Josh Parker: Right Data, Rich Picture, Best Solutions

Josh Parker: Right Data, Rich Picture, Best Solutions

Josh Parker knows that without the right data, teachers won’t be able to get a true picture of what’s going on in their classroom. Teachers need that rich picture of student learning to get to the best solutions to improve instruction. Parker is the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. As a Gap Reduction Specialist for the Office of Title I of Baltimore County, Parker works with teachers and leadership teams in two middle schools to improve the level of instruction. Watch Parker’s speech at DQC’s April 26, 2016, event, Time to Act.

Below is an excerpt from Parker’s speech. The speech has been edited for length.

Right Data. Rich Picture. Best Solutions.

Repeat after me: “Right data, rich picture, best solutions.” It’s the right data that helps you get a rich picture that empowers you to give the best solutions. So it would be really, really easy as an instructional coach for me to come into a classroom where instruction isn’t going well and say, “Listen, this lesson isn’t going well.” I’ve been tempted on several occasions to say just those things. But, after doing that and not getting success I said, “I really have to frame this around student work.” And so I’m going to give you an example of how I’ve used student data recently to really drive the conversation toward better solutions.

I went to an 11th-grade English class just about a month ago, and the teacher was frustrated because she had so many things that teachers have to do. And teachers have to do the most things of anybody that I’ve ever seen, really. She was talking to me and I was listening to her and I was really trying to be a good listener and trying to be empathetic. I let her really get out her frustrations, most of which were extremely valid. In the back of my head though, I knew that if your instruction wasn’t great, no excuses would be enough for students, no excuses would be enough for parents, and no excuses would be enough for our society. We really had to get to some good instruction. So I said, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to go into your classroom, I’m going to observe without judgement and just do a transcript of the whole 90 minutes.” So that’s what I did.

What we found is that only one student had attempted the exit ticket for the lesson. Then I said, “Let’s pull back and look at some more student products.” So we started the conversation around data, right? And then I started the conversation to expand it, because what a student produces isn’t the only data that makes a difference. What about number of hands raised? What about smiles? What about eye contact? So we talked about all of those qualitative measures, in addition to the fact that no one completed an exit ticket for the whole 90 minutes. And we started to pull back that conversation, so we had the right data. Once we pulled back a little further, I helped her to see what the right picture was. She was under the belief that the lesson went OK, but after we went through the data she was able to see this really wasn’t successful. And at the end of it, I actually had to tell her—someone who has more experience in education than I do and is infinitely more intelligent—that “you understand based on our conversation that no learning occurred in 90 minutes in your class.” Now that didn’t go over great, but it went over much better than if I didn’t have the data and the conversation to make the point. And in fact, I wasn’t making the point, we were making it together. So after we got to that conclusion, she followed that up with this four letter word. She said “I need help. I don’t know how to do some of the things that you’re talking about.” I said, “That’s where we can begin.”

We don’t get there if we don’t deal with the right data, and we don’t have the right picture, so we can get to those best solutions. So now I’m working with her and her co-teacher around, how do we scaffold for learning? How do we get students through to the exit ticket if things are getting out of whack and behavior is the issue, then how do we make sure that we rope that in and actually have an effective solution? But we can’t start that without the right data.