Here’s a question: As an administrator, how do you present unwelcome data to teachers? I ask this because, on several occasions, I think I did a poor job of presenting data that resulted in hurt feelings and lowered morale. Let me explain.
I am a bit of a numbers person. When presented with student and school data, I enjoy breaking out an Excel spreadsheet, analyzing the data, and looking for patterns. I have done this with classroom-based assessments, with survey results, with standardized test data. My basic goal with these exercises is to take numbers and turn them into actionable information: to figure out what realities the data can reveal that can then inform practices in ways that result in classroom and school improvements.
But I can think of at least two occasions in which, after presenting an analysis of standardized test data to teachers, the result was not, “Wow, thanks so much, this will really help me continue to improve the quality of instruction in my classroom!” but rather, “Oh no, I guess I really am not the effective teacher I thought I was.”
When presenting data, I try to do it in a non-judgmental way that focuses on practices rather than personalities. But seeing evidence of a reality that is different from the one in which we have believed—for example, thinking that your high-achieving students have really grown over the course of the year, but then seeing standardized test data that paint a different picture—is difficult. In psychological terms, this creates a cognitive dissonance, a separation between our individual perceptions and the perceptions of others or outside evidence. This dissonance can be highly productive: because we don’t typically like cognitive dissonance, it encourages growth to close the gap between our perceptions and the outside perceptions/reality.
But dissonance also creates frustration and feelings of inadequacy. Jim Collins says that, before an organization can improve, it has to “confront the brutal facts”. But brutal facts can be, well, brutal. Which brings me back to my original question: how do you use data to identify areas for improvement and encourage growth, while at the same time protecting feelings? If the outcome of unwelcome data is dispirited teachers, how is that helpful?
This is my data dilemma.