There’s something about data

In thinking about the way we use data in the classrooms, I came across an interesting blog post in the Harvard Business Review.

In challenging businesses to loosen their reliance on data, Roger Martin writes:

We have a deep seated desire to quantify the world around us so that we can understand it and control it.  We must…consider the possibility that if we can’t measure something, it might be the very most important aspect of the problem.

Data should be seen as complementary to the relationship between student and teacher.  At its very heart, learning is a relational process and quality learning depends on the strength and depth of the relationship since it involves building trust based on mutual respect.  How do you measure these sorts of domains?  How do you report on these?  If we only rely on quantitative data, we are doing a grave disservice to the learning and teaching process.

I believe data gives us the best indicator of where students are struggling; it will never replace the responsibility of teachers in asking why and how based on the mutual respect.

Part of the problem with teachers and principals using data effectively is that like many in the business world, they have a natural inclination to resist  the use of quantitative data to inform practice because they understand the issues above.  However, it should never be an either/or – there has to be room for all forms and sets of data not just the most accessible or easily comprehensible.

Our focus is to help principals understand the data so they can challenge their own learning communities to ask why and how.

4 thoughts on “There’s something about data

  1. To understand the application and impact of all types of assessment in any school requires such a broad scope of knowledge and a great deal of perspective. A dialogue where that knowledge and perspective is shared across the community transparently would be brilliant. I like the idea of making those ideas simple for the wider community so they can feel they can participate and support their schools in the decisions they make.
    I think a balanced approach to data involves great self management. Managing our desire to make decisions and to act on them, tempered with our need for those decisions to be accurate and well founded. We need to be at ease with uncertainty.
    We could be doing well enough when we say we’re getting closer to the mark, and doing so more often but we’d need to remember that the target is always moving. We need the wide shots taken in the experimentation of our craft. Not only do those experimental shots help define every other mark we’ve made, but they sometimes hit the bullseye of a target we hadn’t yet seen.

    1. Great point Peter. One of the things we struggle with is how you encourage teachers to try something and have it not work and avoid a sense of failure. The only failure is not to learn from what you are striving to do – it’s at the heart of all learning endeavours. The complex issue of data is often raised to a status where it causes atrophy – we either drown in it or are afraid to go near it. The approach is to ask a few simple and sharp questions. What do my kids know now? What do they need to know? How will I engage in fixing the need to know? What will they know at the end of this? At its simplest this could be a qualitative statement that contextualises quantitative data.

  2. Agreed, on all points. I would also take it further out to include a community where children (peers), educators as well as parents participate on a variety of levels. I often find myself, as a parent, wondering what my children are being taught in school away from home so much of the day, so many days of the year, so many years of their lives. Is this knowledge, are these skills going to prepare them for muti-faceted succes in our future world? I cannot say, for sure. Though, I would like to…

    Transparency in any construct is difficult to achieve for so many reasons, but–like so many things– can be strongly sourced to fear (“a fear with many faces”–literally, as well as metaphorically). However, if steps, some bold–some tenuous– are continually taken to hit that mark, then eventually we will come all the closer.

    An important point to note would be that a community founded on the principles of the welfare of the greater good of all people, of all ages would be ideal… however, the design of that community would be critical to it’s success and survival. Basic tenets must be applied from the beginning (#1 “Do unto others, online, as you would have others do unto you, in person.”) that would inspire and support it’s evolution as well as pointing all participants toward their own personal loftier goals . Rather ideal, I know… but possible.? Indeed! Consider it a Globaledutopia… of sorts, where the tenets of the ideals are built into the model, itself, by the users.(who exhibit their own healthy “organic” social principles in a “virtual” community, as well as hold one another accountable for their actions, mistakes, while facilitating one another’s growth and learning in a compassionate and authentic way)

    All the best,
    Margaret Thompson
    MediaWise Kids

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