07/10/2014 10:04 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Embracing Our Own Big Data


By Rachel Langlais and Cassandra Coddington

This post was originally published on the TNTP Blog.

At TNTP, we’re into data. You might even call us nerds. When we work with clients, like school districts or state departments of education, we encourage them to set big, bold goals and then choose some factors to watch that will tell them whether or not they’re making progress toward those goals—or whether they should change direction midstream.

But here’s the thing: It isn’t enough to just tell our clients that they should be looking at data to help them make decisions. If we’re going to push our clients to do something, especially something hard, we have to be willing to do it that way ourselves. We have to walk the walk, if you will.

So internally, we hold ourselves accountable to big organizational goals, and we collect all kinds of data along the way—through surveys and feedback—to shape our decisions.

Recently, we used our internal data to rethink the way we train and grow our team members. Twice a year, we do a regular employee satisfaction survey, to gather staff opinions on what’s working and what isn’t. We saw evidence that many staff were eager for career pathways and growth opportunities at TNTP. And that got us thinking: Are we training and supporting our best talent as effectively as we could be?

After all, we’re constantly on the hunt for better ways to grow and support new teachers, and we work to help schools and districts keep their most effective teachers in the classroom. So it’s important that we pay attention to retention and growth internally, too. Our survey data showed that the most successful TNTP staff were supported by great managers, so we focused our efforts on ensuring that all managers were prepared to do their jobs effectively. To accomplish this, we clarified our expectations for what good managers do and then developed tools—like an online space with resources for managers and a regular newsletter with leadership strategies—to help managers raise the bar.

We also learned from staff feedback that folks were looking for more opportunities to make clear connections between their current work and their long-term career goals. So we designed an initiative called the Leadership Lab, which offers training sessions to help staff at all levels grow as leaders. As we move forward, our employee survey will help us understand whether this more deliberate approach to supporting staff growth is proving effective—or whether we need to do something differently.

To us, this is TNTP style at its best: looking for evidence of progress (or pitfalls) along the way and using that information to influence our work in real time.

By working this way internally, we can empower the schools and districts we work with to do the same. This might mean helping a state make a mid-course correction on the rollout of a new evaluation system (like building a video library of great teaching in action, when early feedback from teachers and school leaders indicates that the new standards aren’t clear enough). Or it might mean helping a district set up a data system that allows coaches to track whether or not their feedback is translating into improved teacher practice.  

It can be challenging to embrace the idea that your data might illuminate things you don’t want to see—the strategy that isn’t working, or the staff members who aren’t happy. But we’ve found that often, the information that’s toughest to swallow sparks the greatest growth. By collecting and using data regularly—tweaking our work, collecting some evidence, and making more changes as needed—we’re able to work toward big goals in manageable, measurable chunks. And by walking the walk, we can say to our collaborators in the field—this work is tough, but we’re embracing our inner data nerds to make sure we’re making progress. Are you?

Rachel Langlais is Senior Program Manager, Partnerships & Research at TNTP. Cassandra Coddington is Analyst, Partnerships & Research at TNTP.

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