Auckland principal Sarah Martin shared about measuring school success, including what data to look at. Principal Martin talked to Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller in part 4 of this 4-part series.

Watch the video on measuring school success, or read the transcript below.

Measuring school success isn’t based on gut feelings

– Welcome to another PL Together Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. The video observation, and video collaboration platform for Teacher Professional Learning. Today, we’re talking with Sarah Martin. She’s the founding principal of a school in Auckland, New Zealand called Stonefields School, and also on many national boards and committees across New Zealand, as an expert in education across her country. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us to be part of PL Together.

– Thank you so much for the opportunity.

– What we have been talking so far at different levels about, you know, the kind of teacher-to-student interaction, and the teacher-to-teacher interaction, the designing, and thinking about the learning environment, but I maybe wanna kind of, take us up a level to the level of the school leader, of the principal, and kind of, reflecting at that level to think about the question of school-wide improvement, and, you know how to kind of, in some ways, I’ll say draw your lane that you’re gonna go down, because I don’t think it’s about finding it, I don’t think it’s about choosing it. I’m guessing based on our conversation so far, you would say you need to draw your own lane. So tell us about that process as, you know, as someone who’s defined that in a school building.

– Yeah, no, I don’t think we’ve arrived at ’em. I think we’re continually asking that question, but I think, you know, what is really important to us. We’re very clear on our purpose. We’re very clear on our learners flourishing and thriving and continuing their learning, and doing life well. So I think when you start thinking about that and being clear about what success is, how will you know you’ve delivered on that for your learners and your community? That is the question. So what are those key measures? If that’s what we believe and that’s our purpose, well, we know the extent to which we’ve been successful.

– I’m gonna…

– So we have some…

– I’m gonna interrupt you because I wanna, I want to double down on that idea because it feels like you may have just shown a flashlight on something that felt so important. I feel like so many principals I’ve met, even my own principal was, when I was in a school, we had the school purpose, the motto, but it feels like we didn’t ask that question, how are we going to know? I mean, we had the test scores, we had all these things that we were supposed to know with, but it feels like that may actually be… I, you know, I’m holding onto the table here, as I’m talking to you. So, is that-

– I think that’s one piece of it.

– Yeah.

– So when we’ve started that conversation, we have very, we’re very much a school of continuous improvement. I don’t think we’ll ever arrive, but we wanna know that what we’re aiming for were getting better at. And if we’re not, what are we going to do differently, and how does that impact on our strategic direction, etcetera. So one simple measure of our success is kids turning up. So attendance to us, both physically on-site and now, while we’re in lockdown is really important. So daily attendance and measuring that, And I can, hand-on-heart, I know, over time, we’ve had greater than life school attendance in our school. So that’s one indicator of success. Another one is who wouldn’t want their children leaving a primary school setting, being literate and numerate, and having the foundational knowledge to be able to further their learning. I know in our school, over the ten year journey, that the longer kids are at our school, the better they do. That gets to a point where 94% of our kids achieve eight and above after six years in our place. Now on entry about 50% of our kids are where they should be. So just to put that comparative data. And we play a longer game, but it’s wonderful to have the longitudinal shifts to be able to look at that. Other areas, for example, under our vision principle of building learning capacity, it’s, yes, being foundationally literate, but it’s knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s being dispositionally savvy. So since inception, we’ve had progressions and we’ve been looking at our learners’ ability to be able to reflect, be self aware, be determined. And we have several learner qualities on which we use as part of our reporting to parents, but also to look at how successful we’re being over time. Other things that are important to us is, do our parents believe that their children are going to a school that does a really good educational job of educational their children? So over those ten, eleven years of being open, we have annual surveys and we track common questions to see, are or aren’t we meeting the expectations of our community? Are we delivering for our community? So we have a few, like, what’s called, a dashboard of all of this evidence feeding in, that is around that ideal agency I talked about in the earlier video. And that is about how old are our children’s wellbeing that does represent a much more holistic view of both the knowledge and the knowing, but also the, the critical-to-learn, the capabilities, the other life skills that we value just as much. Our journey has been… We can’t add on the capabilities to the knowing. What does a good balance look like and how do we weave it together in our learning design for our learners? And I think the pendulum swung too far in our place when I look at the parent voice. And we swung quite over to the capability side to the detriment, potentially, of some of the basic knowledge. And we’re recalibrating now because that’s what our evidence is telling us. But what I’m concerned about when I talk to my colleagues, and I talk in communities of learning, like your districts in the US, when I asked that question around, what’s your impact as a school and how do you know? And the room falls silent. I think we’re clear on our information needs, but we don’t necessarily have the information or a gather in the data to inform the extent to which we’re doing a good job or not. And I think we need to do much more in that space and embrace the affordance of technology.

– That… A lot there, I’m… Thank you for answering the question I had for myself, which is, well, what about your colleagues? Is this, you know. Everybody has a plan that sounds like this, or this is something special, and I think this is something special that you’re describing here or, or maybe a way that we should be thinking about it. You know, I’m curious, you know, I asked you about, take us up to that school leader level, so, I mean, you know, you’re the school leader, you’re telling us the, this is the school leaders’ message, but what about at the teacher level? I mean, do they have ownership and, buy-in and, utilization of these metrics that you were just describing? I mean, are teachers talking about things like daily attendance in the same way that you were describing it here?

– Absolutely. And I think that comes back to our inquiry model, and the what, how, and that key piece of reflect. So if I’m wanting to increase our learners’ collaboration skills, I would dial up that part of the agency told enough, this particular learning design was, or wasn’t having the impact I was intending through doing this learning? So right from there, we can aggregate that information up to get more of a school-wide picture, to the extent to which our kids are increasing in the learner agency. We can even take that to our community of learning as an example where our indigenous children, Māori children, we didn’t have equity for. And the agency told after two and a half years at the end of last year, there was no equity divide. So we have been actively working on, what is the design that is gonna shift and gauge outcomes and better outcomes for our mighty children? And we’ve, we’ve achieved that. Now it’s, how do we sustain that? So I think we need to build the tools, what I’m really passionate about. We need to build the tools and the social and emotional areas that we haven’t had. Because they’re starting conversations we’ve never had before. We’ve got to get away from this gut feeling business. Data gives us an opportunity to hypothesize and inquire in a that’s way beyond just having an opinion about something.

– Well, I think that’s a perfect place to leave it. And…

– Don’t get me started on that one. I’m deeply passionate.

– No, it was…

– I didn’t do exams well as a learner myself, and I think it’s such a narrow way of measuring an individual child’s success. So we’ve got to get better on that space.

– Thank you for these reflections. And if you are intrigued or pushed or excited by some of the things you’ve been hearing, and wondering what else Sarah has talked with us about, make sure to head to for the rest of this conversation, as well as many more. Sarah, thank you so much for being part of PL Together.

– Thank you for the opportunity.

For more interviews with education leaders about measuring school success and other insights, check out all our PLtogether Lounge Talks