Collaborative Leadership Data Conversations for Student Success

by Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

A collegial school culture is a prerequisite for school improvement (Barth, 2006). A school culture characterized by encouraging relationships among the adults and meaningful conversations about instruction and student achievement provides the infrastructure that supports educators as they work to ensure that all students achieve to high levels.

Instructional decision-making based on data is a cornerstone of collegial discussions about student achievement. The following step-by-step process, adapted from Boudett, City, and Murnane (2005), outlines one method for engaging staff in collegial conversations about data and student achievement.

Preparing for Data Discussions

Boudett and Moody (2005) identify three schoolwide activities for educators to engage in as they prepare for meaningful conversations about data:

Activity I: Creating and Guiding a Data Team-Data teams organize and prepare the data so that teachers can focus on discussing the data and implications for instruction. School leadership teams (e.g., school improvement teams) can serve as the data team. School leaders should guide the data team in three key tasks: (a) creation of a data inventory to show all available data sources; (b) examination of data organization to determine the best way to manage data so they are used frequently and appropriately; and (c) identification and evaluation of all programs designed to meet student instructional needs.

Activity II: Enabling Collaborative Work Among Faculty-All teachers must be involved in ongoing discussions about the data. School leaders should decide if existing collaborative structures (e.g., grade-level or content area meetings) can be infused with data discussions, or if new structures need to be created. School leaders also must ensure that master schedules include time for collaborative work to take place.

Activity III: Planning Productive Meetings-The data team is responsible for ensuring that meetings to discuss data are effective and efficient. For example, establishing group norms to ensure a positive and safe atmosphere and using protocols to structure conversations will ensure that meetings are conducted with care and achieve the desired outcomes.

Exploring Assessment Results

After preparing for data discussions, the team will lead teachers in exploring the data. Please see the article on page 1 of this newsletter for essential information on analyzing assessment data.

Linking Data to Action

Once the data have been studied to determine areas for improvement, it is time for action. Many have noted the importance of action planning for school improvement (e.g., Danielson, 2002; Schmoker, 2001). Action planning typically consists of four tasks: (a) identifying an instructional strategy to address the needs revealed in the data analysis; (b) reaching consensus on what implementation of the strategy will look like in the school; (c) establishing roles, responsibilities, and concrete steps needed to implement the change; and (d) assessing the plan's progress (Buffett, Teoh, & Martinez, 2005).

School leaders can promote student success by using a structured process to engage staff in meaningful conversations about student achievement and the effectiveness of instructional practices.


Barth, R.S. (2006). Improving relationships within the schoolhouse. Educational Leadership, 63(6), 8-13.

Boudett, K.P., City, E.A., & Murnane, R.J. (Eds.). (2005). Datawise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Boudett, K.P., & Moody, L. (2005). Organizing for collaborative work. In K. P. Boudett, E.A. City, & R.J. Murnane (Eds.), Datawise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning (pp. 11-28). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Buffett, T., Teoh, M.B., & Martinez, G. (2005). Developing an action plan. In K. P. Boudett, E.A. City, & R.J. Murnane (Eds.), Datawise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning (pp. 119-135). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Danielson, C. (2002). Enhancing student achievement: A framework for school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Schmoker, M.J. (2001). Results fieldbook: Practical strategies from dramatically improved schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Date: February/March 2007