I’ll admit it: I struggle with the notion of data teams, and I struggle with those who use the terms “data team” and “inquiry team” interchangeably. I think words matter here. This is how:
- First, using the term “data team” could conjure the vision of a group that dedicates itself solely to the analysis of quantitative or qualitative performance data.
- It might also imply that such teams are formed and function separately from other teams whose purposes are very different.
- It could also suggest that people are either chosen or volunteer to serve “on the team.”
I’ve been asked to facilitate teams like this in the past, and each time, we’ve needed to add inquiry to our work in order to make any kind of progress. We’ve also needed to add many of the voices that are missing when data teams are comprised of representatives only. Here’s how the inquiry teams I’m facilitating typically function right now:
- All teachers are engaged in the work
- It’s happening consistently, and where it isn’t, we’re planning to make that happen.
- Varied forms of data are used to establish hunches about student or systems needs, and groups maintain a productive lack of confidence about the quality of the data they are relying on (I’m finding that this lack of confidence is critical, actually).
- Once hunches are established, they generate quality questions that can inspire their search for solutions.
- Groups engage in research and other professional learning experiences to gain expertise in order to design quality interventions.
- Interventions are tested in classrooms, and in my work with teachers, this happens through lesson study.
- Data captured from lesson study are used to inform decisions about further curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
- Action plans are designed, in alignment with the needs of all learners (students, teachers, administrators, and yes–ME)
- Teachers return to their classrooms and work their plan, capturing reflections and other data that they share informally between sessions and formally when we meet again
As we’re navigating the varied demands of Race to the Top, this approach is creating coherence out of chaos. The work of aligning curricula, using data, and improving practice is combined. Teachers shift their stance and their purposes with intention, but everyone is on “the team”, all of the work is guided by evidence and protocols enable structure while fostering divergent thinking and creativity.
Inquiry teams can become the central hub for all other activity within the system.
Most (but not all) professional learning communities function in this way.