Data Driven School Leadership: Confronting the Brutal Facts to Build a Culture of Excellence

by | Jan 27, 2019


Principals’ create policies and strategies that help their schools achieve excellence. However, the teachers are the ones on the front lines implementing these changes.

Principals and their staff need to work together toward a common goal; otherwise, they will be unable to achieve their goals. Data-driven school leadership gives teachers the tools they need to create and implement plans to achieve the goals set for their school. However, when you see the data, you may not like what you see. To build a culture of excellence, you need to confront all the brutal facts first.

Use Data to Create Inclusive and Culturally Responsive School Environments

Tests only are indicative of what a student knows or how well they take a test. A student can know all the information, but not do so great on tests. This is one of the many flaws of test-only data. To use data more effectively, you need to look at the whole student and not just their test scores. But what does it mean to look at the “whole” student? This requires you to look at various areas, like:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Previous instruction
  • Current skill level
  • Socioeconomic status

This information allows you to create personalized instructional strategies, which have been shown to be highly effective in educating students. Some teachers may think it is too controversial to look at some of these categories, but each of these areas can be helpful in creating effective instruction so that your students can achieve their academic goals.

Looking at the whole student also allows schools to create a culturally responsive school environment. There needs to be a positive and proactive school environment that addresses the cultural, social/emotional, behavioral, and academic needs of each individual student. This is important because it can help to ensure that every student is prepared for the future, whether they are going to college or straight into the workforce.

Cultural responsiveness starts in the principal’s office. Principals need to engage in culturally responsive work and leadership to overcome any barriers that stand in the way of achieving their goals. Principals should combine social activism and curriculum innovation. How can a principal encourage this type of behavior? There are a few things you can do.

To begin with, focus on the hiring process. In addition to focusing on high-quality applicants, you should hire individuals who reflect the demographics at your school. If that isn’t possible, you need to hire individuals who embody cultural responsiveness. Teachers can influence change, so hire a quality teacher with a culturally responsive orientation.

Professional development is also a huge part of this process. Principals need to attend conferences and training sessions alongside their teachers so that everyone can learn these skills at the same time. Professional development sessions should be taught in the schools with a focus on setting aside any personal bias in order to be better teachers for their students.

To create better professional development, principals should connect their staff with outside professional development opportunities that will encourage cultural responsiveness. This may take a bit of investment, but it is an investment that is worth making to see your students succeed. At the end of the day, this will help level the playing field for diverse learners, because teachers cannot help if they don’t fully understand the problem.

Focus on What Matters

In the book Results Now, Michael J. Schmoker wanted his readers to face the brutal facts of their data. Rather than be discouraged by this information, this can be an opportunity if you allow it to. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to this data. The facts may be difficult to look at, but the cold, hard truth will set your school free and put it on the road to achieving all its goals. The truth in the data gives you the information you need to quickly reduce the achievement gap at your school and give every student the same chance despite their different social or economic backgrounds.

When you take the time to do professional development that focuses on diverse learners, you are teaching your staff to overcome the challenges that each individual student presents. The only way that you can succeed as a school is by addressing these issues head-on so that you can overcome them better. This means that you need to focus on analyzing the data, even if the results don’t align with what you’re currently doing. You need to be uncomfortable before you can achieve what you want to achieve. Focus on what really matters—the students—even if this means you must face truths that you would rather ignore.

Trust Your Teachers

When you hired your teachers, you saw something in them that inspired you to trust them with your students. What makes a highly successful principal stand out from others is that they trust their teachers. Principals maintain a vision that allows them to improve the outcomes of diverse learners by using data strategically. But that’s not all.

Successful principals also allow their teachers the freedom to determine the best path to achieve the school’s overall objectives. Teachers are in the classroom every day, so they can better judge if the strategies are working or not. However, this does not give teachers the freedom to do whatever they want. A successful principal also understands that they will need to say no if they do not feel as though a teacher’s plans are going to benefit the students. The whole point is to encourage the success and achievement of their students.

Focusing solely on test scores when trying to solve your school’s issues is going to get you nowhere. There are many different factors that you need to consider before you can create an effective plan to improve your school. Even when the data seems hard to deal with, you need to look at it to better develop a plan for your school. Look at the demographics of your students and the other indicators that were mentioned throughout to get a more complete picture of what your school needs to work on.