Drowning in data? Tips to stay afloat in an ocean of information

Drowning in data? Tips to stay afloat in an ocean of information

From academic achievements to attendance, medical records, and financial reports, schools process a truly overwhelming and ever-increasing amount of information each day. So how do you sift through the noise to ensure you're tracking the right things at the right times?

Why is data-informed practise essential?

It may sound complex, but data-informed practice is the simple act of using tangible evidence and information to make decisions and draw conclusions.

Whether you want to assess classroom performance, make informed financial decisions or keep an eye on student wellbeing, the use of quality student data makes for more effective educational decisions, allowing for the development of evidence-based plans for student’s academic, social and emotional improvement. 

Are you tracking the right data?

It can be tempting to think that more data is always better, but tracking and analysing figures that no one needs or uses is a huge time sink, making it impossible to tell what's important and what's not.

By asking questions first, it's much easier to figure out what information you need. As AISNSW noted in their report:

"Without focused questions, the collection, analysis and use of data may be scattered, unclear and pointless."

Think about the kinds of questions that arise naturally as part of your role. What do you want to improve or keep track of? TASS has put together some suggestions in a downloadable guidebook here.

What kind of data should you be using?

Whether you're looking at quantitative data, such as grades and attendance, or qualitative, like pastoral care notes and parent feedback, your data must be reliable if you want to draw meaningful insights. So, what makes good data?

  1. Accurate – It’s difficult to form an effective analysis of anything if you’re using incomplete data, conflicting records, or unreliable information. There are some great tips on cleaning up your data in this blog post.
  2. Contextual - A single data point (i.e. an overdue payment) won't reveal much by itself. Giving this data context, by looking at the bigger picture, allows you to gain more actionable insights - you may discover a surprising number of families are late for the same payment - maybe reminder emails weren't sent, or parents were given unusually short notice?
  3. Relevant - Timely, relevant data allows you to track things like ongoing academic performance, or monitor behavioural issues as they're flagged, meaning you can identify potential warning signs and act before learning gaps or problems progress.

How can automation help?

Now that you know what data you're looking for, the challenge is finding time to access it. It can be easy to forget to run reports, and setting reminders is often just a temporary solution, as you’re simply adding to the wall of noise from every other ping and notification.

Think about how you will engage with each piece of information – what do you really need to be notified about immediately, and what would work better as a daily or weekly summary?

Deciding when and how you'll use this data allows you to schedule reports around your needs, avoiding distracting and impractical notifications. Powerful automation and scheduling tools can send timely digests of information straight to your inbox when it’s most helpful - you could even include the attendees of your regular meetings in these emails, ensuring that everyone is up-to-date before the meeting even starts.

Ultimately, regardless of when or how often you need information, the important thing is that your data is working for you, not creating more work.