5 TIPS: Getting Staff to Use Data Systems

from School CIO

John Forbes, administrative analyst for the 80,000-student Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California, and Terrence Young, chief information officer for the 70,000-student Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina, share their strategies for getting staff on board with Web-based data systems.

1. Find out what will make the grade before the full rollout.
Enlist beta testers to find out what works and what doesn't. Guilford County, which uses eScholar's data warehouse, used a team of three high school, middle school, and elementary school principals and three instructional improvement officers—administrators who function like area superintendents—to do testing. The group spent two months trying out the system at individual schools and provided feedback before the final version came together.

Tech administrators checked on the team's progress by seeing who was "logging in to the system and playing with it," says Young.

2. Pay attention to what end users want.
Ask teachers and principals which specific configurations of data they would like to see, says Young. "The best way to make it work is to find out what your end users want from the product, and avoid listening to vendors tell you what they think your end users want," Young says.

3. Do training at convenient times and with small groups.
When Fresno does teacher training, it provides multiple time slots, including after school, during prep periods, and even at lunch. Forbes says they work with groups of 10 to 20 people. "I would never, ever go above 20," he says. Forbes adds that it's important to find time to do individualized training, even for tech-savvy teachers, when necessary.

4. Point out how it makes life easier.
Having 24-hour access to attendance and achievement data means teachers, principals, and administrators can demonstrate their accountability.

Getting that message across—that one-stop shopping for data makes educators' lives easier—was the most effective thing Guilford County did to bring people around, according to Young. "Data warehousing is gaining momentum across the nation because of No Child Left Behind and also state accountability models," he says. "You can't make a decision without the data, so having ready access to your own data that is effective is its own selling point."

5. Make it easy to get answers.
Have a Web site that includes all training materials and provides support, says Forbes. Provide and encourage e-mail rather than phone support, though, he says.

Sheila Riley is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.