Updated: Dec 8, 2022
I’m Matthew Courtney. I help schools help kids, and I want to show you how to harness the power of educational research and data analysis to drive continuous improvement in your school!
#BeyondTheMean is a weekly blog where I share tutorials, case studies, and research challenges to help get your mind thinking about continuous school improvement in a new way.
Continuous school improvement isn’t for “low performing” schools. It isn’t a theoretical policy framework cooked up by folks in Washington, D.C. It isn’t the enemy of good teachers and leaders.
Research and data driven continuous school improvement is for everyone. It is a focused mindset that ensures that everybody is bringing their best to every situation – every day. It is about intentionality; doing what’s best for kids not because we think it is what’s best, but because we know it is what’s best.
If you’re struggling with a big problem in your classroom, school, or district, I have GREAT news for you! You are not alone! Thousands of other educators across the nation and around the globe have experienced the same problem. By learning to leverage existing research tools and deeply understanding your local data, you can solve any problem that your school is facing.
I want to use this introductory post to share a few things that I believe about research and data driven continuous improvement.
Keep Kids at the Center
I believe that students must always be at the center of the conversation. While quality continuous improvement always involves a team of passionate stakeholders, as soon as we stop talking about kids we might as well stop talking. Reasonable people can disagree about what is best for our learners. If we focus our research and data conversations on the kids, we will always come out ahead.
Keep it Simple
Continuous improvement efforts can be complicated. That is why I believe in making them simple. In education, we are bad at chasing fads down endless rabbit holes. We buy the newest technology before considering whether there is any evidence of its effectiveness and we change curriculum before we give the last one a chance to work. We track multiple plans and follow the advice of multiple gurus. My philosophy is that less is more. Let’s select two or three big problems, focus on them with intentionality, apply appropriate research and data techniques, and watch them go away. Then, we can pick two or three new ones. Trying to solve all your problems at once is a no go – that way lies madness my friend.
Embrace the Productive Disequilibrium
People who work with me closely are familiar with my personal motto in life – Embrace the Productive Disequilibrium. Whenever you learn something new, you are going to be filled with emotions. Sometimes, while completing tutorials on my blog or in the Repository you will be filled with angst and frustration. Someday you will click “enter” in Excel and see the same warning will flash for the fourth time in a row and you will be filled with agony and rage. Sooner or later, you will be describing the exciting results of your statistical analysis to a colleague who just doesn’t care and you will be filled with despair. In those moments, you are sitting in the productive disequilibrium. Embrace it. Push through it. Conquer it. If you do, you will be rewarded with joy and adulation that comes from knowing that your efforts have led to meaningful student success.
We have come around now to the title of this blog and the core of its philosophy. Always look #BeyondTheMean. The statistical average is a fickle friend. It doesn’t always tell you what you think its telling you about your students. We must build intentional habits that include looking deeply into the data, running multiple statistical analysis, and creating engaging visualizations that help us better understand what’s going on in our schools and classrooms. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry – that’s why I’m here! In my Repository you will find five auto-analysis tools that will allow you to simply upload your spreadsheet and copy and paste statistical figures and beautiful charts right into your school improvement report. Eventually, this blog and the other resources in the Repository will help you learn to do those calculations on your own! Make a commitment to developing a new mindset and always looking #BeyondTheMean
Don’t Hide from the Truth
Pulling back the curtains and looking #BeyondTheMean isn’t always pretty. I guarantee that you will find evidence of systemic bias, consistently under performing groups of students, costly interventions that don’t work, and school policies that made problems bigger. It’s a fact of life. Don’t hide from the truth and don’t get mad at what your data says. Allow these uncomfortable realities to fill you with righteous indignation for your students. Welcome the outcomes of your analysis and work hard to resolve the problems that you uncover.
Seek Mentors and Invite Feedback
Research and data driven school improvement is a big task – this aint horseshoes friends. You cannot do it alone, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to. Seek mentors who can help lift you up, provide meaningful thought partners, and challenge you to grow. Invite their feedback, as well as feedback from valued stakeholders, and allow yourself to grow from that too. A good friend of mine always says feedback is fertilizer for the soul. Short on research and data mentors? Connect with me on Twitter and Linked In! I am always here to provide a listening ear and a curious mind.
I hope that you will find this blog to be informative, enriching, and inspirational as you travel on your own school improvement journey. You can get regular updates sent right to your email by becoming a member of The Repository. This 100% free forever online resource library is filled with tools, instructional videos, and eBooks to help you learn and grow in this area. It is also where you will find opportunities to connect with me through live member-only events.
Be well on your journey friends – and let me know how I can help.