Creating a Data-Driven Community: How One Texas University System Prioritized Culture Building in Pursuit of Continuous Improvement

Strong Teachers and Leaders
Creating a Data-Driven Community: How One Texas University System Prioritized Culture Building in Pursuit of Continuous Improvement

Effective data use is essential to ensure that every classroom teacher is learner ready on day one. Yet educator preparation programs (EPPs) sometimes struggle to use data to reflect on and continuously improve their programs. Having the right data for continuous improvement is critical, but creating and sustaining a positive culture of data use, as well as building strong relationships with state partners, is just as important – and is often overlooked.

The Texas A&M University System is a statewide network of 11 universities that produces more fully-certified teachers than any other public university system in Texas. Given its reach, it is essential that the system graduates teachers who are learner ready on day one. However, when University leaders examined data from the state’s annual principal survey, which gives principals a chance to provide feedback to EPPs on newly hired teachers, they saw that on average, A&M trained teachers were not performing as well as expected.

From their central position in the vice chancellor’s office, Shonda Gibson and Blake Decker were charged with tackling this issue. Historically, A&M’s EPP leaders used data to make program-to-program comparisons and not necessarily to evaluate their own program’s effectiveness or to look at performance systemwide. Gibson and Decker knew that in order to change this and effectively address lagging teacher performance, they needed to get EPP leaders the right data and help them create a culture of data use focused on continuous program improvement and system-level thinking. This work would require not only a mindset shift within the EPPs but also a reimagining of their relationship with the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Historically, EPP and TEA leaders interacted strictly for compliance purposes and that dynamic needed to be refocused on collaboration and program improvement. To do this, Gibson and Decker at Texas A&M focused on the following:

  1. Strengthening internal communication and capacity
    • Sincerely seeking out feedback: Gibson and Decker began by carving out time to listen to the A&M EPP leaders’ concerns about existing data use requirements and their impact on their work. The deans felt overloaded with data and needed support making sense of it. By creating a space for honest feedback, Gibson and Decker were able to identify and address the underlying issues preventing deans from using data effectively.
    • Investing in leaders: Texas A&M deans participated in a leadership academy that equipped them with the tools they needed to begin creating a culture of continuous improvement throughout the A&M system. As part of this training they built action plans focused on data-informed decision making and check-ins four months after the training gave space for progress-monitoring and evaluating improvement efforts. The time spent together also helped build bridges between programs so that the deans began seeing themselves as part of a university-wide team instead of just individual program leaders.
  2. Building a collaborative relationship with TEA
    • Creating data champions: For Gibson, a crucial part of their success was finding a dedicated and data-driven partner at TEA with whom she could honestly discuss improving the relationship between TEA and A&M EPP deans. With buy in from TEA, the more collaborative relationship helps TEA leaders better understand and meet the needs of the EPP deans, which positions the agency as a partner and resource rather than just a force for compliance and accountability.
    • Facilitating dialogue: Creating space for open dialogue between the A&M deans and TEA proved crucial. Gibson organized calls between the assistant commissioner at TEA and the EPP deans, followed by in-person meetings where both parties could openly discuss their concerns and work toward solutions. These talks revealed similarities in the needs of both groups and allowed for collaboration and mutual investment in finding solutions.

Though it’s still early, Gibson and Decker’s work to shift mindsets on data use has already seen success beyond an improved relationship with TEA. A&M is the first university system in the country to voluntarily undergo the Teacher Preparation Inspection (TPI) process which uses data to review teacher preparation programs for effectiveness across four key dimensions. Opening themselves up to this process is a great indicator of the deans’ new openness to using data to understand their programs’ outcomes and inform improvement efforts.

Texas A&M’s unique partnership with the state lays important foundation for a new, collaborative culture of data use that emphasizes data as a tool for continuous improvement. With the right groundwork in place, A&M’s EPP leaders are better positioned to use high-quality data to improve their program, and produce more effective teachers who better serve students across the state.

 

This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.