In this space we present all the ways data can be used by teachers and administrators fine-tune or dramatically reinvent how teaching and learning happen in classrooms. We share processes and techniques teachers can use to zero in on students’ learning challenges – the gaps and misconceptions they may be experiencing, in order to re-think how the next lessons need to be orchestrated.  We counsel administrators at the both the school and district levels in how they can both initiate and support the rigorous use of data to inform decisions that can address  immediate needs as well as how to collect data   to monitor the impact of programs and policies.

In both cases, whether working directly with teacher leaders and teams or with administrative councils, we always stress the importance of continually raising the question of “why?”. Why are we seeing these results? If our data protocols are not opening the door to a relentless search for the causes of student learning gaps, we are missing out on the greatest opportunity to question the most fundamental contributors to low growth levels of our students – curriculum and instruction. And we’re not opening the door for teachers to continue to develop deeper knowledge of the content and learning progressions associated with acquiring the concepts, knowledge and skills in a domain as a means of adding to our repertoire of instructional strategies and techniques to engage learners every day in every lesson.

So what does effective data use in schools have to do with pre-surgery checklists? This past week Boston has been a swarming hive of thinking and exchange of ideas in an event called HUBweek 2017. At historic Faneuil Hall, Dr. Atul Gawandwe, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, discussed with Malcom Gladwell (author of Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers and more) about many aspects of rethinking health care and “introducing innovative systems to help save more lives.” (Boston Globe, 10/14/17 Metro section). Here is what grabbed my attention in the article.

“Despite the rush to find new and innovative ways to save patients, the medical profession must also ensure that basic medical protocols are followed. The extreme complexity of modern medicine has exceeded are ability to handle it.” (bold mine) These two sentences resonate so deeply with what teachers are experiencing every day.

The innovation Dr. Gawande and his colleagues developed, which is saving thousands of lives around the world, is a simple pre-surgical checklist to be used by surgeons and their team before surgery begins on a patient. “The goal, he said, has been to create a new kind of science, one that defines where failures occur, where complexities overwhelm teams and find prototypes to fix these problems” (Boston Globe, 10/14/17 Metro section). See the connection!  They are also focusing on the “why?”.

Many schools where we are working have introduced or are introducing Instructional Rounds, another practice borrowed from the medical world in hospitals, where teams of physicians go from patient to patient to review patient status.  In schools, teams of teachers, administrators and specialists visit classrooms to observe instruction and provide feedback to teachers. Is there something we could learn from the pre-surgery checklist that could help us save student learning in classrooms?  It’s a question I invite you to think about and share insights.

In the version of the check list furnished by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are three instances when surgeons take stock – before anesthesia is administered, before the start of the surgical intervention, before any member of the team leaves the operating room. As educators, we drill down into assessment results after the teaching has occurred (summative), or while the teaching is in motion (formative) and in doing our causal analysis we bring a wider range of evidence to the table. Does this check list from the medical field offer us an opening for what evidence we might confront in the moment in our classrooms?

What questions could we ask our students before instruction begins? During instruction?  At the conclusion of the instruction before moving to another subject or classroom? What interactions with students would this require that help us agree on what the learning needs are and what is going to take place? And make students real engineers in their own learning? What data would this generate to assist us in planning and adjusting lessons?

Is there an opportunity here for us to develop the Pre-Instruction Check List to help us ensure we’re getting ready to teach with absolute confidence in the lessons coming up? What would we include in that check list? What are excellent teachers already checking moment by moment during instruction? Could such a check list focus our attention of the most vital elements required for ensuring that all of our instruction produces the desired outcomes?Fishbone Close Up