In this section, in line with Table 2, we will describe the leadership behaviors displayed by the school leaders in the data teams by narrating their stories.
Fairhope data team process synopsis
Fairhope (see Table 3) focused on geography students’ disappointing final examination results. They first investigated two hypotheses that the data showed had to be rejected: a hypothesis concerning students coming from different school locations that were the cause of low average performance, and a hypothesis concerning students who score low on subjects such as physics and chemistry, also score low on geography. They further investigated their data and noticed that students mainly had problems with specific exam questions, namely productive questions. The results of their data analysis also showed that the correlation between the grades in the first 3 years of the curriculum and the final years also needed improvement. Based on these conclusions, the team formulated and implemented several improvement measures. For example, they decided to use a formative assessment approach in the first 3 years of the curriculum, including questions that would (better) prepare students for the final exams. Moreover, they started practicing more with productive questions, starting the year before the final exam. The year after implementation of these measures, the final examination results improved significantly (see Poortman and Schildkamp 2016 for further details).
At the beginning, three school leaders participated in the team (William, Jacob, and Frank). Frank left the team shortly after it started due to competing work demands, but also because data team members had the feeling that they could not speak up during the meetings, which led to a lack of trust within the team. William was the chair of the team in the first 6 months, and then passed this task to one of the participating teachers. All teacher members were geography teachers, who were told by the school leaders that they were expected to participate in the data team as the educational problem the data team was going to focus on was their area of expertise. In the second year, a teacher from another subject area participated voluntarily in the data team. At the end of the support period the team had implemented and evaluated improvement measures to solve their problem. Furthermore, a new data team was established to solve another problem.
Fairhope: Initiating vision and norms
At the start of the support period, the school did not appear to have a vision for data use. In the first round of interviews, several teachers expressed the idea that the vision was rather vague:
It [the vision] is very vague, not specific enough. There are no guidelines that give direction to me as a teacher…In first instance, the school leaders or maybe the board of our school has to formulate a specific vision with norms. Up to now, I have hardly seen a vision. (Liam 1 I1)
However, the vision of the school leaders became clearer during the process, and seemed to be collectively developed in the team. In the interviews the teachers talked about the importance of using data or evidence when making decisions. During the entire support period, school leader William started actively communicating a vision for the implementation of data use by means of the data team, specifically during the first, fourth, and fifth observations.
Furthermore, the data team created norms for the use of data. For example, the interviews and observations showed that new norms for the use of data management systems were formulated. Until Fairhope started its research, teachers at this school entered only the examination marks for the first five students (in alphabetical order) in their class. These results were used for making national comparisons. However, when the data team needed access to these data, they found that the results of these five students were not sufficient for conducting further research. They also discovered that they could not track the results of the remaining students in other data management systems. Therefore, the school leaders who participated in the data team decided that each teacher must enter the examination results for all students in the data management system. The team agreed that it was important to establish this new norm, to make the work of future data teams easier.
In the end, school leader William succeeded in setting up a new data team with teacher Liam, to further implement data use within the school after the support period had ended.
Fairhope: Individualized support
The teachers in the team were all being paid extra for the hours they spent working with the data team. Most respondents appreciated the monetary support, but also indicated that they would have rather been supported with time (e.g., fewer hours of teaching to free up time for data team participation). Not everyone was positive about the monetary support:
You have bad achievement results. And you get rewarded to work on it… It is ridiculous really…. Of course, I will invest hours in this. It is about those achievement results, and not about enriching yourselves with a couple of euros extra per month. (teacher Simon I3)
The school leaders also tried to provide other forms of support. For example, school leader Jacob facilitated data use by proactively communicating with other school leaders about buying a new data management system that worked better than the existing one. School leader Jacob was also the one who made sure that every team member was supported so as to be able to contribute to the team:
Of course, in my duty as school management team member, this also means if you have got a question about how to do something, something costs money, or you need more time, or whatever it is you need, then I hope that you pose that question, so that we can support you. That is really important and that needed to be said. (WilliamO4)
School leader William also reported that he had individual meetings with teacher members of the data team before the team started. In these individual meetings he tried to convince the teachers of the importance of the data team work. During these meetings he tried to communicate the vision and goal of the data team to the individual teachers. When the team started, school leader William and school leader Jacob were available for teachers who needed to talk about the data team, for example, about emotions or new ideas. School leader Jacob (I3) stated that he noticed during the data meetings that teacher Lily seemed to be frustrated about something. Whereas in the beginning she gave the team a lot of input, she did not do this anymore. Therefore, he organized an individual meeting with teacher Lily, and in this meeting he tried to encourage her to speak her mind more often in the team. This teacher stated that she was very annoyed with the unwillingness to change of one of the data team members, and she discussed this with school leader Jacob:
He is a bit ‘old school’, no change, that is better…. But I think that we need to change, otherwise we will get stuck. I got irritated. I discussed this with the school leader… he understood where I was coming from. He had also noticed it. (teacher Lily I3)
Fairhope: Intellectual stimulation
The observations and interviews showed that the school leaders in the team stimulated discussions, structured discussions, and engaged members in discussions, such as by asking questions, and by making statements that would lead to discussions. School leader William (I3) stated, for example, that he started asking the team to “prove it, or provide proof that supports the contrary”.
In the first two observations school leader William was evidently leading and structuring discussions. However, he was also the appointed chair of the data team. In that respect he had the role of structuring the meetings and discussions. However, school leader William also distributed leadership. School leader William’s task during the first 6 months was to lead the meetings and to set up agendas. After that time, he delegated this chair task to teacher Liam. The observations also show that school leader William delegated tasks, and in the final interview round school leader William stated, for example:
My strong aspects are this, your strong aspects or that, so it may be wise if you do this and I do that, and we can complement each other. (…) let’s divide our roles in a way that makes the entire team stronger. (school leader Jacob I3)
Furthermore, the school leaders listened to team members’ arguments and opinions in sharing decisions, for example, when choosing a hypothesis that the team was going to test. School leader William was also a role model for data use and collaboration in the data team. For example, school leader William completed tasks just like the other data team members and collaborated with the data expert, in order to analyze the data. The data expert Amy noted that the school leaders collaborated intensively with the teachers, and were really perceived as part of the team:
The school leaders are closely connected to the workplace, so to the teachers, they also participate in joking around. (……).The border between school leaders and teachers is small. (data expert Amy I3)
Although the school leaders were part of the team, they were also expected to steer the process as needed, which according to themselves they did. In the interview the school leaders were asked if and how they steered the data team process. According to school leader William, for example, he steered the process when necessary, and also explained why he steered and put pressure on the team to make changes:
Euhm, okay guys, this has been said a hundred times before, and everybody agrees, and yet there is another BUT. Just do it this time, go work on it…..… I have said, this is what we are going to do, and it will take more time, but it is important for yourselves, and especially for the student, and this is what it is all about. (school leader William I3)
Although not included in the definition of intellectual stimulation, teachers considered knowledge input by school leaders and their access to data as an important aspect of intellectual stimulation. During the three interview rounds, they reported that the school leaders complemented each other’s knowledge and in that way contributed knowledge to the data team. While school leader William had knowledge about statistics due to his background in mathematics, knowledge about using Excel to analyze data, and knowledge about where to get access to certain data, school leader Jacob had pedagogical content knowledge about the subject, because he taught geography before being a school leader. Due to his pedagogical content knowledge, school leader Jacob was able to discuss content matters with the teacher members. However, his knowledge about the subject and the related pedagogy was not appreciated nearly as much as school leader William’s knowledge about data and statistics. In the observations it was apparent that these school leaders also had additional knowledge about school policy, school statistics, and some knowledge about the data management system which they shared during team meetings. Teacher Liam, for example:
School leader William conducted his magic with the numbers, which I initially found hard to grasp, that nobody really understood. But he opened the doors to the data we needed, to analyze, to calculate. (…). He gave us access to the data we needed to investigate our hypotheses. (teacher Liam I3)
Fairhope: Climate for data use
Although it was not included in our theoretical framework, we found that school leaders were also important for shaping a climate for data use within the data teams. Due to disappointing geography results on the final examination, Fairhope’s school management team thought that a data team would be a good way for geography teachers to work collaboratively on a solution for this problem. Furthermore, the school management team hoped that the data team would stimulate collaboration among geography teachers. Although the teachers recognized that there was a problem with the final exam results, they felt that they were being punished for their students’ disappointing examination results, especially at the start of the data team. However, the teachers’ commitment to the data team grew quickly.
In contrast to other data teams who reported an open atmosphere during their first round of interviews, Fairhope struggled with a lack of trust between teacher members and the school leader who had left. All interviewees reported a lack of trust between some members and this school leader. According to the internal data expert, team members did not dare to share their own opinions, due to this lack of trust. As a result, the school leaders decided that it would be better for the team if school leader Frank left. Trust remained an issue for a while, even after school leader Frank had left the team. For this reason, the team agreed upon some rules: School leader Frank would only be informed about the progress of the team if the data team wanted to implement measures that would influence the curriculum, and therefore needed his permission as a school leader. This discussion helped in creating an open climate for data use. In the second and third round of interviews, respondents were more positive about the atmosphere in the team and described it as open. For example, teacher Liam described how school leader William was open to critique. Several teachers talked about the trust and openness in the team, for example:
Nobody has a hidden agenda….Everything is discussed openly, what we think, what we thought, which is very different sometimes. (teacher Lily I3)
Although use of the school leaders’ network was not included in the theoretical framework, team members frequently mentioned its importance. School leaders in Fairhope mentioned using their network with other school leaders and teachers. They reported in the observations and interviews that they discussed data team related matters during school management meetings.
[During school management team meetings, the school leaders ask me:] Is there any news from the data team? What is the state of the art? What did you guys do? Give us an update…And that also resulted in the fact that there will be new data teams at our school. (school leader Jacob I3)
They also used their school leader’s network for contacting potential teacher members from other school buildings. And they used their network with teachers within the school for contacting new teacher members within their own school building.
Team Newpoint data team process synopsis
Newpoint focused on the retention rate in the 4th grade of senior secondary education (students 15–16 years old). The team first investigated the hypothesis about whether the amount of homework influenced these retention rates, which turned out not to be the case. Thereafter, the team interviewed students about the retention rates. The interview results indicated that possible causes included a lack of parental support, a lack of student motivation, unrealistic expectations with regard to student planning and self-regulatory skills, a lack of curriculum coherence across the grades, low expectations of mentors which led to self-fulfilling prophecies, and low instructional quality (e.g., instruction was not adapted to the needs of students). At the time that the support ended, the team had not yet succeeded in implementing improvement measures based on these results.
All teacher team members participated voluntarily in the data team. They were either asked by their direct leaders whether they wanted to participate, or they applied to be a data team member. Newpoint had a high turnover rate of school leaders participating in the data team (see Table 4).
At the beginning of the data team project in November, Charles and Truman participated as school leaders in the data team. After a few months, Charles left the school. Hank, who was also the school principal, replaced him in the data team. After the summer holiday, Truman also left the school. Robert and Stacy were supposed to be the new school leaders in the data team, together with Hank. However, after a few months Stacy left the data team due to competing work demands, and was not involved with the work of the data team anymore.
Newport: Initiating vision and norms
At the start, school leaders communicated visions, goals and norms for data use in the data team. In one of the first meetings, for example, school leaders Charles and Truman expressed that they expected team members to be present at all team meetings, to show interest during team meetings, and to work toward solving an urgent problem at their school. Expectations were also expressed with regard to working with the data team intervention. In the data team’s first meeting, it was evident that the school leaders expected the data team to help with implementing data use within the whole school in the next 2 years.
Within the first year of the support period, both Truman and Charles left the school. Although the team was expected to help with implementing data use and communicating the data team’s results within the school, the external data coach reported in the second interview that Hank, the principal of the school who joined the data team, failed to communicate a vision for data use in the data team. A lack of vision by school leaders participating in the data team also emerged in the discussions at the last observed meeting. A quite lengthy discussion showed that Robert, a school leader who had replaced Truman, had no idea how the principal, Hank, wanted to facilitate data use and the activities of data team members within the school after the support from the external data coach ended.
When the support period ended, data team members were supposed to help their departments with the implementation of data use. They were supposed to be the experts and every now and then would meet with the other data team members to exchange experiences and seek feedback from other former members of the data team. Soon, some team members reported having difficulties, because their departments asked for too much and because a vision and goal for data use were still lacking within the school.
Team Newport: Individualized support
Principal Hank supported the data team members. For example, he made sure that team members took time for a brief evaluation and reflection at the end of each meeting, where members could articulate what they thought about the meeting. Principal Hank also talked to individual members of the team in order to discuss the emotions that were aroused during meetings.
…I talked to Hank. I was dissatisfied with my participation in the data team…frequently, I was disappointed about the progress of the data team…we talked about this issue… (teacher Mason I2)
Also, one of the school leaders facilitated the data team meetings by serving as chair. For example, many members appreciated that school leader Truman made agendas for team meetings, monitored the time schedule during team meetings, summarized the different opinions and the conclusions from the discussions, delegated tasks, and reformulated the team members’ arguments to make them clearer. This behavior was also evident in the observations.
Newpoint: Intellectual stimulation
The observation and interview results show that school leader Truman acted as a role model for data use in the data team in terms of leading discussion as well as actively collaborating with the teachers. For example, he collaborated with other team members in completing ‘homework’ related to data team activities. After Truman left the school, it was reported in the second and third round of interviews that Robert took over some of these behaviors, such as collaborating with other team members between meetings, leading and structuring discussions. School leader Stacy reported in the second round of interviews that she tried to stimulate discussions by probing comments made by other members, summarizing conclusions and keeping track of decisions. However, this was not confirmed by other members, nor by the observations.
Furthermore, the school leaders wanted to empower the other data team members by engaging members in distributed decision making. For example, principal Hank stated in the interviews that he intentionally chose to let another member of the data team act as chair and intentionally gave other team members the opportunity to speak first.
Several data team members stated in the interviews that the school leader replacing school leader Robert contributed a lot to the meetings due to his knowledge about doing research and statistics. He also shared his knowledge with regard to policy, trends, and processes in the school. Finally, the team was able to use his knowledge with regard to accessing data. In the observations of data team meetings, it appeared helpful for the team that the school leaders had direct access to all data, knew about trends in the school and school statistics (e.g., number of students obtaining their diploma without delay, or results of research that had been conducted in school), and had additional knowledge about processes within the school (e.g., meetings that took place about certain topics, or where to ask for additional tools needed for accessing data) and school policy.
Newpoint: Climate for data use
The interview and observation results for this team showed that the climate for data use was characterized by a flat hierarchy (i.e., there was no hierarchical difference between school leaders and other team members during discussions) and an open atmosphere in which members shared their opinions with each other. On the whole, a dip in the climate for data use was observed throughout the second year. Data team members indicated that the data team process took longer than anticipated, and that they had expected results sooner. According to the external data coach, one data team member even stated that he only participated in the data team meetings because the principal asked them to do so. He also told the external data coach that if they had the choice, he would immediately stop participating in the data team. Moreover, school leader Stacy did not give priority to team meetings, and finally left the team due to competing work demands. Hank was also absent more often.
Team members frequently mentioned the importance of the school leaders’ network. Hank expressed in the third interview round that it is important to have school leaders in data teams and regretted that he and Robert apparently did not communicate enough about the data team during school management meetings in order to create commitment for data use in the school. Principal Hank stated (I3):
Recently, we have asked a number of departments to hand in plans in order to improve their results. These plans contain good intentions to improve the results, but the quality of the plans and the way they want to reach their goals…and some of them have tried to analyze the possible causes for their disappointing results, but most of them are only based on intuition. Now I think that we as school managers should have started highlighting the importance of implementing [data use] much earlier.
Team Monarch data team process synopsis
Team Monarch (see Table 5) focused on the declining number of students passing their final year of pre-university education. Benjamin and Abigail were the two participating school leaders in the team. They selected the teacher members based on applications. First, the team investigated whether more boys than girls failed, which was not the case. Secondly, the team investigated if students with a gamma profile (e.g., languages, social sciences) were more likely to fail than students with a beta profile (e.g., physics, mathematics, chemistry), which was not the case either. Next, they conducted interviews with students on what according to the students the causes of this problem were. The students indicated that a lack of motivation was a likely cause. The team was looking into motivation, when the support period ended. At the end of the support period, Monarch had not reached the point of being able to formulate improvement measures. The team members tried to meet after the support period had ended, but did not succeed in doing so on a regular basis.
Monarch: Initiating vision and norms
The results from the observations show that school leader Benjamin created norms for data use, for example, by highlighting that falsifying hypotheses is also an important result. This led to the norm within a data team that statements should be corroborated by data, which was deemed to be important by all data team members. Both school leaders also expressed a vision for data use after the end of the support period and communicated expectations regarding communication with colleagues about the data team’s results. Although the data team members still wanted to finish the research and implementation of the steps they had begun to take, the frequency of data team meetings also decreased when the support from the external data coach ended. Despite their enthusiasm and enjoyment during the meetings, the data team was not very active, because team members did not give priority to the meetings. However, the data team members still wanted finish the research and implementation of the steps they had begun to take.
Monarch: Individualized support
School leader Abigail facilitated the team’s work, for example, by planning team meetings, communicating the location of the meetings, and delegating tasks. School leader Benjamin also facilitated the team’s work in terms of time. For example, he allowed teachers to stop their lessons earlier so that the meeting could be on time. Furthermore, the team was facilitated by being allowed time for activities such as going to conferences about data use and presenting data team results in the school.
Monarch: Intellectual Stimulation
In the first two rounds of interviews, the school leaders were described as acting as role models for collaboration, for example, by meeting between officially planned data team meetings in order to brainstorm about the data team’s next steps. Abigail also collaborated with the internal data expert when data were collected and analyzed. In addition, the school leaders also stimulated discussions and sometimes structured discussions during meetings, although they tried not to take over the role of chair.
Benjamin and Abigail also tried to stimulate team members to participate in training related to statistics and data use, and tried to stimulate decision-making. The observations showed that the school leaders distributed decision-making by letting all members vote about the problem and hypothesis to be studied. School leader Benjamin was a role model for data use in the school, for example, by expressing that he liked doing research. Both school leaders were mathematicians and their knowledge input about statistics and research was appreciated. For example, during one of the observations they explained the meaning of a p value being significant. Though they were mathematicians, they thought it would be useful for them, too, to participate in training related to statistics and data use. It was also observed and mentioned during the interviews that these school leaders had additional knowledge about their school’s data management system, about school policy, about ongoing school processes, and about school statistics.
Monarch: Climate for data use
The climate of the data team was characterized by a flat hierarchy and a trustful and open atmosphere, in which every data team member was able to share his or her thoughts. In the last interview, school leader Benjamin illustrated the atmosphere between teachers and school leaders in an interview, “The fact that I am a school leader has had no influence at all on our discussions”. This open climate was observed in all interview rounds and all observations, which included vivid discussions where anything could be articulated. Abigail also frequently expressed her enjoyment and enthusiasm about the data team meetings:
In the evaluation, Abigail expressed her satisfaction that now there is time to talk about education. This can also be seen in the data team. They really enjoy sharing their thoughts. (teacher Mia I2)
Furthermore, the school leaders’ presence during the data team meetings was important for the team in order to check whether the actions the data team wanted to take would match the school’s vision.
From the start on, I appreciated that members of the school management team were present during the meetings, because sometimes the school’s vision is not that clear. That, of course, gives you a lot of freedom. But if you put a lot of energy into something and in the end you hear that it does not fit the school, that would be awful. So, their presence is also important for creating support among the school leaders. (teacher Nathalie I3)
Therefore, their absence during one or two data team meetings also caused some irritation for one of the data team members.
School leader Benjamin reported that the two school leaders kept the school management team up-to-date about the data team during school management meetings. The two school leaders also used their network for sending out questionnaires and enhancing response rates for these questionnaires.
Team Village data team process synopsis
Village (see Table 6) focused on the declining number of students passing the fifth grade of senior secondary education (providing access to polytechnics). School leader Michael participated as a school leader in the data team up until the first summer holiday. After the summer holiday, School leader Chrissy took over his position. They first investigated if the number of students having to repeat a grade in the fourth grade influenced this problem, which was not the case. Next, they investigated whether the results of the end of primary school national assessment could already predict this problem in the fifth grade, which was not the case either. The team was investigating a hypothesis with regard to homework, when the support period ended. At the end of the support period, the data team had not implemented improvement measures. The team struggled with carrying on their work. Some team members reported that they sometimes met in order to continue working, but these meetings were not planned on a regular basis.
Village: Initiating vision and norms
The first observation indicated that School leader Michael did not thoroughly explain his vision, nor did he talk about developing a joint vision. He did express the expectation that the results of the data team would be shared with the rest of the school. According to school management, the high number of failing students in the 4th grade was the cause of the declining number of students at the school passing senior secondary education (5th grade). Although the data team found that this was not the case, school leader Michael tried to hold on to this idea. School leader Chrissy became a member of the data team and replaced school leader Michael. The team let go of the vision concerning the school management team’s problem statement about the problem being in the 4th grade. However, school leader Chrissy never communicated a clear vision for data use either. Furthermore, at the end of the support period, there was no vision regarding how to proceed with the data team. After the support from the external data coach had ended, some of the teacher members tried to meet on their own to finish the data team’s work.
Village: Individualized support
In the observations and interviews for Village, we only found a few pieces of evidence regarding school leaders offering individualized support. In the observations, Michael delegated tasks with regard to data collection, tasks that had to be finished before the next meeting started. As observed in the third meeting, Chrissy also offered assistance for the data team members if needed, in the form of extra members:
Imagining that we would really need somebody, I can always ask someone. However, I don’t want to force it upon someone. (school leader Chrissy O3)
A possible explanation for the lack of evidence regarding individualized support from school leaders is the fact that this data team was set up by teacher Lars who asked people to help him with his plans, which, in the first year, seemed to be more focused on him becoming a teacher leader than on the data team learning how to use data. This teacher completed most of the tasks in the data team and the other members only participated to give feedback. However, Lars realized in year two that working in a data team should be a joint effort:
That was the case in the last year. This year not any longer. The team had the idea that I was the one who wanted to become teacher leader, and that they would just give some feedback. We changed that, because the data team is a project that has to be done jointly… (teacher Lars I2)
Village: Intellectual stimulation
Though not always present, both school leaders who participated in the team stimulated discussion during team meetings and tried to engage the members in the discussion, as noted by the external data coach in the second interview, “She [school leader Chrissy] asks questions like: I don’t get it, is it really like that? Why?”
School leader Chrissy was a role model for collaboration. She worked together with a teacher (teacher Tempe) to make a presentation for teachers about the data team and to find instruments for collecting data in school. This was confirmed by the interview results for several teacher members.
In the first interview, teacher Lars highly appreciated that school leader Michael contributed knowledge about the school that teachers did not have. It also became clear from the observations that School leader Michael knew about school statistics. When Chrissy wanted to present the data team findings to her department, she asked teacher Tina to present the findings collaboratively.
Village: Climate for data use
School leader Michael told the team that the school management team considered the data team important, and tried to create an open atmosphere by telling them that he wanted the teacher members to share their opinions regardless of his being a member of the school management team. However, team members criticized his behavior in the data team. Individual data team members thought that Michael was too protective of students coming from his track who were now in senior secondary education. Furthermore, team members thought that he tried to direct the data team’s research in the direction of his vocational educational track. There seemed to be a lack of trust between the school leader and teachers. When school leader Chrissy took over, she did not give priority to the team meetings. Many team members were not able to describe her role in the data team, because of her frequent absence.
School leader Michael was the link between the data team and the school management team. According to teacher Tempe, school leader Michael could use his network to communicate questions from the data team during school management meetings. However, the data team did not want to use school leader Michael’s network. They were under the impression, especially in the first year, that one important goal of the data team was to support teacher Lars in obtaining a leadership position, and therefore, the team thought that it was teacher Lars’s task to build up his own network with the school management team, as the leader and chair of the data team.
In the third round of interviews, school leader Chrissy stated that she was the potential link to the school management team, but that she unfortunately had not used her network enough to create commitment to the data team among other school leaders:
To me, it [the data team] is meant to do research, but I clearly see that I have to fulfill the role of communicating between the data team and the management team. I should have communicated more frequently. (School leader Chrissy I3)
Teacher Tempe, teacher Lars, and teacher Bill all explained that Chrissy was the link with the teachers in her own department. The data team used Chrissy’s network to communicate with teachers in her department about the data team and its results. Chrissy herself said that she would be willing to use her network in order to renegotiate facilities for the data team and for contacting new data team members. She wanted to use her network to create commitment for the data team in the school.