We ask teachers to be “data-driven”, but most districts aren’t setting educators up for success. How can we change that?

Most teachers aren’t data scientists (breaking news, I know). But they are among the most educated professionals in our workforce, with nearly 60% holding a master’s degree or higher. 

They’ve also identified the crucial role that data can play in the classroom: nearly 9 in 10 teachers think data is vital for effective instruction. 

The problem?

Many districts have fostered a data culture in which teachers don’t view the data they track and report as an asset. At best, it’s seen as an extra chore. At worst, it’s seen as a tool that can be used against them at contract renewal time.

So how can school districts create a data culture that empowers their highly-educated, highly-capable teachers? Here are three mindset shifts to consider.

Get Back to Basics

One of the biggest challenges teachers face when it comes to data is the sheer amount of it that they’re expected to track and report using an array of tools and communication methods.

It’s no secret how we ended up here. In the early days of the “data-driven” approach to education, the prevailing mindset was that more data is always better. If it’s a data point that you can track and report, why wouldn’t you?

The reality is that teachers are too busy to focus on “nice-to-have” data. District leaders should take a first principles-based approach to the data they ask teachers to track and report. Identify the most important metrics and data to report on - in their simplest form - and eliminate all data requests that aren’t absolutely necessary (one exception to this rule is automated data that doesn’t needlessly consume teachers’ precious time - more on that later).

By not overtaxing educators with excessive, non-teaching requests on their time, district leaders are more likely to foster a sustainable data culture that benefits all stakeholders - not just leadership.

Put Data In Perspective

Effective teaching is hard. Like, really hard.

So is making a Pixar movie (stay with me).

For every Pixar film, co-founder Ed Catmull brought together a team of smart, creative folks to map out the story and plan the production. Inevitably, there were roadblocks, false starts, and mistakes made along the way.

Catmull recognized that when trying to accomplish something challenging, there will be shortcomings and obstacles to overcome, even when you hire the best and brightest. Those shortcomings and obstacles can breed anxiety, negativity, and even fear if not managed properly. So Catmull’s production teams followed a five-word mantra:

You are not your idea.

This simple phrase packs an empowering punch. It gave Pixar production teams license to pitch their most creative and ambitious ideas without fear of how it would reflect on them professionally. It allowed them to view their mistakes and misfires as a learning experience, not something to be spun or swept under the rug.

District leaders should follow a similar mantra when it comes to Teacher performance:

You are not your data.

To be clear, data is obviously a vital indicator of student and teacher performance (we built a whole company around its importance), but data shouldn’t be used in an exclusively pejorative context. Like the production team at Pixar, teachers should be empowered to use data - whether they’re hitting benchmarks or falling a little short - to enhance and personalize their instruction. This is easier said than done in districts where teachers view data as an opposing force to their professional growth.

Teachers are smart, capable, and adaptable. Districts should give them the opportunity to learn from data by taking a holistic approach to performance evaluation.

Give Teachers the Right Tools

Teachers are asked to take on innumerable tasks outside of the classroom, many of which concern tracking and reporting student data. 

When teachers spend all of their data-related time tracking and reporting to leadership, analysis and action fall by the wayside. If data-driven instruction is the goal, then districts should minimize the time teachers spend on administrative tasks, freeing them up to enhance their instruction with automated insights powered by an integrated data platform.

Shameless plug time: At Schoolytics, we’re building a student data platform designed to help teachers take their data-driven instruction to the next level. Check out this hands-on demo to explore it for yourself!