-by Annmarie Granstrand
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, shares that we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. As a literacy coach, I was always on the hunt for routines that could bear the weight of big data. Here are some strategies to build into your systems for data meetings.
Connect data-based goals and vocabulary to school values
The alphabet soup that is education terminology comes to a full boil in data meetings. I’ve even seen math teachers googling “RIT score”. The brave ones pause to ask “wait, what does student growth percentage really mean again?” Want a strong ROI on your data meetings? Pre-assess and pre-teach. Take the time to be sure everyone feels comfortable with the vocabulary, has a safe space to ask questions, and connects the content knowledge to your school’s values. For example, a team’s data analyst might say, “You will see the term RIT score often. It is our goal to move 75% of our students into the green quadrant of the Achievement Status and Growth Report in our MAP data. Our school’s mission is to see students make great gains and demonstrate growth.”
Illuminate trends and save outliers for another conversation
An impactful school leader prepares the focus and goals for a data meeting. Pick two or three student-level reports, pieces of writing, or informal assessments that demonstrate a trend across the grade level. You may have an inkling about what gap in the curriculum is creating this problem. But data meetings are your opportunity to leverage existing expertise, increase teacher capacity, and collaboratively problem-solve to directly impact student success.
As a second grade teacher in Chicago, my grade team would gather after our students completed the new unit’s pre-assessment writing task. Using the rubric individually, we would forward writing samples that scored a 2 out of 4. The team lead would notice a common deficit, like a weak introduction. Then the lead would open our data meeting by displaying a few of these student work samples for teachers to analyze in a brief gallery walk.
Bringing student work to data meetings is a common practice but should come with a focus. I’ve had occasion to sit with 28 “small moment” narratives on my lap, listening to my colleagues share funny stories and rock star writer moves. It can be a wonderful way to learn from veteran teachers and trade teaching moves that elicit great writing. The pitfall is outlier dominated discussion. For example, try to avoid conversations such as: Why does this student continue to invert these letters? Has anyone else had a Stein in their class before? What can I do to challenge this student? Keep your eye on the goal: identify grade level trends and what they tell us.
Series of strategic partnerships
Partner your educators strategically. It increases your meeting’s efficiency. Think about when you’ve had students consider an open-ended question and asked them to “turn and talk.” Which group got down to business? Which group was more likely to get off task or spend more time on pleasantries?
Listen to the No Stupid Questions podcast of October 31, 2021. In it Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth espouse the concept of dyads or bust. The idea: focus less on balancing talk time and more on getting down to the task at hand.
Once teams are sure they understand the data terms and a trend to address, these partnerships can work together to create classroom-level plans that support team-level goals. Consider pairings that leverage expertise. Partner a veteran teacher with a novice. Match someone who writes IEP goals with someone who strays from lesson plans. Listen in on these conversations without participating and following up later for some post-partnership feedback can help leaders see opportunities for professional learning or learn building-specific nuances.
Don’t forget to assign resources to each partnership so their data-informed discussions connect to implementation. One special educator and one classroom teacher can connect the select student work samples to the standards. Another two teachers can analyze how the curricula will or will not soon address this deficit. A third partnership might identify mentor texts for future mini-lessons. When the partnerships come back to the whole group, every educator’s input can be documented, considered, and valued by the team.
Just as we create a safe structure for students to collaborate, ask questions, and put learning into context, school leaders can develop efficient and effective data meetings for staff.
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