In the world of Head Start and Early Head Start, the word “data” is often a trigger word. This is true. There’s no getting around it.
My job is training managers and directors how to make the best use of data in their organizations. This involves a lot of learning. We learn from making images in our heads about what’s presented to us. As a trainer, I’ll introduce a subject or term, and instantly, the person I’m working with forms a visual impression as a starting point.
For many people when we’re discussing data, the exchange looks and feels like this:
- I say “data”
- They instantly imagine numbers in their head
- The numbers make them think of math
- They experience negative, often avoidant feelings
That all happens really quickly. Sort of a knee-jerk reaction.
This is much the same as thinking of art or public speaking. I say “art” and people imagine other people looking at their final product and judging it (“that’s terrible!” or “my kid could do better!”). I say “public speaking” and a large percentage of people break out with hives (immediately picturing standing on a large stage under a glaring spotlight in front of a packed auditorium).
Some people will read those examples and not really resonate with them. But many, many will.
Data. Math. (PIR. Performance Standards. DRS. 45 Day Mandates. Data Tours. FA2.)
Data doesn’t have to be like that. At all.
No one deserves a better relationship with data than Head Start and Early Head Start professionals.
For the last 9 months, my team and I have had the opportunity to partner with the National Head Start Association to provide a unique professional development opportunity for Head Start managers and directors nationwide: the NHSA Academy Data Literacy Credential (DLC).
The DLC has been a smashing success. Students earn their Data Literacy Credential by completing three consecutive 5-week courses, offered through a flipped-classroom model (participants complete coursework on their own outside of class, then meet twice a week for one hour virtually for group activities and discussion). They also complete portfolio assignments that offer immediate impact back at their programs.
Here are some things we have learned about our terrific Head Start managers and directors in the DLC:
- They’re extremely thankful to have a challenging and longer-term professional development opportunity. People want to “skill up”, and they want to put in the work.
- They do not want someone to come and do it for them (“here’s your analytics, you’re welcome”). They want the knowledge. They want the responsibility.
- They want to talk and connect with other “data people”.
- They want to feel like data people. Some of them have described having imposter syndrome, or “faking it” at times when it comes to being qualified to be the data person at their program. They don’t want to feel that anymore.
- They’ve always known their program can do better with data. They want their program to do better with data.
- They’re eager to share the pain points with others, openly, and transparently. They want to know other Head Start professionals are experiencing the same kinds of challenges, while also working so hard to serve children and families.
- They want to and they are eager to LEARN.
- They are eager to go back and train their program staff. They also share that this is very challenging – culture change is difficult – and it’s tough to be “the only person who cares this much about data”.
These things are important. They are real. They are the result of years of how data has been thought about and felt about in Head Start.
For our team at Acorn, the NHSA Data Literacy Credential collaboration has been the most rewarding project in our history. We’ve learned as much from our DLC participants as we believe they’ve learned from us. We’ve been able to implement our own data-driven continuous quality improvement by surveying and listening to our students, integrating their valuable feedback into our coursework, and adding opportunities and new content as necessary.
This means we’re thankful to have a professional development opportunity ourselves. We’ve been thrilled to join our students as we all “skill up”. At Acorn, we are constantly working towards being in the “goldilocks zone” with our trainings: not too simple, not too difficult, but just right.
One of our recent participants (a current Head Start manager and director and a former regional T&TA provider) describes this quite well:
“I am currently taking the Data Literacy Credential and LOVE IT!!! I have been working in Head Start for almost 20 years and I have been working extensively with data for much of that time, but I am learning so much. I would say it spans across various levels of data literacy including beginning, intermediate and advanced and really helps you think about data from a systemic approach. If you are just beginning using data it helps you think about how you would build your data workflows and tell your story with data. For intermediate learners, it helps you look at what you are doing and identify ways to improve your systems. For an advanced learner, it steeps you in the language, and how to really effectively analyze and use data to help make informed decisions. I would HIGHLY recommend this credentialing.”
– Keri Young, Education Coordinator, Urban League Head Start, St. Louis, Missouri
Keri nailed it. Something for everyone. A positive image in one’s head. Or as another recent graduate told us:
“I have a new relationship with data now, and I like it.”
At the recent NHSA Conference, our first graduating class from “cohort #1” received their Data Literacy Credentials in a virtual ceremony. It was terrific to see the satisfaction of 40+ participants from around the nation as they received the certification reflecting their investment of time and hard work. In the future, the DLC will be distributed in person at NHSA’s Annual Conference, and along with our Academy friends at NHSA, we’re looking forward to doing that in person.
We’re also looking forward to graduating cohort after cohort as hundreds of other Head Start managers and directors join and ultimately complete their credential. If you are one of those professionals: I hope you will consider joining us. Perhaps when we meet and I say “data”, the image that will appear in your head is a smile. It is for me.