Month: July 2015

Is your school using data to improve teaching and learning?

UnknownHow well does your school/district synthesize and analyze data to improve student achievement?  If you are not using data to the extent you want to, what are your barriers? Time? Process? ManPower? Too many state initiatives?  For many of us, the list goes on…and on!

This semester, I am teaching a graduate course at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. During our first class, these veteran teachers shared their challenges with analyzing data in their roles and buildings. While we celebrated some successes, there was no shortage of challenges.

As part of the course, we are using DataWise: A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Assessment Result to Improve Teaching and Learning (edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett, Elizabeth A. City, and Richard J. Murnane).  The editors are all lecturers/professors at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Analyzing data can be an elusive process for school teams, and this book can help you bring clarity to your process.  The book includes protocols for difficult conversations and ideas for bringing everyone to consensus. There is even a companion book – Data Wise in Action (edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Jennifer L. Steele) which includes stories of schools using data to improve teaching and learning.  This practical application provided thought-provoking scenarios and discussion questions to help us navigate the challenges of data-driven decision making.

The authors break the process into three easily understood phases: Prepare, Inquire, and Act. That doesn’t seem scary, right?  Of course, it will take a commitment, time, and bringing the right people to the table.

First, in Phase 1 – Prepare, the authors encourage us to organize for collaborative work and build assessment literacy.  

Step 1 – Organizing for Collaborative Work

Does your school have a school-wide process for structuring meetings/capturing conversations? Does the master schedule provide time for all necessary stakeholders to attend these meetings? During the focused meetings, do teams have and abide by norms? Has the instructional leadership team created and shared data and instructional initiative inventories?  If not, this phase may help you make your work more collaborative, transparent, and effective.  Once you are prepared to do this work together, you need to investigate each team member’s assessment literacy. The Hopes and Fears Protocol followed by the Norms Protocol is a great way to get started.

Step 2 – Building Assessment Literacy

The second part of Phase 1 investigates assessment literacy. Do your staff members work with each other to increase their understanding of the data tools? For example, our teachers can access PVAAS, eMetric, Study Island, and many more! Do staff members or leaders share mini-lessons about score reports? Can staff members explain the content of a score report?  Do staff members hold each other accountable for using data responsibly?

Then, in Phase 2 – Inquire, the authors underscore the importance of creating a data overview, digging into the data, and examining instructional practice. 

Step 3 – Creating a Data Overview

Do your staff members work together to synthesize data into a usable format and visual display? Can they show you their data in a way that helps you understand it?  Once they have their data, can they dig into it? Do they use protocols to investigate and ask questions about their data?  Can they tell you “a story” about their data?

Step 4 – Digging into Data

Do your staff members access a wide variety of student data? Do they understand the data is everywhere? During the meeting, can they use protocols to come to a shared understanding of what the data says? Can your staff identify a learner-centered problem?

Step 5 – Examining Instruction

So you will really need the shared norms and collaborative culture to move into step 5 in which teachers investigate the instructional practices in the school.  Peer visits and open and honest debriefings are critical in developing a share understanding of a problem of practice.

Next, in Phase 3 Act, the authors guide us to develop an action plan and a plan to assess progress.

Step 6 – Developing an Action Plan

Do your teams work  collaboratively to select research-based instruc5onal strategies to address a problem of practice? Do they share and teach these practices? Do they hold each other accountable for learning and using these practices through a written plan?

During my class, some students expressed concerns about becoming too cookie-cutter. That is not the case. The practice may look different in different context, but everyone needs to be committed to it. Consider activating schema as a strong instructional practice. This could look like a science teacher showing the lab materials and talking about each item before distributing a lab. It could look like a social studies teacher showing and talking about a primary resource before students read about it in the text.

Step 7 – Planning to Assess Progress

Do your teams regularly set and monitor goals. With the introduction of Student Learning Objectives in PA’s Educator Effectiveness Model, we are seeing more and more of this. In this step, teachers need to begin with the end in mind. They need to set individual and group level learning goals.  Additionally, they need to determine which assessments they will use to measure short-term and long-term progress.

Step 8 – Acting and Assessing

In the last step, the team needs to assess the implementation of their action plan. Did they do what they said they were going to do? If not, why not?  What did work, and how can you celebrate the successes along the way  Looking at the short, medium and long-term data, teachers can assess the impact of their plan.

Finally, in Section 4 – Integrate, the authors shared roles for central office and advice for how to improve.

In the final section, the authors write for superintendents and school leaders.  They discuss the data system, access to the system, time for data work, and the importance of modeling the work. They share their ideas, thoughts, and connections for how we improve.

Embedded throughout the phases are protocols to aid in the process.  In order to be successful in each step, your building/district will need to cultivate the ACE habits of mind.  Take a look and think about your context and whether or not these habits exist within your stakeholders/stakeholder teams.

A – Shared Commitment to Action, Assessment, and Adjustment

C – Intentional Collaboration

E – Relentless Focus on Evidence

You can learn more about the phases, view key tasks in each step, and even use a self-reflection tool to gauge your current practice at the DataWise Project Website at

Harvard even offers a free online course, which I am considering taking this summer! It might be something valuable for our building leaders who interact with student data on a daily basis.


What challenges and/or successes do your instructional teams have when analyzing data?


5 Steps to Effective Professional Development

prof devlo 3_0Over the past 20 years in Salisbury Township School District, I have facilitated hundreds of professional development sessions of all types! (Small group/Large group, Face-to-Face/Online/Blended, Book Studies, Hands-On workshops, etc.) Admittedly, some have been better than others. Some have effected long-term change; others have not.

Step 1 – Determine the Need. Before you a plan professional development, you need to collect data to determine the need and/or interest!  Typically in May, I email all of our faculty and staff a “needs assessment survey”.  Participants indicate topics of interest and/or their willingness to share their expertise. (I also ask them to identify colleagues from whom they would like to learn.) Other data sources include teachers’ observations, principals’ insights, walkthrough data, and anecdotal notes. All of these pieces of data are important when developing a short-term and long-term professional development plan.  Developing this plan is best done with a small group or critical friend – not in isolation.

Step 2 – Create Diverse Opportunities/Provide Choice. My philosophy for professional development is anytime, anywhere learning. In my district, teachers may participate in personalized PD.  Teachers have the option to earn choice hours and “opt out” of professional development days. Teachers may earn hours for creative learning including attending EdCamps, watching and implementing content from webinars, etc.

Basically, if teachers want to learn something, I want to help them figure out the best way to learn it.  That looks different for different learning goals. Sometimes it might mean a pull out day to help teachers redesign a lesson to create an “above the line” SAMR activity. This guided practice leads to increased understanding through practical application. At other times, it means an organized structured cohort approach in which teacher leaders and or technicians provide instruction/support. Read about how I led a cohort model process for TL2014 and We also run a variety of after-school mini-series such as a Secondary Professional Development Series and Instructional Assistant Highly-Qualified Series.  We also use building-led PLCs/PLNs so teachers have on-going teams of teachers to work with in order to meet their goals.

Opportunities and choice are plentiful! Other stakeholders really appreciate the opportunity to learn over the summer.  Over the last several years, I have reinvorgated our Summer Academy. With over 40 sessions, I hope we have something for everyone. It is wonderful to see our administration building filled with adult learners over the summer!

In addition to school sessions, I believe it is important to allow teachers the opportunity to attend state and national conferences. Over the last few years, we have allocated funds for teachers to attend AMLE, PETE&C, and ISTE. I have also been actively involved in the co-planning of the Bucks-Lehigh EduSummit.  I encourage teachers to submit proposals to share their knowledge with others.  At the conclusion of conferences, I ask attendees to reflect on their learning and identify a venue for sharing.  Building this shared leadership is critical to increasing capacity.

Step 3 – Engage Your Adult Learners.  From even before the session to the end of the session, engage your participants as you would engage your students.  Follow LearnForward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Engagement starts before the session starts! Provide study guides when you provide the texts for book study groups. When I am planning a full day workshop, I share an agenda ahead of time and ask teachers to complete a task prior to the session. For example, in a recent K-1 iPad cohort, I asked teachers to add a success they had with their devices to the shared agenda (google doc). When working with an online instructional design cohort, I asked teachers to share an article/resource about “best practice in online instruction.” Then during the session, participants had a chance to review the shared items and discuss them with each other.

During the sessions, I  provide opportunities for the learners to reflect on their instructional practice, knowledge, and skills.  Also, I ensure there is time built-in for small group and large group conversation. We need to dialogue about our work! I allow participants to get up and move around through a value line, four corners, poster carousel, etc.   I always have my chart paper and even individual white boards (depending on the size of the group). Remember, a PD session is a chance to model good instructional practice.

Step 4 – Provide Resources for Sustainability. Many presenters may use a slide deck which can easily be emailed. Sometimes slides are designed to supplement the conversation with the visual appeal in mind.  They may not have enough “content” to be useful for follow up activities. Think about what can be provided to participants so they can reflect on their learning, share their learning, and continue their learning after the session.  Most often, I do this through a shared google doc.  (Think back to the items I asked teachers to add to the google doc prior to the session. All of those resources are now available to everyone after the session.)  Another option is to email notes after the session.

Step 5 – Assess/Evaluate and Reflect. A strong teacher is evaluating a lesson before, during, and after the instruction. In the same fashion, you need to evaluate your PD before, during, and after the instruction.  During the instruction, use strong formative assessment techniques and total participation techniques. After the instruction, use exit tickets or a PD survey to gather data about the session. Talk to your participants about what they learned.  I always liked a symphony share where participants share something learned and a question they still have. Gathering this date will help you determine any misconceptions and drive your future instruction.

What is next? I am attending my first EdCampLdr this week and thinking about how this might be implemented in my district.

SHARE TO LEARN… I am hoping to learn from you! What has worked well for you when you have planned professional development?