Data in schools is everywhere. Teachers have data on student characteristics, progress in individual subjects and attendance, to name just a few areas. With the increased use of technology, this wealth of statistical information will only grow richer.
But to what extent does the profession really use the mass of data at hand? Without proper analysis and action, are we missing an opportunity to advance lasting and impactful change in teaching, learning and leadership?
Three years ago, Joanna Moe and her team asked themselves the above question and concluded that there was a lot of room for improvement.
“We saw this need in our organization to increase our data literacy, ”says Moe, who is Deputy Director of Professional Learning at the Institute for Educational Development (EDI) of the Qatar Foundation.
“We wanted our educators to be able to understand how to support students by looking at data at the classroom level as well as at the leadership level. We wanted the data to drive decisions and engage people in the inquiry about it: if we make this decision, what is the impact and what do we need to change? “
To bring about a fundamental change in the way Qatar Foundation schools use data in the daily development of teaching and learning, EDI set out to design and implement a professional learning program. personalized for its educators, with data at the heart of it.
“We wanted to make sure there was really a change in teacher behavior – and we knew it had to come through professional learning. But so often professional learning is ad hoc. People get excited and then get into context, and that learning wears off over time, ”says Moe. “We wanted to make sure that this learning had a real and lasting impact. “
Data-driven teacher development
EDI looked at a range of professional development programs and ended up designing two: Petal (Program for Effective Teaching and Learning) and Palme (Program for Ambitious Leaders and Educational Management). As their names suggest, Petal is classroom-focused, using data to make educational changes for students, while Palme looks at the whole system, using data to make changes throughout the school. for teachers and students.
Both programs have key sessions throughout the school year, with personalized coaching in between to keep educators on track. Teachers choose an individual ‘practice problem’ – an area in which they would like to make a change – and undertake a research-type project to implement a new strategy to achieve it.
Throughout the program, they maintain a portfolio of their work and present their findings in a presentation to senior foundation leaders at the end of the year.
Fiza Abbas, speech therapist at Renad Academy, a school for children with autism, recently completed the Palme program. Keen to develop her leadership skills, while keeping the area of exploration aligned with her professional interests, she explored how staff can improve the oral language of children with autism.
She implemented a specific initiative, Colorful Semantics, working – to begin with – with students herself, then teaching staff to deliver it in their own classes. Throughout, she conducted interviews with teachers to gauge how well they thought it was effective.
Most importantly, she looked at quantitative data on children’s improvement every day, as colorful semantics were used. The initiative has proven to be successful and, as a result, is now being implemented throughout the school.
Abbas admits it was difficult: She was finishing the program during the Covid-19 pandemic. But she is now not only more confident and resilient in her own abilities, but also in her use of data.
“As a practitioner, it became really obvious to me how important data is,” she says. “Sometimes when you practice, you may think you are doing the right thing without the data to back it up. Your data gives you information: if that sounds right to you, you go that way. Otherwise, you take another route.
His leadership skills have also developed: managing a team, collecting data, inspiring staff to see the big picture and encouraging them to move work forward are all new skills Abbas has mastered. Today, she is confident in her leadership abilities and uses these skills in her daily practice.
Clearly, the desire for this type of learning is there on the part of the foundation educators: by 2020, 123 educators had completed the program. Other examples of projects include a teacher who wanted to involve teenagers in music lessons, another who sought to introduce paperless math lessons, and another who was reviewing a new curriculum that had been introduced throughout the school and how it was sequenced between age groups. .
A change of culture
There has certainly been a change in the culture of the foundation as a result of the introduction of these programs, Moe says. More and more staff are showing up to present at conferences and engage in graduate and other research beyond their current responsibilities. Leaders, too, are more engaged in teaching and learning in general.
“Our leaders see, hear and recognize that this is a good job and then try to encourage other teachers to do it,” she says. “Shortly after the presentations, leaders tell me, ‘I had no idea teachers thought of it that way,’ and they start to think about how they can fit more educators into that way. think, which stimulates teaching and learning. through the foundation accordingly.
Vanessa Miller has coached dozens of practitioners like Abbas through the Petal and Palme programs. For her, it is the personalization of professional learning that makes the programs so successful and valuable.
“If we have a single model, then we certainly don’t take into account the difference between practitioners, teachers or the individual context in which they work,” she says.
“The context within individual schools can be vastly different, and if we don’t customize for this, we don’t consider the means of individual practitioners or the needs of individual learners. We must give teachers the power to act and the confidence in their ability to increase their own capacities. “
The impact of personalized learning programs on teachers and students of the Qatar Foundation is expected to be evaluated by the American Institute of Research this year.
While these results may not be released for some time, if they match the anecdotes of Moe, Abbas, and Miller, the programs will prove to have increased teachers’ confidence and leadership capacity, as well as better results for teachers. students – and, of course, how deeply ingrained data has become in the practice of this foundation.