Declutter your data to find real student learning stories

Part one of three posts introduces the idea that for K-12 schools to be successful in using data to grow learning they need to declutter their thinking, and data. Giving  teachers a clear line of vision into each student’s learning story is the Kondo goal. Posts 2 and 3 will discuss how to get a Kondo mindset working at your school to progressively build a beautifully organised learning support space.

Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy has people everywhere re-thinking how simplicity trumps clutter and stress. This simple idea of people being in control of all of their ‘stuff’ moves to the top of everyone’s to do list as soon as they read Marie’s  book or watch her TV series. Decluttering applies to our book collections, Facebook friends, and even our family members. The same simple principle applies to K-12 schools and the data they collect in cluttered, stress-driven systems.

In a nutshell: Schools should decide on and organise the learning data that brings joy to teachers’ lives every day, and release what doesn’t. If there is no alignment to teaching and learning, there is no joy in data for teachers. Don’t clutter an already busy life.

The popularity of Kondo’s approach proves how good it feels to eliminate excess in our lives and get back to what matters. If Marie Kondo came to your school to help, what would your goal be? I would suggest a great ‘Kondo’ goal challenge; to have a learning story for every student, in a single accessible and uncluttered space! The one place Kondo hasn’t tackled, however, might be the most cluttered of all: our minds. Let’s get some clear thinking around how we could approach our first goal.

Step 1 . What level of visibility into a single student learning story would delight teachers right now?

Step 1 is not a trick question.  I asked a Learning Director at a large school how many data sources the school collected or had access to, somewhere. In about 20 seconds flat, we had a list.

NAPLAN – for 10 years (across four domains), PAT Early Years, PAT-M, PAT-R, PAT Spelling and Vocab and Science for many years and cohorts, E-WRITE, MYAT, ALLWELL M, R, C, Flourishing, Education Perfect, Mathspace, Mathletics, Maths Online, Probe, PM Benchmark, Soundwaves, Edumate, Observations, Snapshot, Valid Science, PISA and Canvas.

Like every school, there is always lots of data and with that data comes cluttered thinking around what could and should be done with it. All of these data sources can’t have the same importance to a teacher at once. The sheer process of streamlining can unleash a barrage of decisions that don’t really add value to achieving your goal: Should we include all of our data not just some? Why not build a data warehouse? If we have that, we really need this as well! Can we have charts and dashboards across all data? Before you give yourself a chance to declutter, your mind is again full of clutter.

If you focus your thinking around what data makes the biggest immediate impact to teachers, what would that be?  In our experience with many schools, we can highlight what we get asked, in the order we get asked. The ultimate goal is always to build a single student view that delivers clarity and relevance to every teacher, reducing their mental clutter of worrying about what they don’t know. Some teachers suffer from real FOMO stress.

  1. Diagnostic data. There is a lot of good data available from multiple sources. It’s accurate, complete and accessible. This data usually resides in the same closet space, a shared drive full of excel spreadsheets. The clutter, however, is in the data itself. It is hard to shape into a single learning story from multiple formats and scales. NAPLAN, PAT, ALLWELL and PISA offer the most accurate insights in many formats. Decluttering is a simple process when you know how.
  2. Pastoral data has a high priority for visibility and clarity. This data lives in systems that are often inconsistent in detail and context. Pastoral data comes from legacy SIS attendance, extra curricula and behavioural data, surveys and specialised assessments each providing different angles of view across each student’s plane. Importantly, this data is not prescriptive. Pastoral data ignites the cognitive experience of teachers with a backdrop of insights into potential barriers and opportunities. Again, a clear alignment to each student keeps this relevant and simple.
  3. Report data. Yes, the classic academic reporting data built twice a year, usually, is still the big apple that seldom falls far from the tree. The importance of this data is truly realised when it can be easily compared to diagnostic and pastoral data. It’s the process of alignment of these sources that brings the most joy.
  4. Reliable data from other systems. This is typically where clutter and fragmented information re-enters the mix often through multiple Gradebooks. LMS data, formative and specialised application data is usually fragmented and, yes, cluttered with all sorts of ‘stuff’’. The challenge with this data is to work out what part of teacher joy it contributes to, if at all?

Schools suffer at the hands of clutter so much so that SAU (Schooling as usual) is all teachers can do with the information they have. What would happen if Marie Kondo came to talk to you about the clutter in your data closets? Would she focus on decluttering the data closet or the real clutter that may be holding us all back; what we think teachers need to live joyously and FOMO free?

In Part 2 of this series we will talk about how to organise your important data, taking  what you need and delighting teachers with simple uncluttered access. What joy!

Mark Stanley is CEO and Founder of Literatu.

www.literatu.com