What Do Cat Herding and Data Conversations Have in Common?

A principal who I REALLY admire reached out to me recently with an interesting question.

She’s working with a group of teachers who are working to earn a degree in school administration.  In an upcoming class, she wants to get her students to think about the role that data can play in driving decision-making in schools.

“How would YOU start that conversation?” she asked.

That’s an easy one:  Regardless of audience, early conversations about using data to inform practice in schools should start with a careful study of cat herding:

(You DID watch the video, right?  If not, go back and do that now!  The rest of this post is pointless until you watch the video!)

Now at the risk of boring you with the obvious, here are three of my favorite reasons that cat herding is the perfect starting point for conversations about using data to inform practice in schools:  

Teachers — like unpredictable cats running from the herd — can take off in a thousand directions whenever we start conversations about using data to inform instruction.  Seeing dozens of cats running in dozens of directions can be a reminder that we need to slow down, focus our efforts and move as one if we are ever going to succeed.

There are literally a million different data sources that can inform our practices in schools.  If we try to chase them all, we are bound to fail — and to exhaust ourselves in the process.  That’s a lesson that is easy to learn from cat herders.

Inevitably, someone gets “scratched” when we use data to inform practice in schools.  It might be a struggling teacher who is intimidated by sharing results with their peers.  It might be the poor soul charged with facilitating a data conversation on an explosive learning team.  But scratches ARE going to happen.

It’s a great metaphor, right?

And my guess is that if you turn any room full of educators loose, they can probably come up with a ton of other similarities between data conversations and cat herding.  Better yet, my guess is that if you turn your audience loose with that metaphor, they will have a lot of fun with each other.

And THAT’s the lesson worth learning:  Using data in schools can feel pretty darn intimidating to teachers — particularly in a world where data is used to shame teachers and label schools.

Cat herding, on the other hand, is just plain funny.  Using cat herding as a starting point for data-informed decision-making in schools can get people to let their guard down and relax.





Related Radical Reads:

Numbers Never Tell the Whole Story

Is Standardized Testing Changing Me for the Worse?

Your Data Dream.  My Data Nightmare.

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  • Jen Willis

    Second Grade

    Bill, I thoroughly enjoyed this! The metaphor is spot on. I think I'll be sharing this yearly as we gather to discuss student data. Thanks!