Brennan Parton posted on October 26, 2012. 0 Comments

The Importance of the Data-Driven Principal

Category: Teacher Effectiveness

This post, by DQC’s Brennan McMahon, was originally posted on the SCORE Sheet in March 2012.

Last week my colleague, Kyle, discussed the importance of leadership in education. (And he may have mentioned something about Peyton Manning too. . . .) I would like to follow suit and focus on the importance of empowering principals with data. I have written quite a few times about how essential it is to put data in the hands of teachers—and the same applies for school leaders. So far, 40 states have provided principals with appropriate access to the data they need, and 39 provide training on how to use it, so we are off to a good start.

I think I can say one thing with certainty: educators already use data every day in their schools and classrooms to make decisions. They may not call it data; to them it is information they use in their jobs and always have. The obstacles, therefore, come from using the tools and types of data—such as growth scores and early warning reports—that we have grown to use when we discuss data. We have learned that states that are successful at using data are so because they invest in getting educators comfortable with the idea of data. And where do you think they start? With leadership. Training school and district leaders to use data, and to help their teachers use data, leads to changes in school culture away from skepticism and toward effectively incorporating invaluable information into classroom practice. Which in turn helps us reach the ultimate goal—improving student learning.

As leaders of schools, principals are drivers of the culture in their buildings. Ergo if we want a data-driven culture in our schools (we do), it makes sense to look to the principal to lead the way. While a data-skeptical principal may sour the pot for her teachers, a data champion can invigorate and empower her teachers to use data in the classroom.

If using data to make classroom and building decisions improves student learning (it does), principals need to know how to use data, as well as how to empower their teachers to do so. We need principals to understand the use of data to not only drive successful school cultures but also because, like teachers, our school leaders in many states (including Tennessee) are evaluated based on their schools’ data. Part of trusting those evaluations is trusting the data used in them. Working with data and coming to understand those data as part of daily work are important tools in building that trust.

I suppose when I talk about “empowering stakeholders to use data” and “providing actionable access to data” throughout my posts, I may be making it sound like this is all really easy work. It’s not. At an event recently, I heard a woman from one state’s department of education discuss the difficulty of implementing some of the state’s key reforms because some principals refuse to use computers. While I am sure these school leaders have fine reasons for their Luddite tendencies, it certainly creates a challenge to making change in the Twitter era. That is, of course, an extreme case, but I use it to point out that every state and district has obstacles to overcome in the quest for effective, data-driven school leaders and teachers.

Peyton Manning may have decided to lead a team other than the Titans, but that does not mean Tennessee is without effective leadership. Tennessee, and all states, can and should invest in our school leaders by empowering them with tools to use data to improve their schools—and, in turn, invigorate teachers to raise achievement in their classrooms.

Doesn’t a cadre of schools empowered with data, leading to a generation of increased student success, sound better than a Super Bowl win anyway?

Tags: , ,