This post reprinted in its entirety courtesy of Striving for Change blog author Jeff Edmondson. Posted as “Children Will Show Us the Way… On How to Use Data in Education” on by Jeff Edmondson, on by Jeff Edmondson, Strive Together http://strivetogether.org.

StrivingForChangeAs a father of four, I am often reminded how a child’s perspective can help point adults in the right direction. I can’t count the number of times my kids have figured out something I simply thought could not be solved. But I have to say that I was surprised by what I learned last week from children about how we can best use data in education. The students in Menomonee Falls School District proved to me, yet again, that children CAN show us the way.

I had the pleasure of visiting schools at every level – elementary, middle, and high school – in this amazing district and I simply could not believe the power of what I experienced. Superintendent Pat Greco, who was a featured speaker at our recent Cradle to Career Network convening in San Diego, has worked with her team of administrators and faculty to figure out how data can indeed be used as a flashlight instead of a hammer. Their work to apply continuous improvement processes across the district is getting international attention, but it is impossible to grasp the power without visiting. Here’s what I saw:

Menomonee Falls School District

In most classrooms, a data wall like the one pictured above captures several key pieces of information that is updated daily or weekly:

  • Starting on the left, you will see “I can” statements (representing district standards) to help students understand and embrace the sequence of what they will be learning.
  • In the middle is a classroom-generated mission statement and a concrete performance goal for all students. Below this are the results of quarterly benchmark assessments plotted out for each class (no names) to show the progress they are making toward the class goal.
  • And on the right are the 15-day “plan, do, study, act” (PDSA) cycles the class is currently using to meet a specific standard. In simple terms, this means: 1) the class sets a goal; 2) the class reviews the results of mini-assessments that indicate mastery; 3) students give feedback to the teacher (and vice versa) on what is working to achieve mastery; and 4) they all make a plan for how to move forward to achieve their goal.

Every child is engaged in this process of inquiry and improvement. Even kindergarten students highlight what was working for them and the teachers respond based on their experience.

A few insights I took away from my visit to Menomonee Falls:

  • Kids love using data to improve individually and collectively! In one classroom, a teacher was very honest about how challenging this methodology was to use initially, but then reflected as to why he now has come around to embrace the work. As he talked about his struggles a student was visibly agitated, worrying he might not indicate that he liked using the process. When asked why, she simply stated, “This work tells me where we are as a class so we can all improve and we get to share what type of teaching works best for us. I like that.”
  • It pays to start small to go fast. Rather than roll out the work to everyone, the district started small with a core group of teachers that were willing to be early adopters. These teachers embraced the methodology and not only model how to use it with their peers, but train them on how to make the process a seamless part of what they do every day.
  • Transparency creates more engaged learners. A continuous improvement expert on our team noted that the teachers were using what he calls “visual management”.  Rather than simply talking about the data, they put it on the walls so everyone can make sense of it and (hopefully) fully own improvement. Behavior challenges are reportedly down and participation of students and parents (empowered by knowing their child’s progress in real-time) is up.
  • Continuous improvement enables personalized learning. Menomonee Falls struggles with the same budget issues as any district. One teacher noted that he had a teacher’s aide for a half day each week, but other than that he was on his own. That said, by using data to understand what students are learning in real-time and hearing from students about what is working for them he is able to meet students individually and collectively where they are using a variety of teaching techniques. He is able, in short, to personalize learning in ways he could not before.

In our work with communities, we often struggle with getting adults to really listen to what the data is telling them and change what they do every day. It is clear in Menomonee Falls that children are able to do just that when empowered with the data…and by teachers who work proactively to help them use it.

I am hopeful we can not only listen, but learn from them about how to overcome our fear of data and let it shine a light on the path we need to take to better outcomes. Children can and will show us the way.


Special thanks to Striving for Change blog author Jeff Edmondson for allowing us to re-post their blog content; originally posted as “Children Will Show Us the Way… On How to Use Data in Education” on by Jeff Edmondson, Strive Together http://strivetogether.org. Watch a video of Jeff Edmondson and other education and quality experts reflect on Menomonee Falls School District’s continuous improvement approach (11-20-14 CI visit from SDMF Productions on Vimeo).

Discover more about the School District of Menomonee Falls from the district’s website at http://www.sdmfschools.org/.

Our mission at Studer Education is to help education systems achieve measurable results that produce positive outcomes in student achievement, employee engagement, support services, and financial efficiencies and productivity. Our goal is to help school systems provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Follow us on Twitter at @StuderEducation and visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the seventh straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Filed under: How to Lead…, Our Partners, Who’s Engaged? Tagged: @EdmondsonC2C, @SDMFschools, Continuous Improvement, Data, Jeff Edmondson, School District of Menomonee Falls, SDMF

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