Schools across Australia are under immense pressure to improve student outcomes. The sector is turning to data and implementing evidence-based teaching as a method of enhancing student learning and enabling differentiated teaching.
Jennie Quinn, Education Officer of Diverse Learning Initiatives at the Sydney Catholic Schools Office, doesn’t believe we’re yet realising the full potential of data and analytics in education.
“And that’s mainly because it’s really dependant on teacher capacity and their ability to interpret the data,” Ms Quinn said. “Have they had the opportunity to be involved in tailored professional learning to develop this capacity? At a system level, is data being managed efficiently so it can be streamlined and easy for them to access?”.
Fellow Education Officer, Nicole Shepherd, believes some of the biggest challenges preventing fully leveraging data, are teacher capacity and understanding.
“We all know that teachers are very time poor and good use of data really has to happen in a timely manner so I think that’s a really big challenge for teachers to be able to interpret data and then use it while it’s still fresh and it’s still relevant to inform learning,” Ms Shepherd explained.
“Again, teacher capacity and knowledge and their level of knowledge around the how, the why, and the what of data is really important as well. And the quality and usefulness of the data collected, because often we collect all this data but we don’t actually know why. We don’t know the purpose of it and often teachers don’t know how to use it best to inform teacher learning.”
Ms Quinn, however, says there are strategies schools can employ to incorporate data into daily practice throughout the wider school community, including valuing the learner and leveraging experts in the field.
“I think it’s really important to use tools that make data easily accessible and to make data collection more efficient and effective. Once teachers see the purpose and ease of using data and how it can really impact, that really gets them on board.
“Another way that we like to do this is through a coaching or mentoring approach. So someone who’s more experienced or has expertise can coach or mentor less experienced teachers to collect data, analyse data and use that to have an impact on future learning. Teachers then feel supported, they’re not swimming in a sea of data without being able to see the way through it”.
“Also helping them understand the purpose – what do they want to measure? It’s important that they know first what they want to measure and then thinking about and workshopping, what’s the most effective way to do this? So the design of data collection for the purpose is really important and that’s where collaborative communities and that coaching and mentoring model really comes into play”.
“The other thing is sharing a success story and best practice because as we all know we learn best from others who are in the same situation as us, so that’s really important and we try to bring that into our own system professional learning as much as possible”.
“Teachers can build their capacity by seeing what others are doing in their schools and also they then make contact with those people and have collaborative communities that our outside our own schools”.
Some of the tools to help facilitate this, Ms Quinn explains, are evidence based research, “We really value, as a tool, current evidence-based research and we feel that has to underpin top quality professional learning. Professional learning needs to be based on best practice which aligns with shared pedagogy- if everyone’s off in different tangents and there’s no shared vision or alliance, then that can’t really hit home”.
“We also believe in communities of learning, so having those professional learning communities to address school-based needs. That’s their teams and professional learning has to address what teachers are interested in and if they don’t have a voice in what they’re doing and what they’re going to learn, really there’s no buy-in. So it’s got to be based around their needs”.
Successful alignment of data with school strategy, Ms Quinn says, comes down to executive buy-in.
“If we don’t have the Principal and the school leadership team behind that belief in that alignment of evidence-based practice, it’s really not going to happen. Getting the leadership team on board is critical to success.”
Jennie Quinn and Nicole Shepherd are facilitating a workshop session at the 4th Data Driven Evidence Based Teaching in Schools conference. The conference brings together leaders from schools across Australia to gather and explore how to collect, manage and effectively analyse high quality data, develop whole of school strategies and engage teachers to ensure sustainable and long term improvements to student outcomes.
“We’ll be covering data collection at a system level to inform future professional learning. We’ll also cover data collection as staff of school level to inform practice,” Ms Shepherd said. “We’ll talk about using action research to be an agent for change and we’ll have a section on sharing and best practice to build the capacity of others”.
“Hopefully everyone will be able to take away insights to equip and support teachers with skills required to inform their practice with data, practical advice to lead and nurture a school culture that regularly engages with evidence and strategies you can tailor to embed evidence based practice in your school.”