The Impact of Conducting and Utilizing Effective Inquiry in the Classroom

For a while there in education, all I heard was, “Use your data! Use your data!” I knew my students’ grades when I was a teacher, and it helped me know who to focus on. It helped to recognize who to work with and who I could challenge more. I looked at test scores, maybe blamed attendance if it showed excessive absences, and if grades, absences, and something like homework and/or behavior were bad — I connected with the home for help.

looking everywhere, will give you a complete picture

As a teacher, to me, that was using data in my classroom.

I’m not a fan of state testing, so I struggled with the efficiency of spending time reviewing scores to tests that I knew weren’t accurate reflections at all. So, I knew this was to be considered, yet I valued my own statistics so much more. I always felt that I knew my students, and that relationship was always a key to our successes together in my class. That was the extent of how much I knew about using data. I thought it made students perform in my class better.

As an Assistant Principal, I learned that factoring in things like attendance, behavior, home life, social perspectives, teacher/staff remarks, and all grades in all classes, when combined with test score result breakdowns — they were all important parts to the whole picture of a student as well. Not necessarily the culminating score, but the breakdown of what was right and wrong, and patterns identified by content category, led to actual learning discussions revolving around the student that we find are mainly accurate post review. Together, this all gave me the entire picture of a student.

Yet, the question now remains, and is repeated often from teachers, “How do we use the data?” Then, more importantly, ask yourself “Why?”

My first school in the Bronx, New York, as an AP of Curriculum & Instruction, I inherited a school of students who were short handed by a quality group of educators who were just not supported enough. My new principal’s advice was brilliant. She said, “Let’s go through all of the transcripts, and get to learn the students and how they look on paper. Then, meet them, and connect the two together. As you get to learn more about the students, and the trends that they create, we can best educate them so they can be successful.” She was amazing, and one of the single best educators that I’ve ever met in my life. No one that I know, has ever worked harder.

The first week we had kids get thrown out of class and when so many came through that I stopped what I was doing and assisted the AP of Discipline or AP of Administration, which was a more PC way of describing it. The kid came in super pissed at everyone, and when I learned his name, I remembered the transcript and how behind he was. I asked him to sit in my office with me, and I asked everyone else to leave, as we had 2 security guards standing on both sides of him. I asked him to sit. I introduced myself, and he could care less. I asked him flat out, “Why are you here?” He said because the teacher hates him and called him out for not doing his homework in the first week of school. Browsing through the record of information from our SIS (student information system) I could see notes on the home life which were tagged with court restrictions from an ongoing parent divorce, and he began to look like something just recently has him angry.

I asked again, “No, why are you here? Why did you come to school today?”

I reminded him of his attendance from last year, and told him I remembered his transcript, and I think it’s a valid question. He’s 17 years old, has the credits of a first semester freshmen, and he comes to school when he wants. He could see my look on my face was sincere and I really wanted to know. He was totally taken back, and didn’t seem angry anymore. He told me he came that day because his parents fought that morning, and woke him up. Cigarette smoke in the hall was stinking up his room, and he didn’t want to be in that mess all day. So he got up, went to the store and got breakfast, and came to school.

When I evaluated what I remembered, with what he just said, with his information displayed on my screen, connecting these dots only led me to realize how strong our students are.

I looked at him and said I was sorry.

I thanked him for coming in, and said that I thought he was a much stronger person than I was for coming to school today. I told him that I didn’t mean to be rude, but how could you face anymore strife in one day? He agreed and began to tear up.

I asked him to hang with me for the day. I said that I know he knows people here and I don’t, so I’ll pull him from classes, take him around with me on my walk, and we’d get lunch today as well. He said it sounded like in school suspension. I told him he’d be able to eat lunch with his friends if he wanted, and could take time to study or get his assignments that he needs to completed. He’d come with me and could go at the end of the day. I showed him his record area on line, and showed that no incident was being reported, so nothing documented either. I just wanted to give him a day to breathe. By the end of the day he was full of jokes.

I emailed his teachers, and informed them all of my take on the student from that day and that I had a plan to address it. I asked if they could swing by at the end of the day, and before they left I would fill them in. I asked that they give him some slack, and recognize that this dude is going through it at home, and if we support him instead of go at him, we can get him to want to improve, and erase the problem instead of making it worse and giving him a similar experience to what he’s exposed to and hates at home.

The teacher’s agreed that they feel like they’ve done everything else, and so they would. I reminded them that if we got this kid on our side, he would be a mentor for many more to come. They gave me the “you’re crazy Clausi” look, and the next day in first period — that student came in with an assignment completed from the day before. The teacher went to him individually while students were working on a group task, and thanked him for doing his homework. He said that he’d be willing to erase a homework zero, for every consecutive homework assignment he hands in.

This idea was such magic!

That kid called it a deal, and by the following week’s end, he had no more missing homework assignments, and his grade was a solid B.

His other teachers created ways to support that student, in their own unique styles — and each day our office found that my new buddy was stopping in, saying hello, and had changed how he acts in and out of class. It was amazing.

We repeated this habit of diving into obvious students that needed support or were showing patterns of high incidents or absences, and we dove in head first trying to connect the dots as to why. As a team, the principal and I would meet with the teachers and conduct inquiry.

This of course directly impacted school wide incident rates, easing classroom management concerns.

Let’s shift focus to how a teacher can do this individually.

My teacher’s began coming to my office looking for this type of information on their students, and meeting with the counselor to dive deeper. My counselor began to be a part of these meetings, and we became so much more effective. Going about it individually still means teachers need sources.

If you rely on your formative assessments of students, you can modify your instruction as much as you’d like — without knowing the holistic story of your student, your attempts are much like throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks.

If you see attendance issues, and come at a student for their attendance problem, are you really addressing it — or are you just making it kind of worse in your attempt?

Consider calling a home and asking for solutions as to how a student can get to class earlier, instead of saying, “Do you know your child has been late to my class now 4 times in the last week?” Your purpose is accusatory. The intent behind education, is to educate. Learn and improve. We learned that they are always late, but now what do we do about it as a team, so it discontinues?

If you see students struggling on assessments, perhaps ask your special education teachers to help you with differentiating tests and quizzes, or asking the student if they felt rushed or stressed by the testing environment. Maybe finding out that a kid can’t see the board and his parents don’t have the insurance to get glasses, so they just sit there and don’t copy anything down. All you’d have to do, is learn that about them by speaking to the student so they are honest with you, and your school will provide the resources to help them obtain proper glasses at no cost, and or move that student to the front in the interim so they can see better. That kid will thank you because not only did you improve your class grade, but he was able to do the same in his other classes as well.

Maybe they’re hungry. Maybe they’re tired. Maybe they have no place in the house to do homework, so that’s why they don’t. Maybe they work. Maybe they take care of little kids. Maybe they have a kid. Or, just maybe you’ll find that this student doesn’t think much of themselves because they’re told that often — so why bother trying in school.

These are the real findings of conducting inquiry.

Whether you are a teacher or an administrator — knowing that you can dive into this, and address real issues with your students, will make such a tremendous difference in your classroom management that it’ll lead to a culture shift in the school. It did in mine.

If you need help with this, email me at thetravelingprincipal@gmail.com.

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Joseph Clausi

Joseph Clausi

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My name is Joe Clausi, and I have over 20 years of experience in secondary education, on both coasts of the United States, and with all kind of schools.