Administrators and data conversations

Tad Sherman—a new education blogger who is writing about his experiences as an assistant principal over at The New AP—caught my eye the other day when he left the following comment on my Data Nightmare post:

One of the things that stood out to me was the number of times you said “I can” as you discussed all of the things that can be done with data.

As a person recently coming out of the classroom and moving into the role of assistant principal I suppose the thing that I think of is how can we move from “I (the teacher) can” to “My administrators do”. Does that make sense?

What I’m getting at is the idea that as school administrators we need to be crunching the numbers and giving you the data in a way that easily read and understood.

This means that you spend more time adapting your instruction based on data. You know…the idea of “Data Driven Decision Making”!

Any other administrators out there? Is it realistic for us to be the number crunchers so our teachers can focus on instruction? I know I hope to be an administrator that can do that!

Great observation, Tad.  I love the distinction that you made between “I can” and “My administrator will” when it comes to crunching numbers primarily because it is the exact same distinction that Rick DuFour made in our recent conversation about professional learning communities.

His point—made in response to my contention that data driven decision making is almost impossible for me because crunching numbers isn’t something that I’m trained to do or that I have the time for—is that data driven decision making should NEVER be something that is overwhelming for learning teams.  For DuFour, administrators have the responsibility for providing teachers with data that has already been scrubbed and is ready for interpretation.

And if I understand administration correctly, this makes a lot of sense.

From what I can tell, administrators have access to a TON more data than teachers have access to.  At least here in our county, there are pretty sophisticated online warehouses of data that administrators can access but that are closed to teachers.  Also, I often hear administrators talking about data presentations that they attend at the county level where district experts help to interpret learning trends and patterns.  Finally—and you can answer this for me—I suspect that the coursework for today’s administrators includes some kind of data manipulation and analysis classes.

Now, I understand that not all administrators are going to be natural data pros, but in those cases, I think it is an administrator’s job to repurpose a faculty position to become what I call “the data workhorse,” whose primary responsibility would be to help gather, manipulate and present numbers to learning teams.  Heck, really innovative principals could identify and compensate one teacher leader per grade level to serve as data workhorses, solving a data nightmare and stratifying the teaching profession all at the same time.

My worry, though, is that this kind of “administrators will do” attitude hasn’t taken hold doesn’t in most schools.  In fact, most of the administrators that I speak to believe that teachers MUST do their own data collection, manipulation and analysis.  “That’s a new skill that they’re responsible for now that we’re a PLC,” one recently told me, “so they’d better figure it out!”

What’s more, I get that administrators are in no better place than teachers when it comes to time and training.  Between handling discipline, organizing transportation, dealing with hiring, completing evaluations and supervising lunchrooms, most administrators that I know work all day, every day.  They certainly don’t have heaping barrells of extra time to take on new tasks either.

To complicate matters, I’m even a little concerned that if we provide teachers with data that is scrubbed, we might just be taking away valuable learning opportunities.  While sifting through piles of numbers is killing me, it does force me to slow down and look carefully at information.  I know more about my kids now than ever before because I’ve been forced to do the heavy lifting when it comes to data.

But if we want to make data a priority—-which we probably all agree is the only responsible decision in a world where every child deserves the best education we can offer—then something needs to give.   Either teachers need the tools, time and training to make data manipulation possible, or administrators need to take on that role so that the only data responsibility left to teachers in drawing instructional conclusions.

The “just figure it out” approach just isn’t working.

Any of this make sense?