Stop Collaborate Listen


Data-driven decision making (DDDM) is defined as “the process by which an individual collects, examines, and interprets empirical evidence for the purpose of making a decision” (Mandinach & Jackson, 2012, p. 27). This definition can easily be broadened to encompass the collective efforts of a group of educators at one or more school sites. Mandinach & Honey (2008) suggested the use of student achievement and other data such as “attendance, course-taking patterns and grades, and demographic data” to drive school improvement at the school, district and state levels. Unfortunately, many school leaders across the nation are unsure about how to transform mountains of data on student achievement into an action plan that will improve instruction and increase student learning. Using a software product like Spotlight Education may help educators in gaining a better understanding test scores and growth models, as well as how to make and measure goals in their everyday classroom practices.

In order to deliver an authentic simulation that will demonstrate how important it is to build a data-driven culture at a school site, educational leaders first need to inspire teachers to collaborate and work together. Daniel Pink suggests changing this conversation from How to Why. When educators buy into and understand the Why they will figure out the How. Pink further defines a new set of ABC skills school leaders can use to motivate their teachers: Attunement – understanding someone else’s perspective; Buoyancy – remaining afloat in an ocean of rejection; and Clarity – curating, distilling, making sense of information. You can see these concepts illustrated in the video below.

Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team lays out five core principles dedicated to the vision of improving teamwork in an organization. 1) Teams have to begin by building trust in each other and the leader. 2) Then you must have a team that can discuss conflict openly. 3) Everyone needs to be fully committed. 4) Everyone needs to accept accountability for their role. 5) Finally, there has to be an attention to getting results. Lencioni describes the power of teamwork as essential to any organization:

When it comes to helping people find fulfillment in their work, there is nothing more important than teamwork. It gives people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better parents, siblings, friends and neighbors. And so building better teams at work can – and usually does have an impact that goes far beyond the walls of your office or cubicle (pp. 4-5).

Lencioni acknowledges that teams may have a figurative leader, but members of a team each contribute to the success of the organization. In essence, they distribute or share power with each other. An effective educational leader can co-opt Lencioni’s techniques and create powerful simulations that give teachers opportunities to analyze data collectively. Collaborative groups harness the synergy of multiple abilities. An expert statistician may have trouble presenting data in an understandable way, but a middle school English teacher may excel at chunking complex concepts. Lastly, a group of people struggling to understand something that is important to their institution will bond over this endeavor and they will “own” the results of their labor. Meaning, once a team makes sense of their data, they will generate causal theories and hypotheses, which they can test and tweak and fine-tune to improve their school’s results.


Lencioni, P. (2002) The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. New York, NY. Jossey-Bass.

Mandinach, E., & Jackson, S. (2012). Transforming teaching and learning through data-driven decision making. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin Books.


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