Building Your Data Culture From the Bottom Up

Building a strong data-driven culture goes beyond a school’s willingness to use data to solve problems. Just like building a house, a school’s data culture needs to be built upon a solid foundation. To ensure you’re building something that is durable and sustainable, you need clear blueprints to outline your plans for developing and maintaining your school’s data culture.

Start from the bottom up with a strong foundation
Behind every great contractor is a team of people working on the ground level to get the job done. The same is true with building your data culture: you need buy-in from all your key stakeholders, executives, superintendents, principals, teachers and students.

“Data holds the key for institutions to create better outcomes for students by helping educators understand, why. Why did a student not graduate? Why did a student drop or fail a course? Why did a student not master a particular concept?” (Big Data in Education)

Having a clear understanding of your goals and values is essential to getting the buy-in of your school leaders. Your stakeholder’s time is precious and rare. If you have an hour of their lives, make it worthwhile and applicable to their school or position in that district. People often tune out information that is not immediately relevant or of interest to them.  Understand what goals they have set for their school/district/classroom, how they are measuring these goals, and what data they will subsequently be jumping out of their seats to see.

Building the framework
Without walls, your house lacks structure. Similarly, the framework of a successful data culture is built upon trust. Clean and accurate data to creates buy-in with your stakeholders. If you do foresee inaccuracies, set that expectation upfront. The two drivers here are that it can be challenging to plan with incomplete data and it can be alarming to see inaccurate data.

An attendance report that shows 20 out of 25 students might be enough information for a district-level analysis, but a teacher cannot accurately assess the culture in their classroom with this data. If there is an incorrect calculation on a recent assessment around the # of students on target it can affect how a teacher views the provided data. Reinforce that the onus is on school leaders and teachers to enter data accurately and readily so that you have a mutual stake in the reports being released. Be aware of what is cumbersome for school staff versus what is a good use of their time to gather. If you aren’t sure, ask for feedback whether in a survey or asking firsthand.

Hold it all together with a strong roof
Collaboration is the glue that holds a school’s data culture together.

“The purpose of using data is to raise questions and inform discussion rather than to dictate a course of action.” (Data-Driven Leadership, p. 120)

Data should be a conversation first. This can be done in break out groups. Groups can be assigned by grade level, subject matter, or whatever makes the most sense for your school. Avoid constraining the conversation. The value of conversations is the dynamic nature they can take which leads to a greater generation of ideas. We recommend providing prompts to begin these discussions:

  1. When you look at this report, what are you most proud of?
  2. What are you most concerned about?
  3. What questions do you have or what do you need to understand better?
  4. Which students and class periods are over performing?
  5. Which students and class periods are underperforming?