The American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath once wrote, “...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” As an English facilitator, I know writing is a powerful tool towards self-confidence. Writing should be an exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding experience. Unfortunately for some high school students, writing has become a dreaded task—a desperate attempt at a word count.
I’ve talked with a number of communities over the years who are undertaking the work of building a collective impact education partnership, and one of the first things they are thinking about is how to manage the data collection and data initiatives of the partnership. “What exactly do you work on as a data manager?” they ask. “And what kinds of skill sets do we need to be looking for in a data manager?” So through those conversations and reflecting back on the data work when Strive was still young, I’ve put together the following “Day in the Life of a Data Manager,” split into two parts. Part I is below.
As a Data Manager for a cradle to career partnership, there are three primary areas where I found myself spending time on any given day: digging into data, building relationships and consensus with stakeholders, and supporting the data needs of collaborative action networks.
Evidence based decision making is an underpinning of a collective impact partnership, and one of the first things to tackle after establishing the shared vision and goals is to establish a set of shared outcome indicators to help measure progress toward the shared goals. And so a data manager needs to dive head first into the data itself and really understand all the sources, variables, and caveats to how the data may be collected and presented. We started with a list of over 75 potential measures, and so the data manager really needs to understand the data landscape in order to be able to help steer the data team and partnership in getting to consensus in narrowing that list down. The manager also needs to become the local education data “expert” – and help build credibility for the partnership by being one of the go to people for questions related to education data and results in the community.
Building relationships and consensus, however, is just as important as the data analytic skills. A partnership’s Director and local champions will definitely help with the relationship building among partners and advocating for data transparency – but the Data Manager also has to be able to forge relationships with the key data partners and build trust with them. One of our first efforts was to form a Data Committee comprised of all the data experts from key partners at the table – the school districts, postsecondary institutions, early childhood professionals, and other community data experts. As a committee we came to a list of ten shared outcome indicators together, using a set of criteria that we developed, to take back to the Executive Committee as a recommendation.
It is important that this process is done with your key partners as opposed to it feeling like you are producing a report about your key partners. And so establishing relationships and building trust are key ingredients in this – and landing on the indicators is a back and forth process of presenting ideas and getting feedback until you have built something together that everyone feels ownership of. As a result, when we released the first report, members of the Executive Committee could speak with confidence about it knowing that they had truly helped to create it.
Coming next: Working with networks to define indicators where no clear ones exist, and key competencies of a Data Manager
When we think of the skills students need to be successful in school and in life, the word "agency" doesn't usually pop into mind. But maybe it's time...
The work to build and sustain cradle to career civic infrastructure is extremely complex and interconnected. One of the biggest challenges early on in this work is just organizing the different pieces and players that all impact the education pipeline and our students’ success. Developing an accountability structure to start organizing the different pieces of a partnership has become crucial to effectively managing, communicating, and involving partners in this work.
An accountability structure is the organizational framework that depicts the different groups within a partnership and includes an outline of the roles and responsibilities of each group, describing the processes, people, and supports necessary to function effectively. An accountability structure for a cradle to career partnership can be likened to an organizational chart for a company. To support communities in developing this crucial piece of the work, Strive has released a ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit.’ This toolkit is part of a larger ‘Getting Started Playbook’ that will be focused on helping communities meet the key benchmarks in the Exploring Gateway of Strive’s Theory of Action. The ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit’ aims to help Network members:
- Understand the importance of an accountability structure
- View different types of structures and their respective advantages and disadvantages
- Understand and outline the roles and responsibilities that need to be accommodated in a structure
- Clarify the decision making roles of different groups in the accountability structure
- Develop necessary agreements that need to be in place to operationalize an accountability structure
- Create an accountability structure that fits their partnership’s needs and context.
With the help of Network members who agreed to share their stories and examples with the Network, the toolkit also includes narratives around different accountability structure groups, designs, and agreements. This provides you with an on-the-ground perspective of how other communities have designed and convened the various groups in their accountability structures.
The ‘Building an Accountability Structure Toolkit’ is available to Network members through the Strive Partner Portal: http://www.striveportal.org/resources/strive_network_documents/buildinganaccountabilitystructuret
Be on the look-out for the next pieces in the ‘Getting Started Playbook’ to be released in the upcoming months!
Meet Paulena. She fits easily into the category of “these kids.” You know who “these kids” are, they are the kids that society and even some educators believe won’t ever graduate. She’s the kind of kid that some might let sit in the back of the classroom, because it’s a lost cause. She’s the one who after a couple of weeks, I was ready to write off. Yes, I admit it.
This word "agency" has come to me like a breath of fresh air after a school year full of challenges at the student, staff, and district level. It seems to me that this idea of agency is an answer to unspoken questions in the midst of a climate that often presents challenges where we have to evaluate, yet again, our own beliefs about teaching and learning.
As I embarked upon my immersion in the New Tech Network, I felt a sense of newness laced with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Over the past 8 years, I have moved from a novice to expert for PBL and have experienced the success with my students as they have grown and learned...but at times the journey seemed isolated.
At home in my classroom, I refer to my students as “little birds”. A project deadline approaches and I’ll remind them on the forums that I cannot wait to see them fly. It feels appropriate, then, to be so homesick and to feel so much like a caged bird myself. I have been struggling, in some ways – feeling lost and disoriented, trying to making meaning of my time here and relying on others to do it for me, not trusting that I have just as much of a right or a reason to be here as everyone else.
New Tech Network events are my Christmas. NTAC is Christmas when I'm six and still believe in Santa Claus. I eagerly await the opportunity to guzzle as much as I can from the New Tech fire hose.
Data-informed decision making is a central tenet to collective impact and building the civic infrastructure. Data can serve as the translator when it comes to understanding what is really happening in a community. In the words of one prominent local Strive partner, “People are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
One of the roles that a cradle to career partnership plays is promoting the use of community level data. And so the question arises as to what are the roles of a cradle to career partnership in making data available to the public? I think that the answer varies by community depending on the existing organizations and capacities that are currently in place. Some may house and make readily available large amounts of data to be queried by the public and partner organizations, while others may focus only on their core outcome indicators to produce a report card without providing a publicly accessible data portal.
I believe that cradle to career partnerships should play a role in both of these types of efforts. A “report card” is important to be able to organize and report on a set of key outcome indicators that a partnership is organizing around. It is almost more of a communication and storytelling tool, although data being a critical element. The indicators should be relatively few, easy to digest, and something that gets reported on an ongoing basis in order to keep the focus for the partnership. Many partnerships are publishing report cards, and you can find many examples on the Strive Network website.
But there’s only so much data that you can (and would want to) include in a report like this before it becomes too big to digest. So making more and deeper levels of data available in a user friendly way is also important. There’s only so much you can do with high level data before the right questions lead you to dig into to the data to better understand what’s going on and what you can do about it, collectively. So in Cincinnati we also have a tool called Facts Matter that serves as portal for large amounts of data that can be viewed in tables, charts, or on maps – http://www.factsmatter.info. This isn’t a led by our cradle to career partnership though. Rather, we partner with a number of local organizations in this effort, and it is owned by these organizations collectively. The partners include United Way of Greater Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, Northern Kentucky University, Agenda 360, Vision 2015, and the Strive Partnership.
The Strive Network has launched a Community Impact Report Card tool to help sites create and build their own local report card. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky partnership’s data from this tool can be seen via the Strive Partnership website. All Hands Raised and the Michigan College Access Network also have examples of this tool in action. And the Facts Matter data portal is built off of another local GIS data solution and is available to other communities as well.
With the growing amounts of data available to communities, it is important to be able to help translate and package it so that it can be used to inform collective decisions about where to invest resources – time, talent, and treasure.
I must admit I'm perplexed about the controversy over whether so-called "soft skills" such as work ethic, collaboration and critical thinking should be taught in school. This debate should be a non-starter. What's so soft about skills valued by Fortune 500 companies?
According to a report by the Associated Press (AP) released in June 2013, "companies increasingly want skills that don't show up in a college transcript or a sit-down interview."
We hosted our New Schools Training for the schools joining our network for 2013 in Grand Rapids Michigan the week of July 23rd. It was a very exciting event bringing together schools from all over the country who are ready to re-imagine teaching and learning. It is an intense week of learning that results in much sharing of resources, reflections and ideas.
Being able to be a part of New Schools Training this past week was life changing. We were able to meet so many amazing educators from across the country and network with them as well. We were so privileged to be able to lead a Collaboration Clinic. As students ourselves, it was a great learning experience to flip the table and become the teacher. We were asked by Matt Thompson and Theresa Shafer to lead a clinic on students’ point of view, and our personal student stories.
Thanks to rampant flight delays all across the Mid-West, I finally have some time to post my final NST13 reflection. It was a bittersweet moment this morning sitting down to breakfast with my Cougar New Tech team for the final time on this trip. We have been working together on our New Tech launch since October, but it wasn't until New Schools that we became a team. Our team is made up of people from different backgrounds, different personalities and different points of view. Having varied past experiences makes us strong. Having shared experiences has made us united.
Thursday has been a mixed bag of emotions. I don’t think I have been this mentally fatigued since my undergrad years. Despite my brain feeling like oatmeal, I have never been more excited to work. Since first exploring New Tech this time last year, I kept trying to envision myself teaching in the PBL model. My undergraduate preparation introduced me to PBL and gave me a glimpse of what I wanted my classroom to look like, but until today I couldn’t see myself completely in the picture.
Woo hoo day three! On Monday I was a bit selfish and reflected only on my personal feelings. Tuesday I shelfed my ego a bit and focused on team spirit and the beauty of collaboration. Tonight I want to go a little more big picture and focus on the value of being part of a nationwide network.
Day two of New Schools Training is officially in the books! Looking back on my twelve hour work day it has been difficult to narrow down my experiences to just a few highlights that anyone would want to read. Hopefully if you read day one and came back to read day two I haven’t bored you to death yet.
Waking up for the first day of New Schools Training was like waking up for the first day of my senior year of high school. When my alarm sounded this morning I sprang into action thinking of all the opportunities awaiting me. I packed my laptop, laced up a new pair of shoes then dragged myself to Starbucks. Meeting my Cougar New Tech team in the hotel lobby for breakfast was like reuniting with classmates after a busy summer. Our energy levels were unusually high for seven o’clock on a June morning.
When we are young, we are often encouraged to learn from our mistakes. As parents, we are certainly continuing this traditional mantra on a regular basis. And I would venture to say that for most, the value of this counsel eventually does sink in. What is ironic is that learning from our mistakes actually gets harder and harder to do as one gets older….especially in a person’s professional life….and even more so if that person happens to work in the social sector.
Why? Because in the social sector there either is or is perceived to be a very short leash. If a program or service is found not to have the desired impact and if a leader is actually transparent about that, it often means funding streams dry up quickly. In some cases this is clearly merited as no one wants to waste money, especially when the money could lead to better results for something as important as children.
But the unfortunate byproduct is that it encourages everyone to put a positive spin on whatever they are doing. Even more directly, it prohibits people from learning transparently from their mistakes so others can learn with them. We call this practice, as have others before us, “failing forward.”
We would assert there has never been a more important time for all of us working in the social sector to embrace this practice of failing forward. In this economy, or the “New Normal” as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called it, we simply have to think about new ways of using limited resources. We have to be willing and able to apply learning in real-time to use limited resources more efficiently and effectively.
We have seen that the members of the Cradle to Career Network are willing to embody this ethic. They are only able to do this because key cross-sector leaders in their community are taking the long-term view. They see the importance of using data to improve. And they are willing to make some mistakes along the way as they figure out how to do so.
One very concrete example from our early work in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky was how we selected our community level outcomes. We initially had a very small and insular group of leaders pick the core student outcomes we wanted to focus on as a community. When these were “revealed” to all there was immediate backlash. We had to backtrack and go through a much more transparent process that helped build broad community ownership.
This could have tanked the effort. But instead, cross-sector leaders were willing to acknowledge the mistake and stick with the process. And as a result, a baseline report card on outcomes that community partners agreed were important was completed. The fifth annual report card was recently released and the importance of this document continues to grow. Perhaps even more importantly, by sharing this “failure” openly, we are now working with other communities to avoid similar mistakes and get to better results faster.
There are numerous examples of efforts to celebrate this culture of “failing forward”, such as Fail Faires and Failure Reports. We want to model this behavior in our Network by having our own Fail Forward Fest at the National Convening in Dallas on September 25th to 27th . We hope you will consider submitting your own story of how you have learned and applied lessons from mistakes. If we all give each other the space to do this, we may just make it a bit easier as we get older to practice what our parents preached.
This week,the New Tech Network is holding their annual New Schools Training in Grand Rapids, MI. Three students from the New Tech School in Grand Rapids, Kent Innovation, were able to attend the conference, The students were Anna Reynolds (@AnnaMae7784), Emmy Ryder (@EmmyRyd2016), and Colson Korpak (@C4K5).