Relationships and data are two topics that are often at the heart of conversations around successful educational reform. Can these two be separated? Can you accurately gauge success with only one of these two elements?
Several years ago I attended my first educational conference focused on leadership. The facilitator of a large group session was a well-known and respected educator whose research was data driven and focused on measuring results. As a wide-eyed young teacher I asked, in front of the entire group, Why do we need data? I know my students well, their engagement in lessons tells me how much they are getting from me on a daily basis. He looked at me with a stunned look in his eyes and responded, “we were happy when we thought the world was flat too, how did that work out?” Imagine the awkward silence that followed amidst the 200 or so educational leaders in the room.
I have learned and now speak to the importance of establishing data out of practice to help us understand what is, and what isn’t working for learning. But central to all of this, and before any data is worthwhile, I maintain that relationships are key. This is why I have shared with staff Rita Pierson’s TedTalk Every Child Needs a Champion in which she says, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.
Fast-forward to this past week. While working half-way around the world in Seoul, Korea, my phone rang. When I said hello, the voice on the other end was a student I taught nearly 10 years ago. After briefly catching up, we made plans to have dinner. Catching up over Korean BBQ we shared the twists and turns our lives had taken and it was like I had seen him far more recently.
For me, catching up with this student was great for many reasons. While I have come to appreciate the importance of data as it relates to student learning, nothing replaces time spent with students. The fact that a former student not only wanted to say hello, but spend time sharing his stories with me and listening to mine. This reinforced that relationships are the key. It is a privilidge to connect with kids everyday. Meeting this student after so many years reinforced that everyday I have the opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives and when I choose to do so, that is how I can create a life-long impact. I’m certainly not holding my breath for an excel file of data to call and invite me to dinner.