Discussing Data

Teaching has to be one of the most human professions – responsive yet passionate, caring and simultaneously joyful. Humans were designed to adapt and there aren’t many other crafts that require the fine tuned sense for when and how to adapt that require adaptation to happen so quickly and concretely.

I got into teaching because I love crunching numbers and interpreting data.

Over my years of teaching, I have conducted numerous informal interviews/discussions about the craft of teaching with colleagues.1 Why did you get into teaching? Why are you still teaching? Without fail, everyone has had a story to tell that was driven by the heart. They were compassionate, determined to change things for the better, and emotionally driven.2 I have not heard from a single teacher, “I got into teaching because I love crunching numbers and interpreting data…” We know that, as teachers, we should be making data driven decisions about instruction but we might not feel that we should be making data driven decisions. The language and mandates regarding assessment suggest that we make our instructional decisions by looking at numbers, trends, and intervention progress… none of that has any emotion or feeling to it and yet emotion is at the root of why an overwhelmingly large number of teachers decided to become teachers.

Therein lies the discrepancy.

During CLTs, staff meetings, PD, and planning, the language that we use to describe out teaching and the language that we use to guide our instructional decision making is, to be blunt, exceedingly dull and without heart. We’re currently struggling, as an educational community, connecting those dots and bridging the gap between our hearts and our data. As leaders, schools, and admin, must reform the way that we discuss data with teachers so that it connects with what makes them excited and passionate. Data discussions must be driven by story that connects to a teacher’s heart – their “why”. Making data driven decisions is vitally important as a teacher, but behind every piece of data there is a child. A human that has a specific set of needs. That is story.

Most teachers I know are worn down. Making the number of decisions each day that is required from the craft is absolutely exhausting. Add to that some of us aren’t comfortable analyzing and visualizing data and the fact that there’s no story attached to our data during these discussions and teachers drift (are dragged?) away from their passion and heart. We’re guided by the principle that assessment drives instruction. Perhaps we might also think about something like the story drives the data when we’re thinking about how to have discussions about data with teachers. Disillusionment and unexpected realities are two hugely important factors in the current rate of teacher burnout. Teachers will continue teaching if it fills their heart. So let’s fill our hearts.

One of the ways that we can help is by making sure that all teacher preparatory programs build in the expectation and facility for working with data. The earlier that data collection, analysis, and visualization are brought in to pedagogical training, the more it becomes an integrated piece of how, and most importantly, why, we teach. Teachers can learn to love it. I do! I love it because I love and believe in the power of stories… but that’s for another time.

  1. These interviews were prompted by an idea that I am going to figure out teacher burnout and how to solve it… that’s another story, but I am starting to think that it’s heading in the direction of making shifts away from teachers as generalists – I can do lots of things well – into specific, hyperfocussed and passionate specialists – I can do this one thing expertly… I don’t know if that’s good or bad or somewhere in the middle…
  2. Here’s a recent publication that confirms many of the same things I have found during my discussions:
    Rutten, L., & Badiali, B. (2020). Why They Teach: Professional Development School Teacher Candidates’ Initiating Motivations to Become Teachers. School-University Partnerships, 13(1), 12–21.