Technology is inescapable. Whether teaching and learning at home or at school, we rely on hardware and software to help us. Notice the words “help us.” Computers and systems are tools for us to use, not dictators to whom we must answer. Similarly, the data created from high tech informs us, but what story does it tell?

From 2003-2007, I participated in a federal research project with the U.S. Department of Education and Vanderbilt University. We were studying the effectiveness of Love In A Big World for students, educators and schools. This five-year project included multiple measures from the national team as well as Vanderbilt, our research partner. One of the aims was to determine the level of fidelity with which teachers were implementing the curriculum. The logic was that if teachers were teaching the lessons, then the lessons could impact the students. Although this seems reasonable, holding teachers to a weekly check on what they did or did not do in regards to their social-emotional learning goals did not help our project. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect.  Teachers resented the process and the curriculum. Therefore, they did not cooperate. Chief among the reasons why we lacked cooperation is the lack of principal leadership and teacher buy-in – the human factor. Instead of bringing these professionals into the process, we forced our aims on them and they refused. What we thought we were doing for the good of the children missed the mark because we valued data more than people. 

The same can be said today for many of the digital evaluation systems that are being used for social-emotional learning. Although the goal is to use data to improve schools for the sake of the children, the data is often lacking or misused. At times, the survey reports on climate and culture are not provided until the following semester, thereby, missing critical opportunities for intervention and growth. Other times the accumulation of numbers is used punitively against students and teachers, creating a climate of fear and control. 

Last week I spoke about Trauma, Equity and SEL at a conference out West. During Q&A, an attendee asked what book I would recommend so they could count the number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The more I have thought about their question, the more I realize how greatly it misses the mark. The issue is not about how many ACEs a child has.  We need to operate out of the assumption that all of us, children and adults, have dealt and are dealing with trauma, such as the current global pandemic. This knowledge compels us to interact compassionately with one another, not wear the number of ACEs on our chest like a badge, thinking that if we label it then we have more control over it.  

It’s time for us to rise above fear, fear of how bad things may be or fear of not doing things right or whatever fear we may be carrying. We need to use the technology and the data as tools that provide insights into the needs of our students, families, educators, and communities.  Then we must begin asking questions and allocating resources to support positive change. One district that has been doing this well for years is Austin Independent School District. You can watch an interview with Dr. Caroline Chase to learn more about their formative approach. 


Questions to consider:

  • What is the purpose of this technology?
  • How will this technology be used to benefit our students, families, educators, and communities?
  • What data can be obtained from this system?
  • What story does the data tell?
  • How can our team use this data for good, i.e. what insights do we gain and what resources can we allocate to serve our students, families, educators, and communities better?


About the author

Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator and author of Love In A Big World, which provides mental health, SEL, and wellness curriculum and content. During quarantine, Tamara created MusiCity Kids, an online educational show for kids ages 6-12 that addresses health, movement, character development, STEAM, and more.