Last year the school Librarian, Literacy Coach, and I wanted to find a way to build stronger relationships with the teachers in our school. All three of us are more than willing to help anyone who wants us to work with them, but sometimes it seems like the teachers don't quite know what to ask us to help support them with. It also seemed like teachers needed a time to take a break. So we decided to start Coffee, Cookies, and Coaches (C^3 for short).
The first one or two times we did this was a little slow. But as teachers started to hear about what was happening during these meetings, they started to show up. Okay, they mainly come for the coffee and snacks we provide, but there have been a number of great collaborative lessons which have come out of these events. Earlier this year I was invited to work with three science teachers who were doing an environmental awareness project with their students. The Literacy coach has been able to help teachers with their district required professional development. The Librarian has been able to get some teachers on board for a pilot program we will be starting in March which addresses media literacy.
Once a month during lunch we get to talk to teachers in a relaxed environment about what they are doing in their classrooms. They get to take a little bit of time away from their classrooms and their multitude of tasks to discuss their plans and brainstorm with all three coaches and a group of teachers whom they may not normally get to work with. As an added bonus we choose one person each month to receive the Gnome award. This is just an old cookie jar our Librarian found which we fill with the recipient's favorite cookies as a way to say thank you for letting us into their classrooms.
Today I felt that I was finally granted a reprieve from jumping from one meeting to another and watching the day slip by. I really only have myself to blame. We began rolling out our data process to our teachers and the last thing I wanted to do was present something and expect teachers to see the value in implementing it without further guidance. Instead, I opted to meet with each teacher one on one to make sure each teacher was able to ask all the questions they had and were able to see the benefit of using the data process. This approach has seemed to work well. I am able to talk to teachers about what data in their classes looks like and how they can use that data or generate additional useful data to better understand what their students need. The focus is to get teachers using data to drive instructional decisions.
What I have learned from these one on one meetings is that most teachers do make their instructional decision using data, they may just not do it formally by following a procedure. They do not just teach a lesson, see that a student is struggling, and then move on to the next lesson. Most teachers will choose an appropriate strategy for helping those struggling students in whatever form will benefit the students the most. While teachers do usually use data to informally inform instruction, I do truly believe that had I implemented a stronger procedure for reviewing student data through each lesson or unit I would have been a more effective teacher for all of my students.
This year I have been given the opportunity to lead our school’s newly formed data team. When this was initially offered to me, my first thought was “I’m a word person, not a numbers person.” What I realized is that data is not just numbers. This is a common conclusion that people jump to. The truth is that numbers (quantitative data) are just the easiest way to get a point across in a quick and easily accessible manner.
Think of it this way. If you do not have an expertise in a specific topic, you can look at numerical data and get an overall understanding if something is working or not working once you have just a little bit of background. Everyone has experience, good or bad, with traditional grades given in schools. The closer you are to 100 the better. Since most people are only familiar with this type of traditional grading background information must be given when students are given scores from standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, or GRE. Once the information as to what constitutes the lowest and the highest of possible grades is established, it is easier have a general understanding of the score that is reported.
Data that is not based on numbers (qualitative data) can be harder to share with those outside the field that is being discussed. This type of data requires extended explanation of the situation and the conclusion that was drawn. The best example I can give comes from a conversation I had with one of the art teachers I work with. She, along with others, were concerned that as we rolled out our new data procedures to teachers they were going to have to start quizzing and testing students more often to generate data to be used for the purpose of making instructional decisions. This seemed like an extra step to individuals who are used to evaluating students on site and making adjustments accordingly from there.
I asked her how she made the adjustments in her teaching when a student doesn’t understand or performs a skill poorly in her art class. She explained some changes she had made for a few students who needed review as well as some adjustments made for students who were more advanced. I then asked her how she knew which students to make those adjustments for. I mean with over 100 kids coming in and out, she didn’t just randomly give one kid one set of tasks while providing a different list for another. She reached over and pulled out a clipboard that was full of notes. Names of students in each class along with observations she had made while they were working were scribbled onto a collection of papers. That is data. It is not as easy to read, it does require some explanation, but that is data.
That discussion has given me the ability to broaden the definition of data for the teachers I work with which has allowed them to think about their utilization of data for the classroom in a different way. While we are only now getting teachers to really understand what using data in the classroom can look like and the impact it can have on instruction, I am excited that the teachers seem to be seeing the benefit to the approach and are willing to take the time to work with this procedure.