Building a data-informed culture that makes teachers feel supported

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By Julie Lenard

When Lorenzo Rizzo returned to Belton School District–the school district he’d once attended as a student–to become their new Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, he wanted to build a culture in which professional learning was explicitly aligned to strategic priorities. To do so, he needed to capture data that would help his team assess progress. The main challenge? Shifting the culture to embrace this data required a thoughtful approach designed to build trust. Below, we’ll detail some of the strategies and processes Belton has used to build trust and investment in a data-informed culture.

“Many of our teachers distrusted the needs assessments they had done before; they were afraid of how these scores might be used. We don’t want it to be evaluative, so we had to develop a new approach.”

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Lorenzo Rizzi

Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, Belton School District

Using Self-Assessments as a Tool to Build Buy-in

Lorenzo introduced the idea of non-evaluative data collection by asking teachers to complete an anonymous self-assessment. Belton teachers start at the beginning of the year assessing themselves on areas that are outlined in his school district’s improvement plan–areas like student engagement strategies, instructional practices, conscious discipline, and technology integration.

Teachers also weigh in on what topics of interest and their preferred learning styles. These answers influence planning, giving Lorenzo’s instructional coaches, principals, and central office team the information they need to adapt their plan to best address teacher need. It also gives them a great opportunity to model a tight feedback loop, building investment from teachers by showing them that their voice is both being heard and put to use.

Gathering Walkthrough Data Transparently

Lorenzo’s next move was to introduce classroom walkthrough protocols, which would capture a clear, formative picture of the observable changes taking place in classrooms throughout the year.

“Walkthroughs give us another perspective; what teachers tell us and test scores can paint one picture. What we’re actually seeing is another.”

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Lorenzo Rizzi

Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, Belton School District

To ensure trust in the data, Lorenzo carefully framed these walkthroughs with a goal-oriented protocol. Administrators, instructional coaches, and superintendents conduct school and classroom walkthroughs based on school-specific goals that principals communicate out in advance. These goals are communicated to teachers in advance so that teachers are set up for success. The results are then recorded and reported, allowing Belton to pinpoint high-level trends and plan school-specific professional development.

After collecting the walkthrough data, the summarized results were shared with instructional coaches and principals so it could be used to tailor support.

"During walkthroughs, we share "stars" for positive feedback and "wishes" for missed learning opportunities with teachers. This format makes feedback feel non-evaluative and gives us (as administrators) a sense of what is working well in classrooms so that we can build opportunities for teachers to learn from one another."

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Kim Mauck

Principal of Mill Creek Upper Elementary, Belton School District

Building in Opportunities for Peer Learning

The teacher self-assessments showed another theme: teachers wanted to be given time to observe another teacher. As a result, Belton started implementing Teacher Learning Walks, where teachers have the opportunity to observe peers who have been identified by their principals or other teachers.

"We identify star teachers fr​om ​the initiatives we are looking at, and teachers can learn from each other. Afterwards, they have a discussion."

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Kim Mauck

Principal of Mill Creek Upper Elementary, Belton School District

When they first launched the Teacher Learning Walks, Mill Creek Upper Elementary principal Kim Mauck created a schedule for teacher observations that connected teachers to recommended peers. In the second year, however, she listened to feedback from her teachers and built in opportunities to be more informal: the team uses pineapple charts to identify classrooms and proactively connect teachers during the school day.

"This process of teacher learning walks makes it more personalized; teachers are able to see exactly what they’re hoping to observe in quick bursts without the pressure of creating sub plans. It has made our classrooms and hallways more open. Teachers can get stuck sometimes in their classrooms and it's been really productive to allow them to get out and just learn from each other."

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Kim Mauck

Principal of Mill Creek Upper Elementary, Belton School District

During Learning Walks, teachers reflect on the instructional practices they are observing, and how they might apply them to their own teaching. They also describe specific areas they intend to apply to their own teaching. This data feeds into the big picture for instructional coaches and principals but can also be shared with the host teachers so that there’s a strong feedback loop for everyone involved.

What’s next

With a full school year of intensive data collection under their belt, Lorenzo and his team are able to point to longitudinal data to get a complete picture of what’s happening in classrooms and school communities. They’ve also started using KickUp’s new event management tools, which allow them to manage the nitty gritty of event registration while tying professional learning events back to data they collect on impact.

“We can point to a specific goal and say this is what we’re hearing from teachers and staff--and then this is what we observed. We get a 360 degree view of the data.”

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Lorenzo Rizzi

Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, Belton School District

Want to learn more about Belton? Check out their case study here.

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