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Professional Education

An International Journey Toward Understanding Through Data

“One day, you are coming to Australia to do this.”

Penny Jayne, a Data Literacy Manager, distinctly remembers saying these words back in 2011 to Kathryn Parker Boudett, director of the Data Wise Project. The Data Wise Project is a collaborative data inquiry process developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) that drives continuous teaching and learning improvements for all students.

Jayne, an Assistant Principal of a Primary School at the time, had finished her second Cambridge, MA-based professional development course in the Data Wise portfolio, and she knew the learnings she had discovered would resonate with her fellow educators back home.

Eight years later – after “dogged determination” from Jayne and detailed planning from education professionals on both sides of the ocean – Data Wise did, in fact, come to Australia.

The inaugural Data Wise Leadership Institute: Australia took place in January 2019, at the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership in Melbourne, with Jayne as faculty co-chair, alongside Boudett. The institute marked the first international open-enrollment program for Professional Education at HGSE and included more than 100 participants.

“Data Wise was very much created out of conversations with principals and teachers about what they are doing day-to-day that is allowing them to harness data for good,” Boudett said. “It has been a tremendous opportunity to bring Data Wise to Australia to help educators, schools, and school systems begin the journey of using data as a window into what’s working, what students are learning, and what they’re not learning.”

The Data Dilemma

The journey toward Data Wise Australia began in 2010, shortly after Jayne completed her master’s degree in School Leadership. As part of this work, she had noticed a common trend among Australian school systems.

“My observation around teaching and leading in schools is that people are good at collecting data – and they collected truckloads of it,” she said. “But they weren’t good at using it, and so because they weren’t using it, they didn’t know what they had, so they just collected more. Assessment became the loop in and of itself, rather than informing anything.”

Jayne began reviewing the international literature to determine whether or not this dilemma around data was purely an Australian phenomenon – and, at the same time, tried to figure out what to do about it. She discovered Data Wise, and when she saw that the program’s focus was on the instructional core, she knew she had found the solution she had been seeking.

“Data Wise is an improvement process that is transportable to any context, to any school, using any of the assessment tools they have,” Jayne said. “It inspires people to inquire about what they’re doing. It’s also a process that trusted teachers enough to have them develop their own learner-centered problems and their own problem of practice and to create their own actions out of it.”

Data Wise is built around an eight-step improvement process that helps teams “prepare,” “inquire,” and “act.” In addition, Data Wise helps schools cultivate the “ACE Habits of Mind,” where “A” stands for a shared commitment to action, assessment, and adjustment; “C” denotes intentional collaboration; and “E” is for a relentless focus on evidence.

Over the next several years, Jayne completed the Professional Education at HGSE Data Wise courses in the Data Wise Portfolio, and in 2014, she came back to Cambridge, bringing with her a team of teachers from Australia. During this last visit, she translated her years of Data Wise learnings into a new role as a Teaching Fellow as she worked on her Data Wise Coach Certification. Throughout it all, she remained in contact with Boudett, continuing to discuss the need for an Australia-based version of Data Wise.

Planning for Success

By late 2017, Jayne had joined the Bastow Institute for Educational Leadership, a Victoria-based organization that looks to improve student outcomes by delivering high-quality and evidence-based leadership professional learning to educators. As Bastow’s data literacy manager, Jayne was now in a unique position to work toward importing key learnings from Data Wise to educators in Victoria – and beyond.

Jayne and Boudett knew they would have the facilities and infrastructure necessary to host an HGSE institute at Bastow. As a result, in 2018, planning began in earnest for Data Wise Australia.

Working together, Jayne, Boudett, and the rest of the planning team placed a priority on tailoring the institute to an Australian context, rather than simply importing the current Data Wise program to a new geographic location. As a result, Jayne assisted her American colleagues in understanding the Australian approach to data inquiry and assessments and rewrote existing curriculum for the program. Jayne also brought four Australian educators, who were themselves becoming Data Wise Certified Coaches, into the 2019 institute teaching team to both share their experiences and support the teams through the week.

In addition, other critical logistical factors – from timing to the location – were also designed to appeal to a local audience. Explaining that the Australian school system runs on an academic calendar that begins in January, Jayne said “the beauty of the institute was that we timed it for the week before school started. It enabled teachers to think about what the topics would mean for them once school began the following week.”

Not only did Australian teachers benefit from the ability to attend a Harvard institute on their own continent rather than traveling to the United States, but also the location became a draw for a broader international audience. Hosting in Australia allowed Professional Education at HGSE to serve an underrepresented participant demographic by lowering their travel costs and time, which ultimately provided access and inclusivity.

A Transformational Impact

For Professional Education at HGSE’s first open enrollment international program and Data Wise’s first foray into a new context – Data Wise Leadership Institute: Australia far exceeded the team’s expectations with a final enrollment of 107 participants.

Participants attended as teams, most participants attended in teams of 4-7 members, and one team included 11 members. Most attendees were from Melbourne and Victoria, with one team (four members) attending from China. The program primarily drew from suburban public schools – including K-12, elementary, high schools, as well as district offices.

With the conclusion of the first-ever Data Wise Leadership Institute: Australia, the team has had time to reflect on the overall impact of the program – and Jayne explained that participants are now inspired inspired to make deep instructional improvements as a result of Data Wise.

“We have a good core of schools now in Tasmania and Victoria engaged with the work,” Jayne said. “Their lives and practices markedly changed as a result of the institute.”

This new perspective, Boudett explained, also has allowed participants to see the power and possibility of data.

“I believe every single kid deserves a really high-quality education,” Boudett said. “Data allows us to shine a light on the places where inequities between outcomes for different student subgroups might exist. Being able to point to evidence allows for a very grounded conversation about how to serve all children well.”

As for the participants themselves – they have also realized the impact the institute already has had on their educational practice.

“Data Wise has enlightened our school team as to how to unlock inequity in learning by unlocking the potential of our staff to drive important change,” explained Irene Iliadis, College Principal, Hume Central Secondary College.

“Data Wise provided the opportunity for me to improve my capacity as a leader and learn the importance of school culture to improve the outcomes for our students,” said Narelle Albert, Learning Specialist, Dandenong Primary School. “My practice has changed for the better!”

“Data Wise has aligned and refined our current approach to data and evidence within our school,” said Sarah Donald, Learning Specialist, Glen Waverley Primary School. “It will allow our practitioners to confidently walk towards ‘outstanding learning opportunities for every child’ as it gives us a process for deliberate data practice.”

A Look Ahead

As local school and system teams move further through the Data Wise Improvement Process, Australian interest in the program continues.

“The Australian Data Wise Institute was an outstanding opportunity for a community of learners to build their capacity to support school and system improvement,” said Shireen Thomas, School Improvement Leader, Department of Education, Tasmanian Government. “I would recommend education systems and schools seizing the opportunity to engage in the Data Wise Institute in Australia in 2020!”

In bringing Data Wise to educators in Australia, the process for Jayne has come full circle. “Data Wise has raised the bar professionally – it really honored teachers and their voice.”

Now, the journey continues. Click here to learn more about the 2020 offering of the Data Wise Leadership Institute: Australia.