How My Checkbook Helped Me Bring Meaning to Data

As a newly appointed elementary principal, I feel like I am learning a whole new job (I previously served as a middle school assistant principal/athletic director and as an elementary school teacher). As I have tried to balance home and work, my checkbook has taken a back seat to parent meetings, family obligations and everything else that is involved in the principalship and parenthood. The result has been a checking balance that has been unchecked, offset by moving savings over to prevent overdraft charges.

At first glance, I assumed I was just too busy to deal with the day-to-day mundaneness of logging expenses and deposits on my ledger. That would make sense considering my current learning curve. However, what was different? Nothing, besides a new job and the fact that I just didn’t want to take care of the finances. This realization led me to think about what I expect of my teachers and the data they blindly input into spreadsheets about their students’ achievement. What was their purpose for collecting guided reading and math facts data, other than to do what their principal asked?

To use the same writing format as Margaret Wise Brown does in The Important Book, “The important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction. It involves numbers. It takes time to collect. Sometimes the results aren’t reliable. But the important thing about data is that teachers can use it to inform instruction”. A recent tweet I made proclaimed that the best universal screener is the classroom teacher. How can data help them make informed decisions, when they don’t see the end results or the purpose? Is this why I wasn’t keeping my check book up to date?

I started to make changes at home and at school. At home, I downloaded a few apps on my iPad to help me track expenses and pay down debt such as car loans more quickly. What these apps do is give me a visual representation of how I spend my money along with what changes I can make to better balance my household budget. The same holds true for student data. I took the spreadsheets my teachers entered student data into and linked them to graphs on other pages in the spreadsheet. These graphs showed student progress by month in reading and math, growth rate needed to meet end-of-year benchmarks and classroom progress.

My teachers are more motivated to get the data entered in a timely manner, because we see a purpose in our practices. Conversations about student data between teachers are much more productive now because the focus is on student learning and teacher practices, not on what we assume to be effective or ineffective. Relevancy and meaning are vital, whatever the focus may be.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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