Turning Data Driven Instruction into Social Emotional Learning

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by Kate Laux
Assessment Coordinator 

As anyone who has worked with, loved, or even just watched teachers work would know, teachers work hard….really hard. They never stop, working an average of  nearly 11 hours a day according to a study by the Gates Foundation. There is always more to do for our wonderful, wacky little munchkins. Our students are a constant surprise and a never-ending joy that push us to long days and even longer weeks.

With this much work to be done, with so many minds to massage, we must work smart. In order to really reach a child, to really teach a child, teachers need to understand exactly what they know and where they need to go in order to push them forward. That’s where Data Driven Instruction (DDI) comes in.

Data Driven Instruction, as its most basic premise, believes there is a deep connection between assessment, analysis and action. DDI stresses that this connection must be systematically cycled in order to understand what students know and are able to do at each point in the learning process. Teachers are then able to use that information to push students towards their ultimate goal – and it works! Sounds amazing, right? Here at Rocketship, we sure think so! Though DDI is a marvelous framework within which to examine student data, as an Assessment Coordinator, there’s one concern I often hear that really hits home – kids are not a number. Like most educators, I agree.

No child is or should be defined by a number or a score on an assessment. Instead, if viewed and discussed properly those numbers can provide us with a framework for thought and discussion as professional educators. This is not about throwing out ideas and lessons with the hope concepts will stick. It’s about being strategic and smart with how we approach every lesson.

Believe it or not, data can provide us with a catalyst for social emotional growth. Educators have the opportunity to turn data into a spark that lights a fire within our kids – the kind of flame that comes from believing in themselves and understanding they are loved, supported and expected to succeed.

When we look at data in our classrooms with students, in meetings with our school leaders, and in conferences and home visits with parents we have power to change the conversation – to turn something that traditionally has caused stress and strife into something beautiful.

As an educator, I am always looking for those around me who can help educate me. Recently, listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast, I found one of those people in the now late Rita Pierson. I listened as she told me how “every kid needs a champion” and shared some tidbits of her philosophy built through 40 years of teaching in public schools.

When talking about test scores, Rita explains how she was honest with her students regarding their current abilities while building their self-esteem. A student who got 2/18 on a test? That’s not a -16, that’s a +2! Why? Because a -16 tells you what you can’t do, but a +2 tells you that you have value from which to build to your future capabilities. A +2 tells you that you can grow to know the other 16.

Here at Rocketship, we hold dearly our mentality of growth and the belief that with unrelenting expectation and persistence all students can succeed. More importantly, this mentality helps us both support our students and grow our own capabilities as a network. While we analyze our data and see our strengths and areas of growth, we need to reflect on the way we talk to our kids and about our kids. Words have real power – the power to build and the power to crumble. As educators, we must seize every opportunity to remind our students they have value, they are loved and we believe they will succeed.

As I listened to Rita’s words, I remembered our power and the power of our students. In the words of Ms. Pierson, “Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it’s not impossible. We can do this. We’re educators. We’re born to make a difference.” Let’s all go accomplish what we were born to do.


 Kate Laux is a lifelong educator who currently works on the Rocketship National team supporting our teachers and leaders through the often rough terrain of assessments and data. Previously, Kate has worked as a special education teacher in both charter and district schools in San Jose and Chicago and enjoys nothing more than seeing the smile of accomplishment on a student’s face. 

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