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Data Informs Paths of Professional Growth for Teachers

Director of Institutional Research Eric Heilman recently returned to Maret’s campus to meet with faculty, share updates, and outline goals for the upcoming year, which include launching a set of dashboards that will allow members of the community to see various trends documented over four years of systematic data collection and analysis. Of great interest were the ways that data can continue to provide teachers with opportunities to view students holistically and to receive feedback about experiences in the classroom.

The student evaluation process is one tool teachers at Maret use to reflect on their practice and to inform paths of professional growth and development. Twice a year, Mr. Heilman sends out a student evaluation form asking students to provide feedback on teacher organization, clarity, pace, feedback, and relationship-building skills. The results are compiled and returned to teachers, who can see trends in the current moment and over time.

One Middle School student says about the process, “Teacher evaluations using the survey are an opportunity to give the teacher constructive feedback that helps us learn.” Another offers, “Teacher evaluations are useful for students to express their feelings in a non-hurtful way because they are anonymous. For me, most teachers are good, but sometimes I can tell them certain, specific things I don’t really like.”

Key players in supporting professional development at Maret are the department heads who provide oversight for each academic area. Along with managing the course offerings, vertical scope and sequence, and material selection, department heads support teachers in every stage of their careers. This includes formal evaluations and observations, goal-setting meetings, and informal opportunities to discuss ideas and practices, as well as building data literacy to understand how feedback collected from students can shape educational practices.

Department chairs at Maret have used student feedback to guide the growth of their teachers and also as the basis for tackling department-wide issues such as equitable grading practices in the Art Department and programming skills and homework in the Math Department.

Members of the Humanities Department under the leadership of Nicholas Michalopoulos have been using the data provided by Mr. Heilman to explore the concept of student engagement through the lens of equity. Last spring, faculty Equity Learning Groups (ELGs) met twice to think about how to measure student engagement (their attention, curiosity, and passion for a topic) in equitable ways based on ideas presented by Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Together, the department explored ways to go beyond what she calls “a pedagogy of compliance” that recognizes and rewards only those who are comfortable raising their hands or who always turn in homework on time.

After discussing the ways in which humanities classes currently and might measure student engagement, Mr. Michalopoulos asked humanities teachers to dig into their data and find areas where our diverse body of students might be experiencing different outcomes based on their race or gender. He then asked teachers to set goals around measuring and increasing meaningful student engagement. Strategies considered include the use of digital tools like Canvas and Peardeck to give timely and personal feedback, assignments that offer several choices for a final product, reflection opportunities, and alternative grading policies.

Mr. Michalopoulos has been eager to partner with Mr. Heilman in using data as part of the teacher reflection and evaluation process. Objective and empirical information can reveal patterns that might be overlooked by observations or more anecdotal information. After seeing the impact data had on how he viewed his own teaching, Mr. Michalopoulos wanted to find ways to use institutional research to support those he supervised.

A large part of his role as department chair involves managing a variety of relationships that shift and evolve over time. “Having data keeps the conversation grounded and centered, especially around equity and inclusion,” which can be sensitive areas for teachers to explore, he explains. As a leader, Mr. Michalopoulos models transparency and vulnerability by using his own evaluation data in department meetings to demonstrate the ways it helps him become curious and develop deeper lines of inquiry. He hopes to eventually share data between departments as a way to illuminate and uplift best practices in serving our students.

Assistant Head for Curriculum Development María López is excited about the possibilities: “We want the student experience and the teacher experience to be the best they can be. We want to have data-driven decision-making, and that data comes in many different forms.” Schools are dynamic environments, and data from surveys provides a snapshot of the student experience on a given day. There has to be room for the complexities of students’ lives and all the context that surrounds their experiences.

Ensuring the right questions are being asked is an ongoing task, as is making sure the information is received by decision-makers in a timely manner. Meanwhile, the community continues to build the capacity to view a variety of results with a generosity of spirit and to ask questions about how those results can be used to optimize teaching and learning.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a school community with sufficient data literacy to effectively use findings at the classroom and institutional levels. Academic departments are one existing structure in which to process ongoing research. Divisions are another. And, through the School’s leadership in the Center for Institutional Research in Independent Schools (CIRIS), Maret is networking with schools across the country to share ideas and best practices. With every round of data collection and every conversation about that data, our community demonstrates a commitment to growth and providing students at Maret with a world-class education.