Administration & Leadership

Building Teachers’ Data Literacy Skills

Teachers who are skilled in data literacy can provide powerful in-house professional learning to guide their colleagues.

April 6, 2023
alvarez / iStock

Educational leaders often highlight the importance of data-driven decision-making. Growing numbers of school districts require schools to create and implement a performance improvement  plan governed by a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model. 

The PDSA model is a four-phase improvement investigation process intended to assess small-scale changes. The PDSA process consists of experimental cycles that allow educators to communicate change, carry out the change, study the outcomes, and devise next steps by adopting, adapting, or abandoning the change. Ultimately, the PDSA model is a collaborative, data-driven process to quickly and affordably identify the effectiveness of implemented interventions.      

Monitoring and analyzing data can be intimidating for many educators, which leads to disengagement. Administrators can address this by implementing a PDSA model and a compelling data-literacy framework to assist educators in being able to read, write, and communicate data proficiently.

This framework should encompass the following: surveying each educator’s data literacy, conducting professional development (PD) to build data literacy, establishing and utilizing common jargon when discussing data, and analyzing and presenting data.

Foundational Data Literacy 

Administrators need to assess each educator’s data literacy so that PD sessions can be tailored to meet the needs of the school’s staff. Administrators can determine each educator’s data literacy via an anonymous survey asking teachers to rate their ability to read, write, and communicate data on a Likert-type scale. Administrators can also ask educators to share their feelings about analyzing data. This survey method ensures that most educators will be honest about rating skill sets, emotions, and self-efficacy. 

In addition to surveying educators, administrators can observe data literacy during collaborative planning, team meetings, and staff meetings by taking detailed notes on how well teachers can review data to extrapolate meaning and identify tangible next steps.

Once administrators have assessed and gauged each educator’s data literacy, they should work with their teacher-leaders to develop tailored PD sessions to build data literacy. Ultimately, the teacher-leaders will serve as the school communities’ data ambassadors. The data ambassadors will explicitly teach teachers how to read, write, and communicate data and lead staff in reviewing data to process what it all means and sort out possible next steps.

PD sessions should be facilitated during collaborative planning, staff meetings, and/or team meetings. These sessions should always be driven by an agenda and protocol that conveys the group norms, expectations, and learning outcomes.

At my school, seven data ambassadors lead the school staff in analyzing data. These seven teacher-leaders serve as instructional lead teachers, team leaders, or department chairs. It’s important to note that all seven data ambassadors have demonstrated high levels of data literacy and are skilled at creating engaging professional learning opportunities. My administrative team builds the capacity of our data ambassadors via weekly check-ins and monthly instructional leadership team meetings. 

Reading, writing, and communicating data is complicated for many educators. To simplify the process, administrators need to collaborate with their data ambassadors to establish common jargon that the entire school staff will utilize when analyzing and discussing data. The agreed-upon common terminology should be captured via a definition-of-terms document shared with all school staff. The definition of terms should be embedded in all meeting agendas and disseminated to all staff as a tangible resource to reference when discussing data. 

Practical Data Literacy

The school’s administration should encourage their data ambassadors to analyze and present data in a creative fashion. Analyzing data doesn’t have to be boring; it can be presented innovatively, increasing staff engagement and buy-in. Administrators should consistently encourage data ambassadors to collaborate to create a data presentation and protocol that encourages staff to read, write, and communicate data. 

This school year, our administrative team challenged our data ambassadors to come up with creative ways to present data from the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program to staff. We didn’t provide them with any criteria for how this should be done. All seven data ambassadors accepted this challenge and exceeded our expectations for making data literacy engaging, interactive, and fun. 

One group presented math data through the facilitation of a game of bingo. Another group presented reading English language arts (RELA) data by facilitating a cloze reading activity. Below you will find the artifacts from both presentations: 

When administrators implement the PDSA model and a compelling data literacy framework with fidelity, they intentionally build every educator’s data literacy, and the whole team becomes stronger. It’s never too late to develop your staff’s data literacy. If you haven’t already started, hopefully this framework will provide you with a solid road map.  

Maria Thebaud Leonard, Adri Westlake, Michael Gubisch, Sabrina N. Crusoe, and Kenneth Nance contributed to this article.

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