Who needs data?


Next week, I’ll be flying to Denver to present Phoenix’s story along with our new principal and the director and supervisor of Professional Development for the district. We 4 will be telling our story at the National Staff Development Council’s annual conference.
In looking at the session descriptions when registering a few months ago, I was struck by the lack of variety. With perhaps 4 (and that could be pushing it) exceptions, every breakout and keynote session is centered around data and the amazing things different districts, schools, departments and teachers have done with it. Data, I’ve realized, is the Silly Putty or Little Black Dress of education.
Our presentation will not be about data. It will include data. To be sure, data has its place in the structure of success at Phoenix. We use it to inform our instruction. We use it calculate projected success on the FCAT. We use it to understand “academic needs.”
Data will not drive our presentation. It does not drive our school. I should clarify my use of the term “data” here is meant in its clinical sense.
What drives our school and will, in turn, drive our presentation are relationships.
Formative and summative, high-stakes, formal and informal – assessments in the hands of teachers will not decide the success or failure of that teacher’s students in the academic year.
Relationships are key.
As such, our presentation will reflect this.
Here’s the funny thing. As I write this, there’s a tinge of wonkiness at the thought of the heresy of downplaying the importance of data. My first experience with PD as a professional teacher were on things like data walls and the drafting of common assessment meant to synthesize the state assessment. My indoctrination started early.
Let me put the argument to you another way: Do you want teachers who know data or teachers who know kids?
“This is Mr. Chase, he can compile interpret a great Data Wall.” vs. “This is Mr. Chase, he finds ways to reach and motivate some otherwise lost students.”
I know my argument has holes. Poke at them. Push this. Push me to think. Anyone?
More later.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixieclipx/414065100/

One thought on “Who needs data?

  1. Like anything in the world there is always a middle ground. I think data can be incredibly powerful. I read somewhere (can’t remember sorry) that unless teachers get considerable support in the first two years of their teaching they will revert to teaching in the way they were taught. I was at Primary school in the 1970’s and didn’t train to be a teacher until the 1990’s and didn’t start teaching until 1997. I don’t think I am teaching in the manner I was taught but I do recognise those tendencies. Two things have helped me. One is ongoing professional development since training as a teacher. The other is involvement in research. I think, at the very least, teachers ought to be involved in action research of their own classrooms.

    But….

    There are so many things in education that cannot be reduced to quantifiable data. A couple of years ago I worked in a class creating a powerpoint of a postcard activity they had been doing. I sat with my laptop on my knee showing on the data projector photos the children had taken. As each photo was shown the children came up and recorded their reflection orally into audacity. One photo was shown and a boy got up and recorded his reflection. When he had finished the class applauded. They hadn’t done this for anyone else. I thought it was a bit strange but I carried on. At the end the teacher came up all excited and asked to hear that boy’s recording. I found it, played it back and she said “Did you hear the children clap?” “Yes” I said, “that was a bit strange. Why did they do that?”
    “He is an elective mute” said the teacher.
    Apparently he hardly ever speaks but he had got up and recorded his evaluation of his photo no problem. The children had recognised how important it was for him.

    My question is… How do you turn this story into data? Should we even be bothered trying? I think there is power in telling powerful stories but we have been captured by our western scientific verifiable data mentality (Not that I am rejecting scientific method). I just think there is a balance. Perhaps part of the answer lies in greater teacher involvement in qualitative research.

    Oh I could go on and on. Thanks for the question in this post.

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