Sabrina Sterling’s Journey: From Art Aspirations to Data Innovation

Early Career and Evolution in Educational Technology

Sabrina Sterling, a seasoned technology instructional specialist with over two decades of experience in a K-12 school system in Southeast Georgia, initially aspired to become an art teacher. However, she found her way into the realm of technology through graphic design. In her role, Sterling has significantly contributed to various projects by enhancing visuals and making technology more user-friendly. Despite being in a seemingly rural area, the presence of a military base has facilitated access to advanced technology.

Throughout her tenure, Sterling has witnessed a remarkable evolution in educational technology—from a lack of computers to the current one-to-one Chromebook setup. She emphasizes the pivotal role of presentation in technology, acknowledging its significance in marketing, conveying care, and improving usability. With a background in instructional technology, Sterling reflects on the gradual pace of technology adoption by teachers but remains committed to making a difference in the educational landscape.

As technology became more integral to education, Sterling’s role evolved, leading her to pursue a doctorate and delve into the data side of education. While initially involved in application training, teaching PowerPoint and Excel, she seamlessly adapted to the shift towards Google Apps for Education G Suite. Sterling even pursued certification, staying updated with tools like Fusion tables during the transition period.

Embarking on Data Innovation with Looker Studio

Sabrina Sterling’s introduction to Google Looker Studio at work marked a turning point in her career. A few years earlier, she had experimented with Google Data Studio, which received a lukewarm reception due to uncertainties about data management. However, with a new school superintendent experienced in Power BI, the need for someone familiar with Google tools arose. Sterling’s expertise was recognized, and she showcased a portfolio of her work, including samples from her certification and projects in Excel. The new assistant superintendent of teaching & learning was impressed with my capabilities, and I was entrusted with projects such as calculating the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) and examining other school district metrics.  

Sabring shared her journey in adopting Looker Studio at her school district. The team encountered challenges in managing the acceleration of the work, realizing the importance of effective system management and regular maintenance. She expressed concerns about the logistics involved in maintaining and updating the system, particularly when dealing with permissions and data complexity.

In search of inspiration, Sabrina decided to explore a Google Data Studio list of K-12 professionals on Laura Tilton’s EduDataStudio website, where she discovered my own work. Impressed by its aesthetic appeal, she reached out to Smith Visualizations for guidance. Known for my expertise in education and data visualization, became a valuable resource for her.

I highlighted the need for a systematic approach to updates, especially given the frequent changes required. With my background well in both technicalities and educational context, provided clear and concise instructions. Sterling appreciated my ability to bridge the gap between technical and educational knowledge, making the learning experience valuable and applicable to her work.

Transformative Changes in Education

The adoption of Looker Studio at Sterling’s school brought about transformative changes. However, I emphasize the significance of teamwork in data projects. I underscored the value of having a team member skilled in SQL and data engineering, handling tasks like API keys, SQL, and C#  scripting. With a dedicated data engineer, I also benefited from increased efficiency in my work because I could request specific data structures and formats.

Sabrina acknowledged that seeking help, whether from team members or external experts like me at Smith Visualizations, has been a valuable lesson. I encourage this approach, emphasizing that seeking assistance can open doors for personal and organizational advancement. The exchange highlights the collaborative and supportive nature of working in a team, ultimately leading to shared success and growth.

When asked about the motivations behind choosing Looker Studio over traditional tools like Excel spreadsheets or district-produced data, Sabrina emphasizes the need for uniformity and accountability across all schools. She describes the bandwidth constraints on assistant principals tasked with data-related responsibilities and the stress associated with managing various data points.

Sabrina expresses the importance of transparency and consistency in data reporting across schools. By using Looker Studio, she aims to eliminate discrepancies in how schools showcase themselves, ensuring everyone is on the same page. The goal is to provide a unified platform for assessing school performance, ultimately helping students rather than focusing on judgment.

Sabrina adds that Looker Studio allows her to create district-level dashboards while ensuring schools see only their summary data based on permissions. The transparency provided by Looker Studio alleviates concerns about judgment and allows schools to focus on their action plans for student improvement. The discussion concludes with both acknowledging the global impact of the pandemic on education and the challenges of supporting students who missed crucial early educational experiences.

Tools of the Trade: Sketchbooks and Canva

One of the key tools in Sterling’s arsenal is her sketchbook, which she considers indispensable for planning dashboards and keeping notes. This meticulous approach to planning, organization, and continuity reflects her dedication to ensuring the success of data projects.

She recommended using Canva for creating graphics and layouts in Looker Studio. Canva allows her to extract colors from the school system’s logo and apply them using hexadecimal codes in Data Studio. This ensures consistency in color selection between Canva and Data Studio, making it easier to create visually cohesive dashboards.

Sabrina has a process of using dot paper to draw out the layouts and deciding on the aspect ratio (either 4:3 or 16:9). She tends to opt for a 4:3 ratio for easier printing on standard letter-sized paper. After finalizing the overall design, she then creates templates or slide decks for various elements, such as wide banners and smaller banners, using different color approaches to distinguish between grade levels.

The use of Canva not only facilitated the design process but also allowed her to experiment with different versions and ratios. This approach helped her determine what worked best for the dashboards, providing a helpful resource for others entering this work. Overall, Sabrina’s recommendation emphasizes the practicality and versatility of Canva in creating visually appealing layouts for Looker Studio.

Sabrina considers her sketchbook as an indispensable tool for planning dashboards and keeping notes. The sketchbook serves as her “Bible,” containing trial-and-error records, ideas, and breakdowns of assessments. It includes handouts, sample outlines, and color versions of designs. 

The sketchbook captures the skeleton of ideas, and she organizes it meticulously. When it gets full, she transitions to another, maintaining a structured approach. The measurements on the dot paper assist in translating designs to Canva, where I export elements as PNGs. Sabrina states, “My Sketchbook is not just a creative space; it serves as a practical and tangible tool for maintaining continuity, scaling, and easy calculation, reflecting my dedication to meticulous planning and organization.”

Success Stories and Recommendations

One highlight for Sterling that came out of using Looker Studio in her district was with one of the most reluctant technology users, an administrator, who unexpectedly expressed enthusiasm for the tool, asking when the next set of scores would be available. This positive response was surprising and encouraging, indicating that even those initially resistant to technology could find value in Looker Studio. Additionally, she mentions the excitement from the new high school principal, who expressed anticipation for having data ready in January right after the assessment season. This unexpected enthusiasm from someone new to the position was particularly rewarding.

One of the biggest benefits of improving our systems is leveraging the feedback from “data doubters” or those initially hesitant about the tool, as they can provide valuable insights and challenges that improve the implementation. Involving the reluctant technology users in providing feedback is more powerful than getting feedback from your “data champions”. Overall, the success story underscores the importance of addressing diverse user perspectives, even those initially resistant to technology, and the positive impact of taking a measured and deliberate approach to implementation.

Conclusion: Inspiring Educators in the Technology Landscape

Sabrina Sterling’s journey, marked by continuous learning, collaboration, and a meticulous approach to data projects, serves as an inspiration for educators navigating the ever-evolving landscape of educational technology. Her story underscores the transformative power of innovative tools and the importance of effective communication, both within educational teams and with external experts like myself. I look forward to seeing Sabrina’s exciting development in her school district.

Would you be willing to share your journey with me about how you have used data effectively in your school? Get in touch. I’d love to have a chat.

Skip to content