Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Data Is My Leg Day

Listen, if I'm writing a post about data, I'm using a picture of Data. That's just science.
As I have written in the past and will probably continue to write, the weakest link in my teaching chain is my ability to best dissect and use data. For many years now my two main self-improvement goals have been 1) Teach math in more interesting, engaging ways, and 2) Be better at data. We can talk about what it might mean that those have been goals of mine for multiple years later. As for now, let it be known that while I continue to try, and I am getting better, I'm still not where I want to be with either.

Data collection and dissection is one of those teacher skills that has never connected fully for me. I simply don't think like that, so whenever I'm presented with a stapled packet of colored graphs and spreadsheets it's a struggle for me to remain fully engaged. Part of my brain always wants to go, "See you at the commercial break. Good luck." I don't indulge this impulse, but it makes staff meetings or PLTs harder than they should be.

My schools recently lost our Title One teacher because of budget gymnastics and various state shenanigans. Naturally, we didn't lose the kids who most need Title One services. Which means all the stuff that teacher used to do has fallen to us. My principal is doing her level best not to drop a million tons of new on us, but she also can't avoid having to lead data meetings that go much deeper than they used to, and making us teachers make calls we never used to have to make because we had an expert on staff who would make those decisions.

Last week we had the first of those meetings. Pages of data was placed in front of myself and my teammates. My admin and another district office person launched into their spiel. I became immediately confused. I took massive notes, trying to keep programs and reasons and numbers and scales straight. I asked questions. I still didn't follow everything. Which is frustrating on multiple levels.

I'm a college-educated educator who fancies himself fairly intelligent. I should get this. This is important for the education of my students. I should get this. They're not going that fast. I should get this. My colleagues seem to be keeping up. I should get this.

Then I was saved. One of the other two members of my grade level team stopped the show. "I'm sorry, I don't feel like I'm being given enough time to make these decisions. Can we slow down, please?" I couldn't help it. I sighed, "Thank you for saying that." I felt like my students with IEPs must feel when I get rolling too hard in class. New appreciation earned. Better reflection engaged. Still lost though.

At the end of the meeting all my red zone and yellow zone kids (*DIGRESSION ALERT- this is the other reason I've struggled with data, it reduces my kids into colored bands. I understand why it does, I get the purpose, I know it can still help. I don't know if I'm using my distaste for this as a justification for my struggles. "My kids aren't colors and numbers, which is good because I totally don't get the colors and numbers thing.") had been placed in reading fluency programs I'm to be putting into practice in class. I did manage to ask to observe my teammates when their programs are in action because I want to be sure what I'm doing is what they're doing. I work with two outstanding teachers, and observing them makes me better.

But I didn't know why my kids had been sorted how they had. I was like that student in class who says, "The answer is 47. Because it is." Not good enough. So once again I did something with my principal I'd never have done with any other administrator I've ever worked with. I went to her and said, "I'm very confused, and I need help." And to her credit she said, "Ok. Thank you for advocating for yourself. Let's meet after school."

Together my student teacher, my principal, and myself stepped slowly through my yellow zone kids again, and the programs suggested for them. I asked specific questions about the data I was presented with. Questions to which a lesser admin would have said, "Aren't you a teacher?", but mine said, "This is only your third year here, isn't it? We had huge training on this stuff, but it was five years ago. I forget in the rush of everything we don't catch all our newer teachers up on this."

I still don't understand everything about everything. I still get an ill feeling in my stomach when I read that we're going to be looking a data in a meeting. A feeling of inadequacy and discomfort. I can talk about student choice and freedom all day. Ask me why I'm doing something in class and I'll talk about how building with cardboard is allowing the students to self-level and work to their ability while pushing themselves and look at the cool stuff they're making, go ahead and ask what they're learning. That's my wheelhouse.

But that's not good enough. I don't need to read another blog, another book on project-based learning. Not right now. Right now I need someone to hold my hand and walk with me into fields of numbers and specific assessments and make sure I don't drown.

Data is the thing I know I need to do but would rather not because it hurts and it'll hurt tomorrow too probably. Data is my leg day.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

1 comment:

  1. LOVED this post and read it through the eyes of a principal who prefers Lore to Data (bad joke). I really need to make sure ALL my teachers are comfortable with the data we review and wade through, sometimes all too quickly.