Data, Decisions, and Blackberries

One of my favorite activities during the summer is finding wild blackberry patches! There is nothing like eating the sweet fruit right off the vine and what a special treat to use in ice cream or cobbler or breakfast granola.

This weekend, I found a patch and went to work in the heat. Then it happened. I saw a perfectly ripened berry (see the arrow below) and plotted to successfully get that berry.  The goal was clearly in sight but achieving it was a prickly proposition that required intentional planning.  In thinking of the next steps, memories came flooding back – about my times as a teacher and school leader working with student data.

Let’s Dig Deeper

Simply put, the process I used to get this blackberry (seeing the goal, understanding obstacles, planning, and execution) was highly informative regarding student data – whether as a teacher or school leader. As such, here are three tips for data-driven decision-making:

  • Look Deeper
  • Partner Up
  • Walk Away
  1. Look deeper – anyone can pick the easily-accessible blackberries, but the best ones are well protected by the thorns. We, as educators, jump to quick solutions that may (or may not) be data supported. That choice, unfortunately, misguides us frequently. Slow down.  Ask more questions.  Spend twice as much time deeply studying the data instead of solutioning based on the quick views of data.
  2. Partner up – to get to that berry, my hand was cut and filled with thorns. It was not pleasant, but I did get the biggest and sweetest berry on the entire vine. The problem is that I did this alone, and a partner would have helped create a better way. Data is similar as it’s prickly to tackle alone. When you partner up, the diversity of academic experience and focus is beneficial. Give your partner time to review the data, record their thoughts (including a recommended solution), and then have them share first. Listen to their ideas.  Ask questions.  Then, repeat the process from your perspective.
  3. Walk away – this sounds counter-intuitive, but it is not. Many of the berries look ripe from a distance but are not ready to be picked. That means they need to be left on the vine and given time. In reviewing student data, sometimes the full story is not quite available. Delaying a decision for a little while longer gives you the last piece of the puzzle.

In closing, let me offer this critical warning. Looking deeper, struggling with the data, and walking away are solid strategies; however, you cannot procrastinate by always delaying critical decisions. Avoid using the excuse of “waiting on more data.” If the pathway forward is crystal clear because of student or school level data, then proceed. If you have time and the data is not completely revealing, then push pause for a short spell.

When that last piece of the puzzle emerges and your plans lead to achievement, you get to enjoy the sweetness of success as it brought satisfaction to the struggle.

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