Back-to-School Data Wins: Tip #4 Empathy from Day One

Hope you all are having a great week!  We are excited to welcome the month of October and all that comes with it including our next and final Back-to-School Data Win.

Tip #4: Empathy from Day One

Trust is only part of helping your coworkers develop a positive relationship with data. After all, as an assistant principal in Oregon once told us, “data is always emotional and personal because district and school staff’s dedication to students is emotional and personal”. It’s crucial to anticipate when other feelings may arise and how to react supportively. 

  • Don’t lose your “why”. Data can too often be perceived as cold, clinical, or punitive. If you kick off the discussion with a clear connection to your mission— your students—you’ll get both analytical and emotional engagement from your audience.
  • Know what people want to know. Capitalize on the natural appetite for data. The beginning of the school year is an excellent example; so too is the release of benchmark and state testing results. Use interest in those data to reinforce login instructions for data tools, data literacy principles, and other opportunities to use data.
  • Focus on specific data points. When presented with too much data and too little focus, groups tend to either shut down from information overload or scatter into individual rabbit-holes. Keep the group focused on what matters right from the get-go.
  • Model positive data culture. The purpose of data is two-fold: the discovery of new insights and the investigation of new solutions. The second part isn’t always second nature; model what an open-minded, solutions-oriented data attitude looks like to those who might otherwise shut down.
  • Highlight bright spots. Working in education is hard! Keep the team motivated by sharing wins in a way that feels genuine. When presenting data live, don’t race through the positives; that will feel artificial. Instead, slow down and go beyond results by asking how they were accomplished. You’ll have a more productive conversation and folks will truly feel that their good work was appreciated.
  • Define the behavior you want to see. A partner once said, “data presented without an expected action feels punitive.” To minimize this, you can incorporate some practice time during a training. For example, some districts arrange “scavenger hunts” to ensure that all staff know where to find certain data points when they need them.
  • Encourage ownership. Ultimately, the goal is for users to see data as their tool, a valuable one. So encourage them to be proactive in using it for their own work! One school district in South Carolina asked each principal to develop two goals and to measure their progress over the course of the school year. Principals felt committed to their goals and as a result, they used the data to meet them by the end of the year.