If you look up the word “data” on dictionary.com, under the thesaurus function it says, “Information in visible form.” This definition really reflects the concept of Using Data, which is the theme of this issue of MI Toolkit. Data isn’t about what we think is happening in our schools; it’s about information that is systematically collected and presented in a form that can help educators clearly and accurately see what’s happening in their schools and districts. And, according to noted systems expert Peter Senge, an accurate assessment of current reality is a prerequisite to any change effort: “In moving toward a destination, it is vital to know where you are now.”1
Using data involves several elements: deciding what data to collect and/or review; having professional and collegial conversations about the data to discover what it means; and using data to set targets for improvement and to monitor progress toward those targets.
Of these elements, discussing the data can often be the most difficult. The data may bring up sensitive issues or challenge long-held mindsets; it may evoke feelings of inadequacy or guilt, or even anger. This month’s Toolkit offers resources to help school and district leaders talk about data. On the Using Data page, you’ll find a tutorial on how to conduct a Data Dialogue with your colleagues. We’ve expanded that resource by adding video footage of a live data dialogue that was filmed with Vicksburg Community Schools. Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews addresses how to approach the sensitive issue of race in education using the data dialogue as a starting point. In addition, Dr. Diane Jackson speaks to the use of coaching skills when talking about data.
Effective leadership and high-performing school teams promote constructive collaboration among professionals over data and energize improved student achievement. Dr. Bruce Wellman, nationally renowned expert and coauthor with Laura Lipton of Got Data, Now What? speaks to these issues in a video recorded just for MI Toolkit. Dr. Jacquelyn Thompson, MI Excel’s achievement gap specialist for students with IEPs, synthesizes Michael Fullan and Lyn Sharratt’s idea of “putting faces on the data”2 with practical advice as to what data might be most valuable and what questions to think about when discussing data around students with IEPs. MI Toolkit writer Angela Son reports on how two Michigan schools, Hiller Elementary in Madison Heights and University YES Academy in Detroit, are using data as the foundation of their improvement efforts, while Sean Williams, former principal and doctoral candidate describes how MSU’s Michigan Fellowship of Instructional Leaders program helps school leadership teams use data as the basis for improving their instructional core.
There’s much more to this month’s issue of MI Toolkit, on every page; we hope you take your time and explore all the resources and articles and come back every month as we add even more.