Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Every Day Should be Data Day

There’s not a single day in the school year that’s capable of both boosting teachers’ morale or crushing them entirely more than data day.

Use the data. All the data.
Before I continue, I must first disclose I’m not against the “idea” of data day. Nor am I against measuring class data to inform and guide instruction. Quite the contrary actually — when I was in the classroom, I triangulated data from a variety of sources (including my own “teacher hunches”) and then made informed instructional decisions.

Of course, I came from the investment banking world, so making overly complex spreadsheets (on top of the mandated school gradebook) wasn’t a big issue. However, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a norm for teachers. Although this practice proved somewhat useful, it was incredibly time-consuming and difficult to maintain. As I gained more teaching experience, I learned when to overkill with data and when to go with my gut. Using data can be a hardship, but it can also be a game changer when used appropriately, efficiently, and in a timely manner.

My distrust for data day comes from how its typically implemented in practice. Teachers are in essence promised a full day to churn useful, yet otherwise hard-to-compile information into their daily work. But by the time data day actually happens, one or all of the following occur:
(a) Teachers get bogged down with so much lesson planning and grading the new "data" becomes overkill.
(b) Teachers grow frustrated with the plethora of unorganized data "handed off" to them from a printer.
(c) Some teachers use data to develop a plan of attack, while others grow weary and lost. School leadership fails to pair these groups up.  
In my experience, data day became a dumping ground to do things we should be doing more often. Kind of like receiving a giant gift basket on Teacher Appreciation Day, when all you really had to do was say “thank you” periodically.

It's nice to be thanked today, but come on, you could make a slightly better effort and notice me a bit more, yeah?

I think schools need to completely redefine what “data day” means. In general, it’s offered twice a school year, once in the middle and once at the end. There are schools that offer it more frequently, but it still remains up to school leaders to determine how effective this day is. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous to expect every teacher to effectively use one day for something that should be happening weekly. Some schools are reducing the number of professional development days as a solution and that’s not helpful. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice professional development in the name of personalized instruction — they go hand-in-hand.

Data day should be every day (and maybe school-wide, it should be weekly) for teachers. While that’s unrealistic now given there isn’t enough time in the school day or week, it must be done. There’s a big demand for personalized learning and that doesn’t happen without teachers effectively using data to adjust their practices in real-time, all the time. We’ve got to figure out a way to balance professional development and data analysis with instructional delivery. Master teachers are able to engineer learning experiences that put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning. You don’t get that kind of magic without content expertise and student data analysis.

Unfortunately, master teachers are rare gems who often sacrifice a lot of their “me” time for the job. If we want sustainability, schools should think about developing staff-wide practices that build off what master teachers do, rather than simply glorifying how hard they work to “go the extra mile.”

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