I want you to imagine something.
Imagine if your teacher evaluation scores (I don’t know about you, but we have yearly ones that are pretty big) were put on a big chart in the staff room. Like a Teacher Data Wall.
Let’s pretend we get scored on a scale of 1-4, and the board is divided up to say “2 or more” or “high flying 4’s!” or something of the kind.
Let’s say that all the teachers had their names up there for the world to see.
Do you have this in your mind? At first glance what do you notice?
Well, I notice (hypothetically speaking) that Jane must be doing great because she is a 4. Joe isn’t doing so well, he is waaay down there barely on the chart.
Sue seems to be trying but poor thing still is just a 2.
Thank goodness I’m a 4 because I think I would cry if they put my name up there under a 2 for all to see.
Now, some people may wish this were a thing (I sure hope it isn’t anywhere though) because they may think “Well, if Joe is so bad, he deserves to have us know! Maybe that will shape him up! Maybe we can weed out the bad teachers! Maybe it will motivate the low ones!”
Or you may say… let’s just recognize the high ones! That may motivate the ones not there yet! We can just leave their names off altogether if they aren’t a 4!
I understand that circumstances for adults are much different than for children. However, I wanted to start out with that hypothetical situation, and then take it to another hypothetical situation.
Now Imagine This
Now imagine you are 5. Or 7. Or 10. Just imagine you are a child.
Your teacher has a big poster with the names of who reads the most minutes at home, or who knows all of their alphabet or multiplication facts.
Your friends are getting a lot of their names on that board, or stars, or boxes colored in.
They are excited.
They talk about it a lot.
Sometimes they even get prizes.
You wish you could be up there as a letter superstar, or star reader, but even though you try, it is hard.
Maybe you don’t have books at home and your parents won’t take you to the library or read to you.
Maybe you are learning to speak the language so learning letters and sounds may take some time. It doesn’t mean you are “low” and not worthy of the wall.
Maybe you have never been to preschool so this is all new to you. This doesn’t make you “low” – you simply haven’t had the same exposure as your peers.
Maybe you worry about things happening at home. Maybe there are bad things going on and you don’t get much to eat or much sleep.
You feel bad because you want to be up high on that wall.
Your teacher says when everyone can do it you will have a party.
But you can’t do it yet and that feels really bad. Is the whole class waiting on you?
Do they think you are dumb?
A Personal Example:
When I was in grade school, one of my teachers (several actually) had walls dedicated to showing who read the most minutes at home, and who had the most timed math tests taken, etc.
Now, luckily, I did very well in school and I managed to stay on top of those walls (in elementary school at least).
In fact, I remember one student and I were always competing with one another for the top spot. Now to us, maybe it was fun.
All I know is that I was not really caring about WHAT I was learning, but rather WHERE I was on the wall.
I also remember knowing that Todd (not his real name) was always at the bottom.
Everyone knew it. He knew that everyone knew it and he started to turn it into a “cool thing” to be on the bottom by developing an attitude of not caring he was there, and refusing to try to move.
As I look back now, I know that was a defensive mechanism to avoid seeming like he was “dumb.”
Todd had a reading disability and it was a fight for him to complete the tasks. This wall of progress didn’t motivate him, but discouraged him instead.
Why Am I Writing This?
I get it. Many schools require data walls.
I also know that no teacher would do something to intentionally make a child feel bad (at least I hope not!)
I also am a teacher and I know that we must keep track of our student’s progress. I also know that sometimes class goals and whole group progress monitoring can be a good thing.
I am not “calling out” anyone by listing examples. My personal story isn’t saying those teachers were wrong, but rather just showing a different perspective and sharing a memory.
I have many teacher friends who have data walls. Do I think they are bad teachers? NO, certainly not!
I know they are either required to have them, or have a system that may work for them. Many teachers have moved from having names to numbers, or other things that keep it more private.
I am a huge proponent of student’s knowing their progress and setting goals. I just think there are ways to do it that don’t call them out in front of their peers.
For example, personal data folders that only the student sees, while the teacher may have master graphs in a teacher binder to look at all kids at once.
Or maybe a whole class goal that encourages 100% participation, but allows for wiggle room. For example “Let’s read ___ minutes this month at home!” can motivate ALL kids to help and get excited, but if someone isn’t participating as much, the whole class isn’t looking at and depending on them for the reward (if a reward is given, I know not all data walls have rewards).
I am mainly writing just as a deeper look into this practice.
I don’t approach this with the idea that I am right, but rather the thought that I am learning and exploring what feels right for my students.
For me, a public data wall isn’t that.
When it makes my students feel bad or stressed, to me, that is a data wall failure.
A data wall can tell me how they perform, but it cannot tell me their thoughts, feelings or motivation.
For others, it may be something that works, their current students may respond differently, and maybe it doesn’t make them feel that way.
I would love to hear about your system and why you do (or don’t) love it. Leave a comment and let me know!
For more classroom articles, check out The Truth about Teaching Kindergarten and 10 Things Your Kindergarten Student Wants You To Know