Never Give Up!

Today’s post is the fourth in a four-part series on transforming the data culture at the Gloucester Twp. School District.  Tim Trow, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, writes for the SJDLP.  


     “Never Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up!”  The words of National Championship coach Jim Valvano still send chills up and down the spine when heard yearly during fundraising efforts made by the cancer research foundation he founded.  He spoke these words announcing the creation of the foundation even while he was losing his own personal battle with cancer.

     While creating a data culture seems inconsequential in relation to the life and death battle with cancer, it undoubtedly has parallels. Any cause to not only sustain life but improve the quality of life for generations to come is worthy of dogged determination and persistence.  Quality data use by schools absolutely holds the promise of improved lives for the students in them and their future families.

     As I thought of how I would close this series, I struggled with how to avoid stopping at a seemingly trite plea for persistence.  While important, I wanted to move beyond a bumper sticker and summarize what I believe are some of the key characteristics of a healthy data culture and how those who value it and lead it can cultivate it consistently.  While this entry is last in this particular series, it comes as a welcomed reminder as we begin another year leading in our schools. I believe there are 4 “C’s” to consider as we lead.

     “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”


     Peter Drucker’s words send a clear message that data and data processes are worthless without a culture that values them and more importantly believes they will yield success and raise the quality of life for those in the organization. Are plans important? – you bet! – but never shortchange culture building in our process.  Systematic and intentional efforts to model and insure the success of early small efforts will help support the culture while we continuously feed the purpose modem to keep human nature from eating the strategies we have for breakfast.

     “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”  

     Double ouch!  

     Mark Twain sums up the second C – Context. People– and, most importantly, teachers in an educational setting– often distrust data because they have seen it used by unscrupulous politicians and others to undermine and criticize their work without painting the whole picture.  I caution all of us to avoid the trap of certainty. Data is an amazing tool and modern technologies have given us increased access to more data than our predecessors could imagine. Again–context matters.  Be slow to jump to conclusions.  Use the data to formulate more questions that will provide more context to the data.  The 5/7 Why? Method  is a great example of how to get to a root cause.  Asking the question “Why?” with each subsequent piece of data five to seven times builds context and helps insulate us from snap judgments that will undermine our work in building trust and possibly send us in the wrong direction.

     “Building capacity dissolves differences. It irons out inequalities.”

     Abdul Kalam’s words ring true  Isn’t that what we are ultimately trying to do as data leaders? Data is a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Our charge is to use it for good.

     The third “C” – capacity – reminds us that we have to determine the needs of those in our organization and discretely teach them the skills necessary to effectively do the work.  With small, supportive, chunks of skills and data their capacity grows and our inequalities begin to even out. This takes years not months. Our data work as data leaders is not complete unless others are brought along with us.

     “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

     This Mark Twain guy was pretty insightful and ahead of his time! The final “C” – continuous improvement – is a reminder that our process never ends. As leaders we have to champion the idea that never reaching the end is a great thing.  Celebrate our accomplishments while never being satisfied. A glorious paradox that no doubt is an art form to cultivate for leaders in any arena and especially those using data to improve educational outcomes for generations to come.

     Periodically checking our practice against these “C’s” will keep us grounded and focused as we persist and never give up. I hope to dig deeper into some of these guiding principles in future blogs…

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