Leadership resource: Seven steps for using data effectively

In our latest annual reader survey, several readers in leadership positions let us know the topic they find most interesting to read about on Teacher is the use of data.

As a school leader, a crucial consideration when implementing a new teaching and learning approach, or evaluating existing practices, is the effective use of data. A new resource developed by Evidence for Learning (E4L) and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) aims to support school leaders in using data effectively for implementation.

‘School leaders have no shortage of data and information, so much so that the volume can often be a barrier for the good use of this data. This resource acknowledges the many resources already available for school leaders as they look to identify and collect data, and fills a gap which exists to support them to organise, analyse, interpret and then use that data effectively,’ Associate Director at E4L, Susannah Schoeffel, tells Teacher.

‘The resource focuses on the use of data for monitoring and evaluation as feedback from school leaders suggests that they appreciate the important role that this plays in effective implementation and would like more support to do so effectively,’ educational leader Michael Rosenbrock adds.

Seven steps for using data effectively

The Using data for monitoring and evaluation resource outlines 7 steps to guide school leaders in effective use of data, beginning with identifying the purpose and ending with taking action.

The 7 steps are:

  1. Identify purpose
  2. Select sources
  3. Collect
  4. Organise
  5. Analyse
  6. Interpret
  7. Use

‘The 7-step process provides starting point for leaders looking to use data more effectively,’ Rosenbrock says. ‘The process is likely to be cyclical in nature and form part of the bigger picture of implementation and school improvement.’

A resource for all leaders

The resource has been developed in a way that is applicable to school leaders at all levels, Schoeffel explains.

‘A principal may, for example, use this to prompt discussions with team members around attendance – looking beyond the headline and diving into cohort specific influences. A middle leader with responsibility for a key learning area might explore how students have tracked over several years to understand differences in trajectories, in order to support students with lower-than-average growth. Even at the classroom level, this resource could provide a framework for a teacher looking to adapt their teaching strategies based on students’ acquisition of a particular topic area.’

The resource also outlines key concepts, examples and prompts for each step. For instance, in Step 4 (Organise), leaders are encouraged to consider privacy and confidentiality when bringing together data into one place. Questions to help you think about this are offered: Are there regulations or processes that you need to follow? Do you need to de-identify the data? How will you manage access? And examples of working through these questions are given – in this case, ‘student names may need to be replaced with pseudonyms and data stored in a password protected file.’

Unpacking data jargon

An FAQ page that covers key data terms is also provided. ‘There can be a lot of jargon associated with data use that can be a barrier for school leaders,’ Rosenbrock explains. ‘This resource unpacks key terms like baseline, triangulation and bias in the context of a straightforward process and with the support of examples from practice.’

‘Partnering with our colleagues at ACER to develop this resource has built on many years of experience both in schools, and in supporting schools, to develop a resource that we hope is both rigorous and useful as school leaders look to monitor and evaluate in their settings,’ Schoeffel says.

Related content: In the article, Doing fewer things, better: The case for de-implementation, Susannah Schoeffel and Michael Rosenbrock share data-related considerations for school leaders when considering the de-implementation of an approach, practice, initiative, or program.

As a school leader, reflect on your school improvement goals for the upcoming school year. What data might you need to select, collect and organise to inform your decision to proceed with the implementation?