I love data. I know, it is weird. But, seriously, looking at and interpreting data makes me happy. I can look at a spreadsheet full of numbers and make sense of it in a way that I know many don’t. I don’t know if that is because I am not a visualiser (a condition known as aphantasia) or just because I have been around enough data-minded people that it makes sense to me. Whatever the reason, I really, honestly, sincerely, deeply, passionately love data, especially when it comes to my profession.
Oddly enough, my love for data has also had a positive impact on my understanding of genealogy, or the study of one’s family history. While genealogy has long been a mild interest for me, it increased dramatically after my father passed away last February and I realised I didn’t know nearly as much about my family’s history as I would have liked. I have spent countless hours on sites like Family Search and Ancestry, combing through records that list names, dates, and locations. At first, this information didn’t make much sense to me, but once I realised it was just data, it was as if a light went on, and I found that a quick glance at a couple of US Census report from the early 20th century could reveal that my great-grandmother died when my grandmother was in high school and, as a result, my grandmother became the primary caregiver of her family even as she was finishing school.
When that light went on, another light went on for me. I realised that the data I love about my profession is only loved because the numbers and letters have meaning beyond what is on the page or screen. However, that meaning is only valuable if I share it with others or use it in a way that moves my knowledge of my students beyond the initial understanding of the data.
When others look at summary reports of my students, they may only see racial demographics or raw scores on standardised assessments or current levels of learning. I look at these same summary reports and I see stories of children who love and support and respect one another with no regard for racial or ethnic difference. I see students who persevere in the face of great odds, who try their hardest even when they know they don’t quite get it yet. I see the stories of students who know what their strengths are and use those to their advantage, especially when overcoming weaknesses. I see the stories of students who have lived in the same house in the same neighbourhood for nine years and and the stories of students who have lived in ten homes in half as many states in the same period of time. In short, I see the meaning behind the data.
I spent today in training with other new mentor teachers in my district. We spent much of the day discussing how to collect and share data when observing our protégés and how to use a coaching conversation to guide a discussion about what that data means. Just as I look at the data and see the meaning, or stories, behind them, I know that I will need to do the same when I examine the data collected during observations.
Yes, I love data. But that is because the data tell me a story and that story has meaning to both me and to my students.
As mentioned yesterday, I was absent from my classroom today in order to attend New Teacher Mentor Training with 21 other new mentors in my district. While I have informally mentored new teachers in my building for six years, this is the first time that I will be acting as a mentor in a formal capacity. My protégé is our new librarian and I am excited for this opportunity to work with her in an official capacity as she gets used to Wiley and the Urbana School District.
Training today focused on an overview of mentoring. It was interesting to realise how much of mentoring aligns to my responsibilities as a cooperating teacher when working with pre-service teachers (i.e. student teachers) and the goals I have as a future school principal. Of course, the biggest difference between being a mentor for a new teacher and being either a cooperating teacher or a school leader is that this role does not have any evaluative aspect; in fact, my conversations with my protégé are confidential and when I give her feedback, it doesn’t get shared with our principal or entered into any tracking system. In other words, my role is to help and guide and support but not to judge or evaluate.
I am excited about this opportunity to grow as a professional educator and hope that my support will be valuable to our amazing new librarian!