Guest Blogger: Jennifer Unger
In Part I*, I offered an insight to educational administrators about the merits of leaning on your busy people—those already involved in other school and district improvement efforts—as your data leaders. In Part 2, I share a few thoughts about the level of support a wise leader provides to ensure that these people are successful.
It’s spring, and a good time to take stock of how using data has informed practice and affected student achievement at your site since the school year began.
Earlier in the year, did you make the decision to integrate broadly-implemented data tools and processes into the assessment/evaluation plan for your school or district? If you have not yet formalized a using-data effort, should you?
As mentioned in Part 1, the first step is identifying the Data Coach and data team members. Some schools refer to these people as their improvement team or teams. Once in place, reflect on the level of support and direction you need to provide. Here are some possible questions and ideas to consider:
• Are the selected people clear about their roles and responsibilities as data leaders (Data Coaches or data team members)? Nothing is so painful as sitting at meetings where people don’t know why they are there or what is the task to be accomplished. It wastes valuable time and talent.
• Do they have the resources needed to get the job done? For example, do they have ready access to multiple data sources (including state and district test data, attendance and behavior data, classroom data, and more)?
• Have they been provided with data literacy training in order to become proficient with the tools, protocols, and processes necessary for meaningful data analysis and collaborative problem solving? You can have the best chefs in the world, but without the training, ingredients, and utensils, we all go hungry.
• Have you provided time in the schedule for regular meetings and collaboration?
• Have you thanked them for taking on and doing this work? This isn’t the general nod of appreciation. It’s specific acknowledgement of what the work entails. “Thank you, Margaret, for agreeing to be our Data Coach. I know how busy you are, and I also know that we need your knowledge of data, your ability to facilitate groups, and your big-picture thinking to successfully integrate this work into the way we use data effectively and meaningfully at our school.”
• Have you articulated your support and what you will do to assist them? Let them know that you will be checking in with them within a certain timeframe. Review the role and the responsibilities while asking them what they feel they are bringing to the task and what they need (e.g., collaborative time to meet with teachers at each grade level, time at the next staff meeting to analyze the latest benchmark data, access to a content expert with knowledge of best practices to work through cause and effect analysis about why kids have misconceptions about fractions, talking to a department head to support working with her literacy team, etc.)
• Have you clearly identified your expectations in terms of deliverables and due dates (e.g., report of findings from state assessment results, identification of key and primary standards where students are most challenged, identification of groups of students who are most challenges, etc.)? And have you been clear about how these deliverables will be used?
We have all been on committees where the good work went into a black hole. Nobody asked for it, except as documentation it was done, and nobody used it in a meaningful way. Identifying specific timeframes and deliverables says, “This work is important. I need to have a handle on what you are learning, I will use what you and your group have developed to provide feedback to other teachers and other initiatives—such as using the data findings to inform our school improvement plan.”
• Have you publicly acknowledged to others who your data leaders are, their roles, and the nature and importance of their work? Are others clear on the expectations that you have for them to assist and support these leaders? Imagine this faculty room conversation:
Jem, the fifth grade teacher, is talking to David, another fifth grade teacher who is grading math papers, and says, “I hear that Judi is a Data Coach this year.”
David continues to grade papers and says, “Hum. Wonder what that’s all about?”
“I haven’t a clue,” says Jem, “Except, well, something to do with data and coaching, right? Well, as long as it doesn’t mean more work for me.”
David finishes entering the last grade in his grade book and looks across at Jem, “Yep, this, too, will pass.” They both smile as the bell rings.
Without publicly acknowledging the roles and responsibilities of Data Coaches and Data Team members, the importance of their work, as well as your support and commitment for their work, their efforts can be seriously undermined before it even begins to see the light of day.
• Have you scheduled time to periodically sit in on the work of the data team? Nothing says “this is important and valued” more than you spending your time with the data team. Your leadership matters. Your presence matters. It says that what they are doing matters – a great deal!
• Are you modeling what you want the Data Coach, data team, and your staff to be doing? Are your meetings and decisions based on evidence that is data informed? Are you using collaborative tools during meetings (e.g., establishing group roles, using norms of collaboration, verbalizing data safety regulations, etc.)? Do staff members see and hear you using a process like data driven dialogue when you bring data to the table for discussion? District and school staff members look to you to know what is important and what they should be doing and saying. Modeling speaks louder than words.
Lastly, in the event you are not the school/district administrators, but rather one of those “busy people” who has been called upon to serve, let some of these questions and ideas guide your communication with leadership. Heck, just send them a link to this blog post!
Here’s to starting your planning now for a busy AND productive next school year!
Jennifer Unger is Director of The GroupWorks in Massachusetts and a Senior Facilitator for TERC’s Using Data Project.
* To access Part 1: “Selecting Your Data Leaders” go to