Saturday, July 7, 2018

Road Map

I consider myself an organized person, but not much of a planner. At least, I don't do a lot of long term planning. I have never had a career path that I've mapped out. I didn't decide I wanted to be a teacher until the month I graduated from college...and since then, I've more or less fallen into different jobs when recognized Opportunity knocking at the door. I am also a fan of her sister,  Serendipity. In fact, this is one of the reasons why my current home is my favourite place I've ever lived. There are little bits of magic and wonder to be found every day. I don't offer or condone any of this as the best approach to life. I am always in awe of those who have clear goals and seem to be driven toward them. It just hasn't been my experience...and I am okay with this.

So, imagine my surprise when, by chance, I found myself writing a theory of action, developing a logic model, and outlining a plan for some long-term goals with a data initiative. Who the hell am I becoming in my old age? But if you've been following my journey here over the last year or so, maybe some of what I share below will not be a surprise. In fact, I'm hoping that some of you might like to play along, too.

Theory of action
Here is my current, messy thinking: 
If we increase data literacy in ourselves and others, then participation in conversations at school and with the community will become more equitable, and then structural and institutional barriers to education will be reduced.
I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of years trying to ground myself in what I believe about data and the purpose it serves in education. I might summarize this as that I don't think that we can solve problems by representing our data in the same ways and having the same conversations as we have before. Whether your call it an achievement gap, opportunity gap, or educational debt, the bottom line is that we've been well aware of disproportionate outcomes for a long time...and yet another bar chart showing this isn't going to be the thing that creates change. I won't claim that I have THE answer or any sort of magic bullet, but I do have something different. I think that's the best place to start.

The plan
I've been working on some ideas related to community engagement with data, building data literacy in parent groups, and empowering underrepresented voices to tell their stories. And the more I read and think and develop these ideas, the more I recognize that there are some goals and outcomes that are bigger than I'd ever imagined. Serendipity has been an incredible guide and inspiration to this point, but I can't make the next leap (or two) with her alone. I'm going to have to have some real help.

Stage one: Build capacity in self
Not to be intentionally selfish, but this part of the process really is all about me. Perhaps you have projects where you are in the same mode. This has been a long-gestating stage. I went to my first Tapestry and Eyeo conferences more than two years ago. I've been building and sharing data stories in our district office for nearly that long. On the way, I've had to pick up new tools and skills and increase my personal network to call on experts and mentors. I don't believe that this stage will ever end—I will always be a learner. But I also think it's important to call it out separately as a base for everything else I want to support.

Stage two: Build capacity in organization
This past year, I've worked on not just sharing what I've learned at presentations and blog posts, but also leading workshops and building GitHub sites with resources. I've now seen others build their own data stories to share and grounded school leaders in our district in basic data literacy.

Stage three: Build partnerships outside of the organization
I am working on finding spaces outside of our district to host our data stories. Currently, Ready or Not is at our regional educational office and our story on graduation is at the state department of education. And last week, in a frisson of why-the-hell-not, I cold-called the data analytics business downtown and asked if they would host a window display during our city's fall Arts Walk. You see, I've recently been building "short stories"—smaller versions of the big displays—to take on the road. And while I won't claim that they are art, they are beautiful and good conversation starters. Why shouldn't I share them at a community event?

Another piece of stage three is a pilot project for next year where we will use some of the data therapy activities and other resources to increase data literacy in a parent or community group. But most importantly, this is not a project solely about pushing out some learning that we think is critical. It is about an opportunity to listen to the questions others have about our schools, as well as help them tell their own stories about what matters most to them about education. I am super-excited about this, even if I have no clue right now how to make this all happen.

Stage four: Empower the community
On one hand, this is really just an extension of stage three. If we do a pilot this year, then we will scale up afterward. But this is also where things get so big that it can't be "my" project anymore. This is a good thing. It means that I've been able to build enough capacity and partnerships that I can take a supporting role. What will all this look like? It might be a lot like the work showcased over at Making Sense. They have a whole toolkit ready and waiting. I also 💕 love 💕 this article on Data in Place: Thinking through Relations between Data and Community. I don't know what the outputs of this project will look like for us because we haven't implemented all of stage three yet. We will have to wait and see what our stakeholders think is the most critical issue to address.

So, there you have it. My plans for world data domination. Okay, maybe not as grand as all that, but I am hoping for a ripple that one day can become a wave. And this is where you come in, too, because everyone is welcome to join in. Are there activities you want to try, too, so we can learn from each other? Do you have connections or resources to share? What feedback or ideas do you have for us?

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