Priorities and Making Time for Data Driven Instruction

Last weekend I couldn’t find time to write my blog. The time just wasn’t there…. I really wanted to, but…..  I’ll get it done next week once…. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to…. Things are just so hectic right now with the start of school and…. Sound familiar? Isn’t that how things so often go in our busy, busy lives? Our best intentions fall short, and we stress and scramble to do better next time. We make open promises to ourselves, and sometimes others. Why? Is it truly a shortage of time, or something else?

Following my empty blog entry weekend, I spent two days with a small district’s faculty and administration on data driven instruction (DDI). We had excellent, thoughtful discussions on what DDI is and how to best implement it throughout the district. We brainstormed student data available in the district, the processes of DDI (assess, analyze, and action), and the required school culture components. We addressed the importance of standards-aligned assessments, monitoring of action plans, facilitation of data analysis sessions, and professional development. However, the biggest potential impediment to the important work of DDI was the lack of time. As one teacher commented, “The word starts with T and ends with E.”

So where is the time going? Stephen Covey’s 7th habit speaks about sharpening the saw, and that’s what we were doing during our DDI sessions. This particular district had also successfully written a Strengthening Teacher Leader Effectiveness Grant, which among other things, funded eight Teacher Leaders to help sharpen their colleagues’ proverbial saws in the important work of Race to the Top. However, it takes more than being sharp at the work you’re doing. It takes habits number two and three: Begin with the End in Mind, and Put First Things First.

Back to my skipped blog entry, I must confess: I had the time. In fact, I had an abundance of time. I’d even taken Thursday and Friday off to add time to the weekend. What the blog entry work lacked was prioritization. Rather than write, I played and recreated with my family during a wonderful end of summer Maine weekend. Rather than think about RTTT, I boogie boarded in beautiful ocean waves with my daughter. Instead of citing websites, I researched TripAdvisor for the best places to eat. Instead of proofreading, I read fiction books, Fantasy Football Index, and reviews on the best gelato in Maine. I did what mattered most to me and my family.

So what does this all have to do with DDI and schools? From my experience with exceptionally talented educators, teacher leaders, school and central office administrators, it all comes down to priorities. The work we do in school is filtered through the priority lenses of mission statements, goals, and objectives. What gets measured and valued, gets done; and if a district is drifting aimlessly without focus, all bets are off. DDI is the next essential component to successful school reform, and it must become a top priority for schools this year.

Last year was one of survival as educators and administrators focused on writing SLOs, hammering out APPR agreements, and prepping for new state assessments. There was truly no time to do anything else. This year, things are different, and administrators and teachers must figure ways to add time to the calendar for the important work of assessing student learning, analyzing results, developing and implementing action plans, and monitoring impacts. Whether we’re talking late starts, early dismissals, superintendent conference days, new and improved faculty meetings…., the point is DDI will not happen to any great extent without TIME. So before we run out of time, let’s be sure to alert our boards of education and communities of any calendar changes needed to do this important work. If we want to work better, we must have time.

Peace.

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