Data, data, data. Most school leaders know how important data is to every part of a district’s operations, from bus routes to PD and student achievement. But sometimes, capturing and interpreting that data proves challenging.
Still, when data is collected and used to drive transformational change in a district, the results are nothing short of eye-opening.
During an ISTE 2017 session from eSchool Media and BrightBytes, a panel of ed-tech experts discussed how the ability to collect, access and easily interpret data has allowed them to personalize student learning and track achievement.
Panelists included Chuck Holland, director of technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two; Donna Teuber, innovation program designer in Richland School District Two; Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer of the Calcasieu Parish School District in Louisiana; and Jeff McCoy, associate superintendent of South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools. Here are some of the things attendees learned:
1. Technology is a must-have part of learning
“We’ve turned the corner so technology isn’t the cool thing anymore–it’s the necessary thing,” said Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer in Louisiana’s Calasieu Parish Schools. “Twenty years ago, if we didn’t have email or if the internet went down, nobody cared but [technology staff]. Now, if it bleeps for one second, our phones start blowing up, and it’s because the internet is mission-critical. This innovative practice of using technology as an anchoring part of the total learning environment has been transformational. It’s not a revolution–it’s an evolution. The innovative piece is that you change teaching and learning with technology–the innovation is technology not for technology’s sake, but for the sake of advancing learning.”
(Next page: 4 more reasons data is essential in today’s districts)
2. Data use can make or break an initiative
“The data we’ve been able to harness has been an eye-opening piece for us,” Abshire said. “We’ve been able to dive deep into every single school, student and administrator and display information graphically.”
Data continues to drive the districts’ approach to both student and teacher learning.
“We’re using data to continually innovate,” Holland said. “When we went one-to-one, we used data from the beginning to evaluate the success of the program during implementation, and we make sure we use multiple pieces of data to drive our decisions. We monitor the data over time as our needs shift.”
“Looking at our platforms, the data we have is so important to moving forward,” Teuber said.
3. Shaking up departmental structure and physical classroom space can result in positive learning changes
Uniting the instructional technology department with the academic side allowed Greenville County Schools to focus on personalized learning and change classroom practices, McCoy said.
“We went from pockets of equity to fostering innovation in our district,” said Teuber. The district launched an incubator and made consistent efforts to support innovative practices and expand those that proved successful, often through crossfunctional innovation teams that work on lingering challenges.
“[Our instructional technology department] works with those innovation teams a lot, and technology has caused us to rethink the way classrooms are working,” Holland said.
Last year, the Richland district reevaluated its learning spaces after finding that students’ physical environments did not support innovative instructional practices in classrooms.
“Looking at the data in classrooms, [our teams] are recognizing that making one change leads to something different, and that boosts student engagement,” Holland said. “It’s really exciting to see grassroots efforts by the teachers to change student learning.”
4. PD is a big piece of the data puzzle
McCoy’s district relaunched its technology initiative after finding that, despite new technology tools, little had changed in its classrooms because teachers didn’t know how to change their instructional practices.
“This year, most of our teachers have crossed over,” McCoy said. “We invested almost as much in PD as we invested in devices, and I think that’s a critical move. You also have to have the digital content there for teachers.”
Creating personalized, data-driven learning environments for students means also focusing on personalizing PD for teachers.
The Calcasieu Parish’s technology facilitators use data to drive professional learning changes in every school.
“That data, over two years, has driven PD in every school so that when we talk about transformational change, we’re not talking about it, we’re doing it,” Abshire said. “If you delve down into the data and look at the key components, you can see where your district’s needs are, and for us, that’s driven our entire district PD program. We’ve made substantive changes that have improved practice and resulted in improved test scores, engaged learning, teacher confidence, and more teacher risk-taking.”
Because PD is informed by data, classrooms focus on students instead of teachers.
“Shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom was a logical progression, because technology is a huge enabler of that,” Abshire said. “It frees the classroom up to become a constructivist learning environment, which leads right into personalized and blended learning. We’ve had to personalize PD for teachers, so now we do pre-work to find out what teachers know and what they’re already able to do. We want personalized learning for our students, but we want personalized learning for teachers, too. The model we use for PD, we hope, will transfer over to teachers’ classroom instruction. When you give teachers the time to learn the way they want to, they transfer that over to their students.”
5. Identifying communication disconnects is crucial
“We launched a student-centered learning leadership series for our schools, and one of the issues we saw with getting schools ready for change is that sometimes our principals moved faster than staff wanted to move, or could move,” McCoy said. “Principals didn’t have realistic expectations of their teachers.”
The district equipped principals with strategies to put student-centered learning into place, while at the same time giving them the skills needed to create supportive environments for teachers as they developed skills necessary to foster the new learning environment.
District leaders realized principals needed additional skills to encourage teachers to create innovative classrooms, and some of those skills included the ability to give teachers safe space to take risks.
“You can’t create a culture of innovation by saying ‘No’ all the time,” McCoy said.