School culture and climate data has powerful potential for school improvement. Unfortunately, like most data, culture and climate data is often analyzed and even reported, but rarely does it get translated into meaningful action that realizes the research-based promises of school improvement. I am reminded of an interaction I had with a teacher years ago. We were beginning the annual season of standardized testing, and she was expressing her distaste with standardized tests. “It’s such a waste of time,” she proclaimed. I asked her, “Well, how do you plan to use the results?” She proudly stated, “We don’t use those results at all,” to which I quickly responded, “then you’re right, it’s definitely a waste of time.” I’m not sure if she really got the point I was making, but it’s an issue I have seen over and over again.
So why don’t we use our data? Perhaps the answer could lead to a solution. I have concluded that the cause of data disuse is a combination of factors. Some of them are well understood. Educators are very busy and often overwhelmed by managing the day-to-day school experience. Some educators have a sort of data catatonia. They freeze in the presence of data, unsure of what to do next. Some educators lack the desire to improve. They are comfortable with the way things are. Perhaps they are afraid of change. These are all commonly considered issues. Another factor, illusory superiority, is less recognized. Most people conduct their day-to-day business with the belief that they are highly productive and effective. This is generally a very satisfying mindset. Because data can potentially disconfirm this mindset, data threatens illusory superiority and can therefore be unpleasant to examine.
Addressing these data disuse factors requires installing sustainable structures into the system. To make the processes of analyzing and using data easier, software that collects and reports results in a highly consumable manner should be employed. A data analysis protocol should be used to ensure that the process is efficient and no stone is left unturned. Action plans should be a required outcome of the data analysis process. If there’s nothing to improve, you’re a very fortunate school leader. Action plans should be developed in a manner that ensures quick wins through improvement. Making the process efficient and clear, and then planning for a positive experience, will increase the desire to use data and decrease the perceived pain.
A detailed protocol for analyzing culture and climate data begins with the establishment of a data team or assigning the task to an existing team, such as a school leadership team. The data review process should be a standing item on the team agenda. It should be systematically programmed into the team’s routines. The first review of the results should be a high-level analysis of culture and climate summary scores. I’ll call these pillars. Which pillars stand out as high or low scoring? Are there any positive or negative trends that indicate a change in the school context? Are the issues district-based, school-based, or team-based?
Successful improvement planning encourages future analysis and improvement.
The next step is to dive deeper. Examining low scoring questions related to a pillar often yields themes. With these themes in mind, school practices and procedures should be explored to reveal the root causes of lower scores on the culture and climate pillar. It may be necessary to ask follow-up questions to gather more specific feedback on what needs to be improved and how to improve it. Once these root causes for poor pillar performance are identified, it’s time to develop action plans. The number of action plans should be determined by the number of problems that need to be addressed, balanced with an assessment of resources available for improvement activities. A detailed process for developing action plans can be found here.
Once you’ve identified the problems and their causes and you’ve developed an effective action plan, share your results with your stakeholders. Let them know that you care about your stakeholders’ voices regarding school culture and climate. Prove it by sharing highlights of your culture and climate survey along with specific actions you’re taking to make it better. Don’t forget to celebrate what’s already going well.
The final step is to monitor your implementation of the plans and measure your results during your regularly scheduled review meetings. Make sure that individuals responsible are accountable for fidelity to the action plans. A well-implemented plan has the strongest probability of improving your results. If needed, make changes to the plan. When results improve, celebrate and recognize people for their success. Successful improvement planning encourages future analysis and improvement.
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