What’s the Common Thread of Success?

Over the past 16 years of working in education, I have learned a lot from both teachers and students. As someone who has focused more than half of his career on helping educators use data, I’ve spent a great deal of time looking into data to find the common thread of success. This may be surprising, but I’ve concluded there is no common thread that can be found in typically collected data! Though I believe there is a common thread, it’s just not captured in typical data.

When we started talking to students and teachers, the common thread for their success was quite obvious.  Teachers were clear that their biggest impact came from connecting at a personal level with each student.  That connection could occur in a variety of ways, such as a supportive mentor relationship, or relating content to the interests and goals of the student.

Students told the flip side of the same story. Their most positive moments in school were the times they connected with a teacher, because the teachers were nice, made them laugh, or gave them projects that were interesting and meaningful.

As a data person, it may be a surprise that I believe the common thread of great education is personalized interaction between teachers and students.

So…what about data?  Not too surprisingly, we have seen that good teachers use data to personalize their approach. This includes practices from analyzing assessment items to understand student skill mastery, to creating differentiated lesson plans that engage every type of learner in the class.  Doing this requires information.  Using this type of data helps teachers remain aware of each student’s goals and progress. Data is an invaluable tool to help teachers relate the material they are teaching to the interests and goals of each student, making the lessons more personal and meaningful.

Most teachers try to relate class work to student goals when the information is top-of-mind. However, any teacher who has taught more than 30 students knows that keeping that information top-of-mind is challenging. With data and technology, teachers can have information about their students’ goals and progress at the tip of their fingers.

The common thread of success is a teacher who engages each student personally. Data and technology help this natural process to scale so more students have access to this type of powerful and meaningful engagement.




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