Building A Foundation for Strong Data Culture in Schools

photo by lukas blazek on unsplash

Overview

Collaboration, communication, creation, workshops, conferences, professional development. These are all concepts that go hand-in-hand with teaching. Teachers are used to workshops and conferences where they are able to connect with other educators on current best practices in education. These opportunities allow them to improve on their own teaching skills and often lead to the increased success of their students.

What about the other people in the school that don’t work directly with students? What about the people in admissions, finance, and communications and technology? Wouldn’t these people also benefit from having some type of collaboration at workshops and conferences related to their work?

As a former classroom teacher for 17 years, moving into a new role of technology coach and data and information specialist, I have been exposed to a different way of working in schools. Most people that share a similar role often have limited collaboration with few people in the organization. We are often left to work on our own with the communication we have around being in meetings to hear about the work that needs to be done. That being said, the role of a data specialist in the organization is extremely important.

Creating the group

I have always been excited to meet other people with similar skill sets and similar job descriptions. It does help me grow as a learner to be able to collaborate together with people. When I moved into my new role as a data specialist, I knew there were people out there I could collaborate with online, but what about face to face? I searched in Asia for conferences that would provide experiences for data-minded individuals in education. I found a lot for business professionals, but not education. This made me wonder if there might be other people in the region feeling the same way. I decided to reach out and find out.

Through a variety of direct contacts with technology coaches in other schools, I was able to start to put together a general list of people. Twitter also helped me start to connect as well. I had built a small group of people and decided that I wanted to find a way to get these like-minded people together. I knew there might be a difference with backgrounds and expertise. Some people would be working strictly with systems and operational data and others would be more focused on academics. Still, others might the one person in the organization that has to do it all.

Bringing everyone together

With the support of my school and Chief Innovation Officer, I sent out an initial message to see who might be interested. I decided to set the date and send out formal invitations. I was overwhelmingly surprised with the initial response. We ended up having 12 people from international schools in Singapore, one person from Malaysia and one person from Indonesia come together. From here, The Southeast Asia Data in Schools (SEADS) Co-Lab was born.

After greetings and introductions, we discussed the topic of building a strong data culture. A school with a strong data culture will build in routine data use into everything they do. Everyone in the organization from board members to admin and teachers to parents and even students will understand how and why we use data to make informed decisions. Schools with a strong data culture have it embedded into everything they do. It’s the stuff you do when no one is looking. How do we get from a point of not utilizing data to a place where it is embedded in everything we do?

This is something that takes time. It needs to start with the support of the administration. If the administration holds teachers accountable and shows that there is a purpose not just for collecting data, but for using data to inform instruction, teachers will be more likely to see the value and appreciate the use of data.

Once teachers understand that collecting and reflecting on data isn’t about the teacher and being evaluative of the teacher’s effort, it is about how we can help students succeed. We can use data to shine a light on what we are doing and find the areas where we can improve student learning.

Data Literacy & Data Personas

We then took a step in a different direction and discussed data literacy and how it plays a role in schools. Qlik Technologies has some pretty well-defined ideas about data literacy. Qlik describes four data personas that are in any organization:

Data Aristocrat Icon

Data Aristocrat

Crucial role
Statistical skill-set
Work well with data
Mentors within organizations

Data Knight Icon

Data Knight

Eager to learn
Need to continue to grow data skills
Grow use of data
Supports and coaches others

Data Dreamer Icon

Data Dreamer

Beginners in the world of data
Embody essence of data literacy
Need to provide opportunities for growth
Allow for input and lower-level support

Icon for Data Doubter

Data Doubter

Need to maintain balance with doubter
Help them see “why” behind data
Can be a key to grow data literacy
Help them progress with their skills

A variety of people under the same umbrella

With such a mixture of backgrounds in the room, there were many questions.

  1. How do we set up systems for data collection?
  2. In what ways can we make sure data is reliable and accurate?
  3. How can we trust the data we collect?
  4. What are best practices for sharing data?

Understanding how different organizations plan out data collection was an important sharing point. With so many systems and choices, there is no right answer. That being said, there is a correct method. It is important to have data collecting standards and to make sure there is a central source for collecting data. If there are no standards, data will be inaccurate and hard to find. This is something that goes for any platform being used.

For academic data, this is the same. We need to make sure administration and teachers understand the value of inputting data and that they know how to input data to reduce inaccuracies. This will help our data aristocrats make sure the data is accurate when generating reports and dashboards.

Moving forward

School leaders often say that having data is great because collecting data and analysis will lead to insights. Those insights will lead to actions which translate to adjustments in instruction which should lead to improved student learning. However, there is one huge missing piece: access. This is not just access to a spreadsheet or a file.

Access Leads to Insights in Data

Access means being able to understand and use the information. This is an area we need to make sure we do well. By making information accessible to our teachers, they will be more likely see the usefulness of the data. Collecting data is not about pointing fingers, it is about finding solutions. Let’s make sure we are intentional about creating the right culture around data.

If you or someone at your school would like to be a part of our group, please get in touch and I will be happy to add you to the list.

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