Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and
learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.
Climate Data Can Drive Improvement
Attention to climate data, whether driven by immediate crises, or by enduring research, is a powerful factor in the cycle of school improvement. Even in routine years, attention to climate matters for wellness, and it matters for outcomes. All businesses solicit information on how they’re doing from internal employees and outside customers. School climate is a uniquely critical factor supporting the quality of student learning, particularly in times of uncertainty and stress. As a result, districts across the nation have dedicated considerable resources to tools used to assess climate, most often surveys that ask how students, parents, or staff are experiencing the school. These data are closely monitored by school boards and boards of directors and often used as tools for awards and promotion. I believe that climate data have untapped potential as a tool not only to describe perceptions, but also to energize improved experiences. Climate data are useful for building transparency and insight, deepening relationships, and inspiring collective action. Just when I think I am webinar-ed out, another one crosses my inbox and I register. I am glad I did! The webinar, Coming Back to Climate, featuring Cleveland Metropolitan Schools and the District of Columbia Public Schools shaped my writing for this EmpowerED 3.2.1. I share and build on here a few suggestions from the webinar on how we can use climate data as an opportunity for continuous improvement.
3 Big Ideas
Use climate data to drive equity.
Include climate data in school improvement plans. Often templates used by schools and states do not easily allow for climate goals and data to be included. Still, include it in an addendum or the opening description. I believe that climate is the backbone of all of your improvement efforts.
Create a “climate council” made up of students, teachers, and parents to give real-time data. Each group would collect data independent from the other and then report it to the school leadership team.
Engage in equity dialogue as you move through the school (online or in person) and notice patterns and trends. Be attentive to the realities of others and provide the support needed for achievement and engagement.
Create routines to lead with data.
As the lead learner, principals have the responsibility to ask the right questions at the right times and incorporate them into school communications.
What are the students saying? Use short surveys and classroom exit slips to ask about what’s changing for students and what adjustments are needed.
What groups of students are most impacted by the challenge?
What biases or assumptions might be reflected in the data points chosen to emphasize? What does this tell others about what’s important to me?
Include your climate data (formal and informal) in communications with stakeholders when you speak with them and write to them. Look at your website and see where you can highlight this work.
Discuss climate data in interviews, coaching, and observations. Make your observations clear and aligned with established climate goals.
Choose the right starting points and questions.
Acknowledge challenges and validate situations. These are really hard times. They are hard for the (primarily) mothers trying to support remote/hybrid schooling. They are hard for the students who are struggling, disengaged, or lonely. They are hard for the teachers who are implementing two distinct pedagogies—one for in-person teaching and one for remote teaching. Ask about what challenges your stakeholders are facing and how you can help.
Prioritize safety for being physically present in buildings, emotionally present in classrooms, and academically present in rigorous learning.
Look for equity and prioritize resources (time, money, people) to make it happen.
“Customers won’t love a company until the employees love it first.”
– Simon Sinek, author
“A school’s climate has more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than
the president of the country, the state department of education, the superintendent,
the school board, or even the principal, teachers, and parents can ever have. ”
– Roland Barth, educator and author
How are students and their parents experiencing the education teachers are providing; how do you know?
About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.