Guest Blogger: Jennifer Ungercalendar with many red tacks on one day

There’s a familiar saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” If comments I hear when working with educational leaders can be taken as evidence, then it’s true.

In order to use data for meaningful change, TERC’s Using Data project advocates the identification of a Data Coach to lead a Data Team or multiple Data Teams. When we talk with school leaders about who might best serve as a Data Coach or team member, I hear comments such as, “I really think Dana would be a great data leader (or team member), but she/he is already involved in so many initiatives.”

In my experience, wise leadership makes all the difference. Let’s explore this dilemma more deeply…

When district and school leaders struggle to identify individuals who should be included in the next big improvement initiative, they do often look first to their “busy people”—their enthusiastic, inquisitive, positive, and interested early adopters and peer influencers—to have the best shot at success. In the case of developing a school-wide culture of using data to inform practice and raise student achievement, administrators need to identify someone who can lead the initiative as a Data Coach, and then they need to identify core data team members to model and replicate data analysis processes and best practices.

woman in computer lab juggling laptop, tabley, clock, smartphoneThoughtful administrators grapple with questions such as: Can my already busy people successfully provide leadership and model effective data-use that eventually will permeate the entire district or school? Or will they “burn out” and become jaded and perhaps as cynical as your core resisters?

From my experience as a Using Data Facilitator, I offer this consideration: Yes, do call on your busy people to be your data leaders. For one thing, their involvement in other important initiatives will help integrate data use into the culture of change, which, in turn, better guides all improvement efforts. But it’s also essential to provide your chosen leaders with the structures, training, support, and recognition they need to get the job done and feel good about it.

In Part 2*, I’ll offer guidance about what an administrator must consider in order to adequately support a successful and meaningful using-data initiative that can inform improvement in pedagogy, curriculum, and student achievement.

Jennifer Unger is Director of The GroupWorks in Massachusetts and a Senior Facilitator for TERC’s Using Data Project.

* To access Part 2: “Supporting Your Data Leaders” go to