November 30, 2018 Blog, Community of Practice

Community of Practice: Understanding the role of data in improving principal quality

Data tells a story but only if you know how to use it. In its second session of the Principal Quality Community of Practice, The Fund worked with 20 education nonprofits and organizations to help them learn how to best collect, organize and share data to promote school leadership. The two-day event in November 2018 built off the work participants started five months earlier, when they learned about The George W. Bush Institute’s Principal Talent Management Framework to improve principal quality. This session gave participants an opportunity to delve into the specifics of data collection in education spaces and allowed participants to take a critical look at how they can use data to achieve their goals.

Nelson Gerew, who leads The Fund’s Data and Policy team, kicked off the first day of the event. He laid out the five main tools organizations can use to gather information about principal quality: surveys, focus groups, publicly available data, interactive conversations and reports. As Nelson explained, data is fundamental to all policy work. Researchers should always be asking themselves: What questions do we need to know to advance our work? And what tools do we need to answer them?

To dive deeper into how they could best leverage individual data-collection tools, participants attended three 75-minute breakout sessions led by team members of The Fund. The small-group sessions gave participants a chance to pick their colleagues’ brains; many had run into similar problems, struggling with how to include educators’ voices in their work, how to translate their research for the public — and whether to share their research at all.

The second day of the Community of Practice centered on group work. Participants were again encouraged to learn from each other’s experience, working independently and in small groups with guidance from The Fund. This was an opportunity for participants to cement their plans to use one of the data tools. They drafted questions for focus groups, explored publicly available data in their communities and created outlines for reports, drawing on the expertise within their groups for advice and direction.

For Stephanie Stewart, chief program officer of the Texas-based Teaching Trust, the focus of this Community of Practice “helped us better understand the various roles of data in our organization. It made us think about publicly available data and reports — especially what reports we might release in the future. How could those benefit students in Texas?”

To round out the session, participants attended a media panel, which was moderated by WTTW’s Brandis Friedman and featured several Chicago journalists who cover education. The reporters discussed how they use data to inform their work. Participants had a chance to ask questions at the end, gaining insight on how to put research into “plain English” for the media.

This Community of Practice session was a powerful example of how organizations can use their collective experience to tackle problems and grow. That work will continue on March 21 and 22, 2019, when participants meet in Fort Worth, Texas, to take a hard look at policies that affect principal quality and help improve school leadership.