Leveraging Data to Support Students

Recently, George Couros wrote a blog post titled “From Data Driven to Evidence-Driven.” George brought up several superb points, one including this, “If we are going to change the way we teach, we need to also change how we assess, not just what we assess.” I agree with this thought process- As we become more innovative, we also need to let that innovation flow into everything we do as teachers: Teaching, learning, collaborating AND assessing.

I similarly read another post on Evidence Based Practice from the Data Science Association that I found especially informational. Within this post, Walker says that the three reasons why Data and Evidence Based Practices are not effectively used are due to ineffective talent, processes, and technology. Though Walker was referring to how these reasons were applied in the business world, I find it fascinating to figure out how we can cross over approaches.

We all believe as educators that being student focused is our first and most important compass. What we do day-to-day should be all about students, not the data. However, I do think that data often has a bad reputation in the educational sphere. I venture to say the problem is not with the data, the issue is HOW we use data ineffectively. We lack vision on where we are going with the data, which leads us often unequipped to analyze the abundant information headed our way. I believe there is a place for both data and evidence-based practices to have a happy marriage in education. Although, in this post, I will stay focused on leveraging data, some of the principles can apply to evidence practice as well.

Leveraging Data to Support Students

  • Vision

    If you do not have a vision or purpose for why you are using data, then it is usually done in a trivial and lackluster fashion. If this occurs, change your path and ask yourself: “What are we trying to achieve?” and “Why are we interested in data?” 

  • Value

    If data does not truly help teachers teach and students learn, then no one will ever find value in it, and rightfully so. To find value, begin viewing data as an asset, rather than the “end all, be all.” Whenever data is the main word mentioned in meetings or in e-mails, students and staff will be immediately disengaged. No one gets inspired by data alone, but data is informational when used properly.

    As a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist, I used Google Forms to track my day-to-day plans with teachers. With the data, I was always able to view in pie graph form and in charts how often I met with each teacher and team in the building, future plans we had for instruction, which subjects and standards we integrated technology with the most, and reflections on the lessons. All of this curated information was easy to insert and view, which allowed me to take action to meet with teachers in a timely and meaningful manner.

  • Target

    Sometimes when data is collected, it feels like you are tracking anything and everything there is to track, which can be enormously ineffective. The best kind of data is purposeful and targeted for optimal results. Similarly, think of your intentions as you collaborate with students and staff: Through the data, do you hope to make small instructional changes or to have huge radical changes? Your answer can guide your plan.

  • Data Management

    Once you have the foundations covered, it is crucial to have conversations with your staff and students to determine how often data will be collected and maintained. Be proactive and clear. Teachers want to feel prepared to plan and teach adequately with the data they receive, rather than always wondering when the “data is due.” Make the data management and maintenance process as streamlined as possible.

    Also, will students track goals and progress? Students love to see their own personal successes and to share them with you, others, and their family. I always loved embedding goal setting into everything I did with my middle school students. After inviting students in on the journey with me, they would keep me in check. If I went a day without talking about goal setting, they would say, “Ms. Welty, you forgot to talk about goal setting today!” Moreover, they always created such fun and creative ideas to track and visualize goals and visions for the classroom.

  • Data Infrastructure

    This subject is almost never talked about, but it is essential. Teachers and principals spend so much time working with improper technologies, infrastructures, and operating models that make data analysis time consuming and frustrating. Once the data is collected, the technology should do as much of the work as possible to sort, organize, and tell the story.

    I hope we can begin spending more time on reflecting, planning and determining how to develop better instruction for our kids, and less time dealing with faulty systems and processes.

    But, with fields like Data Science booming, there is a lot that will continue to change for data in the future. The skill-set needed in this area, and in big data, is in HUGE demand. Over the next couple of years, I am eager to see how developments in this area can directly benefit school systems.

    What does your infrastructure look like at your school and what programs or tools do you use to track data and progress?


Image Credit- LinkedIn
In the digital age we live in, we need to stay focused on our people first, while still keeping an eye to how data will change and how platforms will integrate better with technology over time. With collaborative apps like Google Apps for Education and student reflection video services like Recap, I see a bright future where data is not always a number and students have more agency.

As Carly Fiorina says, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” By focusing on insight gained rather than data or information alone, we can take the action that will help our students soar to new dimensions.

Continue Reading

Understanding the Challenges of Others

Image Credit: abettermedaybyday.com

Each day when we interact with people, we are encountering diverse individuals like us who have a multitude of blessings and struggles they are trying to overcome in their lives.

Despite the exact situation, one thing is clear- Every single person has a story. We know and remember this when trauma arises; But, with the complexities of daily life, having the opportunities to pause and reconsider this fact may feel few and far between.

Discover Others

Nevertheless, one of my favorite discoveries in life is taking the time to DISCOVER other people. Human beings are fascinating- Each person is a book with a novel story that is unmatched by anyone else.

Except, have you ever noticed how often we book our schedules with unnecessary items, but we still constantly feel this urge to be busy? What if we “booked” more time to get to know one another more as human beings and less as students or colleagues?  
I believe that we can build powerful ties that will strengthen us as individuals and teammates if we spend more time being present in each moment.

Inspiration

During the last few days of school, students Kindergarten through 5th grade placed letters in my mailbox. As I was reading through the notes and drying my watering eyes, one card especially hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Dear Ms. Welty, Thank you for understanding the challenges of others and wanting to do something about it.”

This student described me and my demeanor better in one sentence than I ever could have. It is a profound reminder of how closely students look up to us.

Having said that, this student was correct- If we want to build stronger teams, we must understand the challenges others face and DO something about it.

Try This!

It’s the little things over time that become the compilation of the BIG things that matter. Try adding these little actions into your daily routine:

  • Add More Deep Conversations into your Day 

Instead of always asking questions like, “How are you?” or “How is your day?,” Ask more probing questions that show you are sincere and you want to get to know that person better. Remember this: Authentic questions deliver authentic answers.

  • Take the Time to Listen

It sounds obvious, but it is the most vital skill to learn. Sometimes we ask people exceptional questions, but then through our body language, we show we do not care about their response. Do this: Take the time to let others express themselves without thinking about your personal distractions, like tasks you need to complete. We may think we are great at multitasking, but people can usually tell when we are truly listening or not.

  • Follow-up 

Once a colleague or student has shared something going on in their lives, follow-up with them about it and ask about it again. It always is refreshing to be around others that think of you and take the time to check-in.

  • Take Initiative 

In every school, there are staff members, families, and students who are facing severe family illnesses and other crises. Whether you can help with an act of service or simply be the listening ear, take an active approach to be there for others. Many we encounter each day will never ask for our help but need support. When we take the initiative to offer comfort, we show we are a faithful crew.

  • Do Not Let Stress Take your Best

With all of this said, we too encounter our own personal hurdles that we face outside of school as well. Everyone has bad days and we each deal with stressors differently. Yet, be mindful to ensure that over time your stress does not take the best out of you and others.

Sense of Caring

In closing, this quote by Anthony J D’Angelo is everything, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I have found that nothing is more valuable than time spent loving one another and understanding each other; It is the heart of what we do as educators. When we care about each other like family, we build community.

There are no shortcuts, just love.

Continue Reading

Be Their Diehard Fan

A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to their sports team, musical artist, author, or an entertainer. The best trait about a diehard fan is that no matter what happens, even during the weak points, in the end, that fan always give their team their full support, with the knowledge that it will all eventually fall into place. Some of us call this unwavering faith.

I believe that the best educators and leaders apply these same foundations to their classrooms. Great teachers are not fair-weather fans, and they are DIEHARD fans for their students. Great educators also believe that student behaviors, academic levels, or backgrounds will NEVER stop them from loving or fighting for their students just as hard. After all, when our students show signs of distress is usually the moment they need our cheers in the fan section the most.

While working alongside students and showing that I will never give up on them, students taught me more about life, resilience, strength, and love than I could have ever imagined. I am better because of their strength.


Isn’t it a beautiful thing that while we dedicate ourselves to become their fans, that they become our number one supporters, too?


Whether students have positive or negative behavior stats or have winning or losing records in school- Be their diehard fan. Even our most supported students need us in their fan section more than ever. You will have no greater of a fan than your students if you become their diehard fan FIRST.

A thoughtful card I received from a student.

Continue Reading

How to Strengthen Relationships with Students

Building relationships with our students and colleagues are THE most important work that we do as educators and leaders.  Taking the time and energy to strengthen relationships with kids will help them grow to be better individuals and learners. Moreover, human connection is THE essential piece in LIFE, not just the field of education.

But, my caveat is this: Do not try to “manage” kids, but instead INVEST in them. When you invest in students and their interests, talents, and skill sets, your return on the investment will always be greater and more rewarding. Whether you are a kid or an adult, everyone wants to feel genuinely cared about.  Therefore, you can never go wrong by devoting your spirit to those you serve.

Throughout the years of working with kids, here are some of the most meaningful pieces that I believe are crucial to enhancing the relationships that you create:

  • Be present

  • Greet and welcome every single student

  • Listen and value their different perspectives

  • Get to know more about their family, hobbies, and passions

  • Look at every student interaction with a non-judgemental lens

  • Let students start over with a fresh slate when mistakes happen

  • Never, ever give up on them

  • Show that you want to learn from them, too

  • Bring the strengths of every single student to the forefront

  • Empower students to lead and make a difference

  • Be true to you; It inspires kids to be true to themselves

  • Be fun; Never take yourself too seriously

Image result for rita pierson quotes
Image Credit: TED/PBS

Significant mention: When thinking of strengthening relationships with students, the above quote from the beloved Rita Pierson is the beacon of what we should all strive for. Even if you have already seen the TED Talk 1,000,000 times like me, share it with someone else to ignite the spark within them as well (Or watch it below!)

Whether you are reading this during your last few weeks of school, or next October, or in August of 2049- Relationships will always be paramount. Everything changes in life, but relationships are our constant. The year, the month, the season does not matter. What matters is that we never give up on our students and always find time to strengthen the connections we already have to help them become who they were destined to be.

Continue Reading

Are We Fostering or Suppressing Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is a crucial process that is unarguably paramount for any human being to survive and thrive. Each day, we learn new things about the world around us.

Yet, lifelong learning is more than acquiring new information over your lifetime. The important piece of the puzzle is having the desire to actively seek out new ideas while being able to transfer and apply these concepts to a variety of contexts and dimensions.

When we think of lifelong learning, we need to do everything in our power to ensure we avoid:

  • Trying to forcefully manufacture lifelong learners
  • Over structuring learning in a way that makes it unrewarding for kids
  • Spoon feeding every learning experience students have

Although we have good intentions with the learning for our students, we sometimes get stuck in a pattern of doing things the same way we have always done it; Therefore, we can inadvertently suppress the passion for learning.

Nevertheless, we can rewire our thinking to give lifelong learning the definition it deserves so we can foster and inspire environments to be the spark for new ideas, new passions, new interests, and new discoveries. But, these discoveries are not made to be information banks. Imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the power it has on changing the world.

Discovering new learning has power. Just imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the capability it has on changing the world.

Lifelong learning in its true form is:


ongoing

voluntary

self-motivated


Now, let us embed students as THE focal point and take a moment to visualize your school day tomorrow. Ask yourself:

  • Are learning opportunities ongoing for students?

In other words, do the learning opportunities expand in breadth and depth over time while giving students multiple opportunities to apply and connect learning?

  • Are students voluntary members in how they learn?

In other words, do students have a choice in their learning? and Do they want to be apart of the process?

  • Are students self-motivated and empowered to learn? 

In other words, are students trusted partners and included in their learning conversations, while given the power to help guide how they learn each day?

Based on the answers to these questions, make small tweaks to your approach day-by-day to include these elements and watch the progress that occurs. While you organize and create your content and curriculum, keep these questions at the center of what you and your school does.

Remember this:

We can develop the best curriculum, but if we undervalue the inquisitiveness of our kids, we miss the mark.

Continue Reading

Unleashing Your Limitless Potential

Image Credit- Tamara McCleary

What are some of your OUT of this WORLD dreams and aspirations? Which dream is so big and crazy that you even doubt its possibilities?

Name that goal: _______________________.

We are often told to dream big and to reach for the stars, but on the same token we are later advised to be “realistic.” Being logical is important in many instances, but what is actually needed more in this world are people who are OBSESSED with their dreams and passions. People who have dreams that seem unfeasible to the average person. People who can visualize their goal to see the picture of success within their minds. Then, ultimately people who do whatever it takes to make their dreams a reality each and every day.

We need people who are not trying to be realistic. We need people who are trying to change the WORLD for the better; And when you are trying to change the world, you do not do ordinary things. Instead you commit to…


Reach for aspirations that are limitless.

Welcome failure.

Never stop soaking in knowledge.

Continually adjust and adapt.


Do not welcome or invite the crab-in-a-bucket mentality into your thought process. If you have not heard of this theory, let me explain: Sailors notice that while traveling across the blue seas and capturing crabs, that one crab in a bucket can claw his way out of the bucket successfully with determination. But, once the sailors start adding more crabs into the bucket, the other crabs start fighting and clawing relentlessly to ensure that one crab does not escape.

As the Chinese proverb says in the image above, “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

When we minimize the potential of others, we diminish the leaders and possibilities that “could be.” But, the worst case of all is when we also crush the potential within ourselves. It starts with us. When we shut down our possibilities and start believing that it “can’t be done,” we belittle our true GREATNESS.

Now, remember the goal you named earlier in this post. Unleash that dream and limitless potential within; These dreams are your calling. Be unstoppable and welcome dreams that are illogical, for this is the only way we can change the world.

Then, through your motivation, modeling, encouragement, you can help give that same gift to others which is the greatest gift of all.

Continue Reading

My Hopes as an Assistant Principal

This upcoming school year I will begin my journey as an Assistant Principal. I am filled with feelings of gratitude and enthusiasm; I am honored to have the opportunity to serve and to learn from such a remarkable administrative team and staff.

Throughout my experience as a leader, while taking on various leadership roles within the school community, I have grown and developed my vision and beliefs. I know that without a doubt, I will continue to do as I learn even more within my new role. I look forward to what my insights will be and how I will evolve.

But for years, I have written down my goals, dreams, and questions to keep in mind when I continue to help make decisions for kids, staff, families, and the school.

This past week, while visiting my new school, I saw that our Head Principal had this amazing question posted on her door- “This principal will ask what is best for kids?”

Her question inspired me and sparked an idea. I decided today to put my goals, dreams, and questions into an acronym that will display some of the internal and external questions I will ask myself and others; Since we are a Leader in Me School, I felt that the word “leader” was a good fit.


Here is my draft copy that I will continue to revise and post on my office door. I want to live by these questions each day. I do not plan on simply asking others these questions because these prompts are for myself just as much. By posting these questions, I hope to make them more visible and real, while holding myself accountable.

  • L – Are we LOOKING towards the future?
  • E – Are we doing what is best for EACH child?
  • A – How can I be ATTENTIVE and help?
  • D – Are we focusing on the DISCOVERY and joy of learning?
  • E – How can we EMPOWER our students, staff, and families to lead?
  • R – What are we doing RIGHT, yet how can we improve?

Closing thought: Thank you to everyone who has lifted me up, inspired me, believed in me, and given me the opportunities of leadership that have helped prepare me for this moment. I am eternally grateful.

Continue Reading

5 Characteristics of People Who Inspire Others

Nothing refreshes the soul more than being around another human being who inspires and lifts you to new dimensions. I yearn for these moments of inspiration and feel fortunate to feel inspired each day.

When I think of people who have inspired me in the past and present, they tend to embody these five traits (along with many others). In no particular order, here are characteristics that inspire others to be all they can be:

1. Servant Heart

The best leaders are the best servants. The most inspiring people are the people who love others with all their heart and all they are. Servant leaders make you feel that they will drop anything at any time to help you and to love you, without any expectations. Servants are fountains and not drains; They aim to lift people UP as a result of their presence.

       2. Brave

All progress begins with someone who is brave. I like to think that we were all called to be bold. But, when we think of someone who is brave, we often imagine a warrior geared in steel, ready to fight for war. But, bravery does not always look like this because bravery is seen even in the smallest circumstances.

Furthermore, being brave does not mean that you are not scared. Bravery often means that inside you are trembling and terrified, but you do the right thing anyways.

It is also important to note that people who are brave are more likely to be risk-takers. Individuals who are courageous understand that once you fail, you do not fail forever.

       3. Vulnerable

Love and vulnerability are the only bridges that can unite us.  When people express an unpopular belief, try something new, ask for help, and admit that they made a mistake, they are vulnerable. Being open and vulnerable allows you to be seen, but that exposure can be enough to scare us away.

Yet, ironically enough, when you are around vulnerable people, you become more naturally vulnerable as a result. Seeing others share often gives you permission to do the same. People who “dare greatly,” as author Brene Brown puts it, can be the catalyst to help themselves and others be all they can be.

       4. Accepting of Others

When we think of the idea of accepting others, there is more to it than we would like to admit. Accepting others is not:

  • Being tolerant
  • Making sure others do things that “make you happy”
  • Directing others to be more like you
  • Having people do things your way

Accepting others for who they are is a life-long skill that we must practice daily to evolve in our practice. Being graced in the presence of someone who is accepting gives others permission to be EVERYTHING they are.

People are more likely to grow and be the best versions of themselves when they are near a team of people who accept them for who they are from the beginning.

       5. Tenacious

Those who are tenacious are persistent and exude determination. When they have opportunities to give up, they do not take them. These individuals do take a moment to breathe and regain their vision, but they always keep their eye turned to the future.

It is important to note that people who are tenacious are not tenacious solely for the purpose to be relentless. Their tenaciousness is focused around values and visions that they hold dear. More often than not, their values are centered around serving the people, community, and the world around them.


What traits do you think that I could I add to the list? Who are people who inspire you to be all you are? 


Continue Reading

The Tough Stories That Deserve to Be Told

Image Credit: oprah.com

Teaching is hard. Leading is hard. Both roles are meaningful and worth it, but that does not make them any less difficult.

Although I believe in perseverance and positivity, I also believe in being authentic. Some of the tough stories that we are coping with as educators and leaders can weigh us down if we do not have the opportunity to share them.


I will never forget my first year of teaching. I was working at a low-income school, and my class was filled with a dynamic mix of behaviors and needs. One particular student in my class was destructive to the classroom, to staff members, and to students on a daily basis. I was genuinely scared. But, on the surface, I held it all together and did whatever I could to keep the other students safe. Staff members in the school knew how tough this situation was and praised how well I was handling it, especially since I was a first-year teacher at the time.

Inside, I felt hopeless and terrified. I kept a smiling face on and was as proactive as possible with what was going on, but I did not expect to encounter this experience during my first year of teaching. Although I appreciated the praise from others, all I wanted was a shoulder to cry on or a person that I could tell my worries to. However, since I had a handle on the situation, others seemingly thought that I was doing just fine on my own.


I think many of us have similar stories like this that we can relate to within our career.

Sometimes positive and tenacious spirits can be the best attribute, but it can also be your Achille’s heal.

We sometimes assume that if we are usually a positive person, that we cannot open up and share struggling points; That by sharing something negative that is happening to us, that it also makes us negative. We also think that if we share our pitfalls, that we then place that burden on someone else; So, to avoid this, we handle it ourselves.

But, I know now from experience that we cannot put the weight of the world single-handedly on our backs as educators and leaders. We can remain positive and determined, yet still share our tough stories with someone else. This is what makes us real. This is what makes us all authentic. We are all going through struggles and we are not alone.

From my background with leading new teacher induction programs to leading curriculum and department teams, to working hand-in-hand with teachers on a variety of grade levels, I have gained much valued insight. It is a beautiful thing to share the successes of your day and what is going right. But, also, sometimes what people need is a listening, trusting, non-judging, and open ear willing to hear anything and everything.

As Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” We understand that quote as it relates to our students entirely but resist the urge to apply it to our personal story. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable.

Taking this idea further, take a deeper look at the people around you and find ways to lighten the burden of others as well. Lifting others up can be the most effective way to lift your spirits as well.

Continue Reading

4 Steps to Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is not an art form; It is a conscious choice that we can choose to make. It is also a normal part of the learning process.

Each day we ask our students to take risks in our classrooms. We ask our kids to:

  • Dive into activities that they may or may not be good at
  • Share their ideas and opinions, even when they may be introverted or lack confidence
  • Try something the second we ask them, without hesitation or apprehension

But, when do WE find time to take risks as the teacher, as the adult? 

The most successful educators that I have ever met, who are the best at reaching kids, are masters at taking risks in the classroom every single day. Some days these risks may be mini-risks, while other days they are full-blown, terrifying, and monumental risks.

The other week I earned a free year of ClassCraft premium. One of our brave teachers, Molly, decided to literally jump into ClassCraft with her students one day and allowed HER STUDENTS to take control. Although she watched video tutorials on the process ahead of time, she still trusted students enough to learn and teach her. Since students were already familiar with games that include Warriors, Mages, and Healers, they were able to teach us more than we would have known through our own personal experiences alone. Never underestimate the knowledge that students can bring to the table.

What I have learned is that it is OKAY to be scared, it is just NOT OKAY to not try or give up.

How can you start with risk-taking? Start here:

1. Find your mission

Although taking random risks on a whim can be fun and still have a purpose, it is more meaningful to take a multitude of risks based on a mission you are focused on.  Determine your mission first. Do you want to be more innovative? Take more risks based on that vision. Do you want to improve on your specific teaching strategies in a content area? Focus on taking risks in that specific area. Once you see success and small progress in one area, you are more likely to take bigger risks in the future.

2. Commit to it

Nothing feels worse than saying you will take a risk and then you end up never following through. Just go for it. Commit 110%. I have found personal success by informing others about my risks and goals so they can be my accountability partners and hold me to it.

3. Be patient and persistent

I have a promise for you: You will fail and you will fail again. Change your perception of failure and realize that risk-taking and failure go hand-in-hand; You cannot have one without the other. I also can guarantee you this: Although failure can hit you in the stomach sometimes, failure will always bring new insights, new pathways, and new journeys…we simply have to be able to see the positives right in front of us. Without failure, we would never get better.

4. Share your journey with others

Share your risks, share your adversities, share your successes. Through having others join you on your journey, you can be that role model of risk-taking for someone else. Furthermore, once you open up, others will be more likely to share their journey with you as well.

Continue Reading