Got Behaviors? Have a Data Conversation!

Got Behaviors? Have a Data Conversation!A recent school visit made me start thinking about the potential impact that MAP data has for re-structuring classroom environments and students’ behavior within that environment. When I arrived at the school on a Thursday morning, the halls were empty, and the classrooms were quiet. As I waited for the district administrator to arrive at the school, I was engaged in lively conversation by everyone who walked through the door. Each person — teachers, parents, and students — were smiling and were enthusiastic about the day that they were beginning.

One young man, a third-grader, told me about an art project that his class had been working on. They were designing tiles that would go to a local charity for auction. He invited me to follow him through the halls to view all of the work that he and his peers were doing. He talked about each tile that was displayed prominently in the hallway. As he spoke of each, he told me the story behind them and the reason that the “creator” chose the design that they did. He did this with pride, not only of his own work, but also of the collective work. He announced, “We are doing something VERY important here.” I had no doubt in my mind that he was correct.

Throughout the day, I thought about the atmosphere of the school and the importance that each stakeholder placed on the value of the “work” that was being done. Each time I returned to this initial engagement, I found myself thinking about the mindset that was in place that made this school a “place for learning and important work.” It was not just a place to be five days a week because of mandatory attendance laws. As I engaged on a more intimate level with the school administrators and teachers, I was able to identify a consistent theme. This staff, their students, and the community members believed, and fostered, a positive growth mindset for learning, and it showed through every interaction with every person.

As teachers engaged with each other during our professional development session, their job was to discuss student data and to determine next steps for instruction. Often during this analysis process, I find that the focus is on what students cannot do. After all, data analysis is supposed to reveal what it is that teachers and students need to do better, right? Well, this was not the case for this group of educators; they were focused on student strengths. Wandering from group to group, listening to the conversations about students’ and their successes, made me feel good. It gave me confidence that the students and staff within this school were successful and that they were doing “very important work,” just as the young third-grader had pointed out.

As a long-time data analyzer, I never knew the impact that our mindset for data analysis could have on personal behavior…”

Having this experience made me think about the way we currently, and how we ought to, talk about data. I quickly came to the realization that our mindset going into data analysis impacts the results that we interpret, and data interpretation impacts how we talk about and present what we are teaching. So now, I am including in my directions to learning community groups that are analyzing their students’ MAP data to first focus on strengths in the data, rather than opportunities that may have been missed. This simple re-focus helps teachers appreciate data, feel good about teaching again, and it provides students a better mindset from which to approach learning.

As a long-time data analyzer, I never knew the impact that our mindset for data analysis could have on personal behavior, but now I am convinced that this is the case. Going forward, my plan is to focus on the positive aspects of data, which means that I am willing to meet students where they are and use their strengths to improve any areas of opportunity that may arise.