As a former early-career teacher, I learned the value of following up on behaviour as soon as possible, setting expectations, and building rapport with my students. This usually looked like rewarding and encouraging positive behaviour with a phone call home or discouraging negative behaviour by redirecting students and making them aware. Deciding which action to take was always easier when there was data available that documented trends in behaviour. When data is documented by all teachers in the school and stored in one place, it can provide valuable insights to staff to make informed decisions that support student wellbeing and educational development. There are endless options for how teachers can collect and store data, which can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when schools don’t have clear processes or the right technology to support them.
Teachers understand the importance of data-driven decision-making but are frustrated by the need to collect data to meet compliance requirements. An article from the ‘Issues in Educational Research’ journal, titled “We’re not data analysts”: Teachers’ perspectives on factors impacting their use of student assessment data (Raffe & Loughland 2021), details the frustrations of Australian teachers regarding data collection. One teacher described it as ‘Data for data’s sake’, saying ‘the goal has been to collect as much data as possible without enough focus on which data is meaningful and how to draw insights from it.’ Another common theme is in the methods of data collection which can be inconsistent when everyone is following different processes, “the problem is that it wasn’t mandatory, some teachers were collecting this data, and housing it digitally and others weren’t.”
Thinking back on my experience as a teacher, some of my best lessons were those created with student data in mind. When teaching Science, I used NAPLAN data to help me focus on key skills such as creating graphs or constructing a scientific report. It was rewarding to see my students make improvements in areas that they found challenging. I was fortunate enough to work in a school that had clear and consistent processes for collecting data, which allowed my colleagues and I to identify these areas and plan our lessons accordingly. Without a set process or standard workflow, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to collect data as part of the school day - “It's hard to analyse during school hours… I do it at home after my dinner.” Data collection shouldn’t be a hassle, teachers need a solution that allows them to do this as part of their teaching workflow.
Another barrier for teachers is the perception that they need a set of specialised skills to collect and analyse data. One teacher even went as far as to say “We don’t have the expertise or support, we’re not data analysts…” with another saying “I think we need more [training] on how to handle and use the data.” Teachers are required to collect data about students' learning, academic achievement, attendance, and wellbeing, which must be communicated to the wider school community including parents. In any school day, there are many opportunities for data collection, the challenge is knowing what is relevant and how to use this data to support student learning and wellbeing. If teachers had access to educator-friendly tools for data collection, that could organise data in a way that is easier to interpret, they would be able to take valuable insights from the data without any complicated analytics. Ultimately this would empower teachers, giving them the confidence to work with data and make data-driven decisions that benefit their students.
From my experience in the classroom, speaking with other teachers, and reading about the issues teachers face regarding data, I've learned that to create effective lesson plans and support student wellbeing, you need a holistic understanding of students which can be assisted by data. Collecting data and picking up on trends in behaviour and students' learning allows teachers to make data-driven decisions and take early action to support students. There are a few key challenges that teachers experience when trying to make data-driven decisions including a lack of direction with what data to collect and the confidence to draw useful insights from the data. Teachers understand they are not data analysts and they don’t have the time to collect and analyse large amounts of data, but it is important to find solutions that can simplify the process for them. Ultimately, one of the most important things I have learned is that effective tools and clear processes will go a long way in empowering teachers to make data-driven decisions that improve the learning outcomes and wellbeing of their students.
Raffe, C. P. & Loughland, T. (2021). “We’re not data analysts”: Teachers’ perspectives on factors impacting their use of student assessment data. Issues in Educational Research, 31(1), 224-240. http://www.iier.org.au/iier31/raffe.pdf