Tip #3: Demonstrate that You’re on Their Side
Many educators and school system staff have an uneasy relationship with data. Maybe it’s been used to penalize or judge them in the past. Perhaps it’s intimidating. Or it may simply feel disconnected from the other work they do on a daily basis. Whatever the case may be, assume that some of your colleagues don’t feel as comfortable with data as you do. And, until they trust the data you give them itself, show them that they can trust you.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Surprises can make people feel nervous or disregarded, so put them at ease by setting expectations clearly multiple times in a few different venues.
- Share data before meetings. Everyone processes differently, let folks review results and generate questions before a live discussion. This is especially true for high-stakes data: with the element of surprise eliminated, everyone will have more emotional and mental bandwidth to engage constructively.
- Save them time. What’s the single most precious resource in a school or central office? Ask around and your winner might well be: time! Find the data tasks that consume a lot of time and offer them a solution!
- Express data quality confidence, not perfection. You want your audience to trust their data— but data quality is an ongoing process, and you need help to uncover errors! Walk the line between confidence and humility, and provide a clear process for reporting data errors.
- Make conservative promises. It’s tempting to agree to everything asked of you, but exceeding modest expectations is much better than scrambling to meet ambitious ones.
- Respond to all feedback. Even if you can’t give an answer set expectations for when you can. If you have to decline, explain why and offer a work-around. In all cases, thank people for their suggestions––this is what data engagement looks like, so ask them to keep it up!
- Act on data insights. Someone used data and found an opportunity to improve. Hurray! But your job is not yet done; now reward their efforts with action. One school district in South Carolinian made a special effort to act upon the observations and ideas that principals found in their data. “Principals quickly noticed that girls were performing at higher levels than boys in English language arts, and boys were performing at higher levels than girls in math”, their testing coordinator recalled. “In response, the district brought in a consultant who’s showing teachers new techniques for more effective math instruction.”