strategies, they target classroom practices linked to specific student needs defined in the data that can be applied across the grade and even across grade levels. A key element of their process is progress monitoring to assess impact and adjust, adjust, adjust until results are achieved.

Bravo to Wilson County, Tennessee. Bravo to Duval County, Florida. And, if you’re hungry for more information about the elements for creating a perfect storm in your district, have a look at, Using Data: It’s the process that leads to improvement (scroll down to “Articles by Using Data” and click on the first article). You might also find Using Data’s free data tips helpful. The series, taken together, outlines a continuous collaborative inquiry process for analyzing data and taking action toward results.