Making Sense of Educational Data

Guest blog post by Dr. Nicole M. Michalik – Cowriter (with Dr. Jeff Watson) of the series Making Sense of Educational Data

There are those things in life that are so common or necessary it is just expected that you know all about it, what to do with it, or better yet, how to do it.  I recently read an article about the 30 things everyone should be able to do by the age 30.  I am over 30 so I gave the article a go.  I can swim, find my way around without GPS, and could get from point A to point B driving a stick shift if I had to.  Skip to the end, I nailed 29 of those 30 items.  While the list was pretty fluffy and easy to check off if you are even remotely connected with modern life in the United States, I cannot do 1 of those items.  I cannot change the oil in my car. 

I know what oil looks like and I know what the finished product should be - mainly clean oil in the car, dirty oil not in the car - but the technical aspects of how to change the oil elude me.

I don’t have a list of the 30 things educators should be able to do, but I’m sure that at least one expectation today is that educators should know what to do with data.  Education data is so common and necessary, educators should just know what it is and what to do with it.  Teachers and administrators are to ‘analyze the data’ and ‘make data-driven decisions’ to ‘positively affect student outcomes’.  Now, get to it!

But maybe, just maybe, no one ever explained to you what to do with the data.  Those basic pieces of how to actually change the oil were conveniently glossed over on the road to becoming a teacher or in your teaching experience itself.  It’s possible that you attended a professional development session on data and using data to make decisions.  Remember that 30-minute session 5 years ago?   You were given the oil and you know where it should go in the end, but you don’t know what to do in between, except maybe that there is some draining and disposal. 

A Focus on Managing Change & Leadership Practices

Principal, Director, Dean... regardless of the title, school leaders are always striving to bring learning, teaching, and technology together for district-wide success. While working with schools and districts from across the country (and around the globe), the team at Atomic Learning has noticed some common themes on the minds of leaders at all levels, including increasing student engagement, enhancing teaching and learning, and ensuring school safety—among others.

To help, we've created specialized learning modules for leadership focused on on some of the most prominent issues facing education today, including: Walkthroughs
The walkthrough process is one of the most powerful tools an administrator can use to help improve instruction and learning. In this module, you will learn strategies for improving the walkthrough and evaluation process, and increasing effective feedback to teachers. Leadership Teams
Whether you are looking to strengthen an existing team or build an effective staff of school leaders, this in-depth learning module focuses on understanding the critical components of a strong leadership team, breaking down the role the team plays, and improving communication. for Data-Driven Instruction
An effective RTI program maximizes time while focusing on data and differentiated instruction. This module details a system using a single skill focus with data sheets to keep collaboration and instruction centered on student growth.

Evaluating Technology Resources
With so many resources and tools available, but what tools are worth the money and which will have the greatest impact on instruction and student learning? This module focuses on strategies for effectively evaluate available resources and tools, including a checklist for use when items are requested. Resistance to Change
This module on change management explores why people are resistant to change, why resistance to change is a natural human response, and how individuals and leaders can best address this resistance to improve the odds of success. Also included, is discussion around the common reasons changes fail. Safety Awareness
Developed by former Navy SEALs, these highly-specialized learning resources draw upon their combined expertise to help ensuring learners know how to trust their instincts, increase their observation skills, and develop an action plan for when faced with potential threats.


And these are just a small sampling.

Be sure to check out hundreds of other courses by logging in or setting up 7-day trial access.

How Hoonuit Can Benefit Your District: Leadership

Hoonuit by Atomic Learning offers professional learning designed to meet the unique needs of schools and districts—including top concerns that school leaders, as well as school board members, may have.

We've gathered a few of our favorites, that we thought you might be interested in:

School Leaders:
Address top concerns around student engagement, teaching, safety, and more with online professional learning on:
   -  Effective Walkthroughs
   -  Evaluating Technology Resources
   -  An RTI Process for Data-Driven Instruction

School Board Members:
Stay current on important education topics that support existing initiatives, such as:
   -  Building an Effective Leadership Team
   -  Personal Safety Awareness

2 Insights for Leaders on Connecting with the School Community

This blog post is based off on an upcoming online course called “Connecting Through Vulnerability” by Dr. Matthew Arau, that will soon be available on Atomic Learning. Dr. Arau is an Assistant Professor at Lawrence University and has a background in student leadership. (More about Dr. Arau)

Have you had a teacher or college professor in the past that was a wealth of knowledge, but seemed unable to connect to the students? Because of that lack of connection, the students in that course were most likely disengaged or mentally checked out. On the flip side, there are also those instructors that are able to truly connect what they know with their students and engage in the learning process.

We all have had those teachers or instructors from the past that fit both scenarios. But, what’s the difference? That is what Dr. Matthew Arau calls “the missing link”, and he believes it is often connection and vulnerability.

Why Connecting?

In his online course, Dr. Arau tells a story of when he was teaching high school several years ago. Specifically, how he was able to easily develop friendships with his students, and had no problems having great conversations with them. However, the moment he took the podium, that connection seems to dissipate.

It wasn’t until a colleague mentioned how differently he carried himself when he was up in front of the class that he realized he was trying to be someone he wasn’t and it was negatively effecting his connection with the students.

The solution: He simply needed to be himself and be authentic.

That realization helped him understand the importance of connection.  When we connect, we can both increase learning and enjoyment of learning.

Dr. Arau’s story could also be true of school administrators, fellow teachers, and staff members. By being authentic and yourself, you can help create connections that will build and strengthen the greater school community.

Why Vulnerability?

Have you ever noticed that when you share a personal story–maybe even something slightly embarrassing– it opens a connection with the person you were speaking with? By sharing, you open the door for others to feel welcome to share something a little vulnerable about themselves.

The more vulnerable you are, the more connected you can feel with your audience. Sharing personal stories of struggles and real life can have a profound effect. When we as humans see somebody being vulnerable and speaking about their fears, hopes, or frustrations, we see them as being courageous.  

The more vulnerable you are with your intended audience, the greater the connection.

Some Strategies to Try:

While these things may sound overly simple, or perhaps even silly, they can have a big impact on first impressions and connections. Whether you are connecting with teachers, students, parents, or other stakeholders, be aware of the following:

  • When someone walks into your office or classroom, greet them at the door and learn their name as fast as possible. Everyone wants to be acknowledged by name.

Webinar: Taking Ownership of Safety

For the past eight years, retired Navy SEAL officer Larry Yatch and his wife, Anne, have trained thousands of young adults in situational awareness, sexual assault prevention, bystander intervention and risk reduction. Their company, Mindset Matters, has partnered with Atomic Learning to create a Real World Safety program that shares best practices based on their combined knowledge and expertise.

Join us for an exclusive opportunity to learn more about the program as Anne, Personal Safety Expert, co-founder of Mindset Matters, and former Intelligence Analyst, shares timely insights on how to:

  • Provide highly-relevant safety content that resonates with teens and young adults
  • Empower students and faculty to take ownership of their safety
  • Minimize the burden of training and time constraints
  • Support the mission of your institution by promoting the development of critical “life skills”
  • Enhance your school’s brand and reputation

FREE Webinar
How to Empower Students and Staff to Take Ownership of Safety On- and Off- Campus
Hosted by Campus Safety Magazine
Launch On-Demand Webinar Recording

Interested in learning more on the topic?
Explore specialized online learning resources focused on personal safety at

Planning for Prom: A Focus on Student Safety

For high school students across the country, prom season is just kicking off.

And, while they work on finding the perfect dress or tux, debating the merits of renting a limo, and a host of other details, it’s important to remind them to keep safety in mind. It’s not anything that anyone wants to talk about, but it’s an important topic that everyone—parents, schools, and students alike—NEED to discuss.

Statistically speaking, prom season is a dangerous time for teens. 53% of students reported consuming more than 4 alcoholic drinks on prom night1, yet 87% of teens surveyed felt their friends would be more willing to drive after drinking than call home for a ride?2 Beyond alcohol use, prom (and graduation) seasons see increases in teen traffic deaths3, and there is a perceived increase in teen sexual activity.

To help schools and districts begin countering these dangers, we’ve gathered several tips to help keep students safe—not only at prom, but in a variety of situations now, in college, and beyond.

  1. Set Expectations
    Share your school policies involving student behavior, including drugs and alcohol, and make sure students know the consequences—not only with students, but also parents. Keeping students safe is a group effort.
  2. Choose Chaperones with Care
    Consider recruiting faculty and staff that students will connect with to be present during the event—a student may be more inclined to share information about their peers risky behavior with a favorite teacher or feel more accountable for personal behavior when a coach or authoritative figure is present.
  3. Plan for Post-Prom
    If you don’t already, consider hosting a post-prom event to provide Prom-goers a fun (and safe) place to go after the dance instead of them potentially going to a party where alcohol and other substances may put your students at risk.

The Importance of Teaching Personal Safety (& How To Do It Right)

Did you know that many teens and young adults are victims of violent crime? The statistics shown here, shared by the U.S. Department of Education, may be startling to many.

Today’s world can be a dangerous place for teens and young adults, and getting them to be interested in and empowered by the concept of personal safety is a daunting responsibility. One that leaves many education leaders wondering how to better engage students and “meet them where they are at” when it comes to providing them with the skills they need to take ownership of their safety.

The Safety Mindset Gap

Guest blog post by Lisa Barnett (@atomic_lisa), CEO of Atomic Learning and Versifit Technologies.

I’m a parent.  As I’m sure any of you who also have children or grandchildren can relate, there is nothing in this world that matters more to me than my daughter.

So here’s something that causes a knot in my stomach. 

Almost half1 of young adults are, or will be, the victim of a violent crime – half!  Here’s another sobering stat (especially as the parent of a daughter) – every two minutes2, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. 

Final reality check – I know (because she tells me) that my daughter is surrounded by individuals who are using drugs every day.  And even if she continues to make smart choices, she is still at risk of the behaviors that people in an altered state can exhibit.

So on the flip side of this, college and high school campuses are investing heavily in emergency blue lights, security officers, electronic locks, and more.  In fact, by 2017, annual spending on school security systems is expected to reach $4.9 billion3. Clearly, our school leaders are taking this problem on full force and investing in ways to increase the safety of the school environment.

So where is the gap?

11 Insights to Shifting School Culture

School Culture. It’s one of those things that everyone seems to be talking about, but struggle to define let alone demonstrate.

George Couros, principal, author, and recognized speaker, has been a leading voice on the topic, so when we came across his article on 11 Ideas for Fostering an Innovative Culture, we had to share. (We’ve abbreviated a bit, but feel free to explore the complete article.)

  1. Embrace an Open Culture
    “…Heard of Gangnam Style“?  Me too.  In the world that we live in, ideas can spread rapidly through networks, but they have to first be visible. Using software such as “SharePoint” does not necessarily help this notion (or I haven’t yet seen examples of a viral idea being shared through “SharePoint”), but if we go to networks that are open and participatory such as YouTube and Twitter, great ideas have the opportunity to spread.  If these great ideas spread, we are more likely to create a positive culture in schools than if we kept them to ourselves…”
  2. Ensure Learning is the Focus
    “Too often when we have “edtech” positions, many educators believe that it is time to put away their math lesson and focus on using technology. This is not going to push learning ahead.  As a school division, we explicitly focus on creating positions that focus on learning first, so that innovation can come from all classes, not simply technology courses.  The focus on learning for many educators helps them to see the relevant use of technology in their classrooms and how it can transform the classroom experience.”

    Related resource: Planning with Purpose: A Look at Effective PD

Meet Our eLearning Developers: @AngelaMaiers of @Choose2Matter #youmatter

Continuing the series introducing you to our eLearning Contributor team, we'd like you to meet Angela Maiers.

In her words, Angela's twenty five years as an educator and her passionate pursuit of literacy and learning have given her a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and university teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and launching a global movement.

In today’s world, there are no limits for learners with passion, foresight, and a desire to grow.

Angela is at the forefront of New Literacy and Web 2.0 technologies. Her extensive knowledge of teaching and learning, down-to-earth style, and powerful message of personal empowerment have made her a highly sought after keynote speaker and a vibrant courageous voice in both the business and education space.

Can't wait to check out Angela's courses? Join us for an exclusive opportunity to learn more and find out why Angela’s message is so critical for today’s school leader!

FREE Webinar
Tips for School Leaders: Transform School Culture with Angela Maiers
Thu, Aug 27, 2015 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM CDT
Register now.

Want to see some of Angela's work with Atomic Learning? Listen in on her series on digital literacy, and be sure to check out the complete Angela Maiers Collection—exclusively offered by Atomic Learning.

Don't have access? Request more information today!

Infographic: Tech Planning vs. Zombies

Most people would rather face a zombie apocalypse than build and implement a district-wide technology initiative.

Why? Because while ideas are exciting, translating these ideas into executable, strategic goals is not only daunting, but frightening. Check out this infographic with some fun facts.

Webinar: Building Teacher Technology Competencies

You want your teachers to use technology to teach, but how do they learn what to do? Join this webinar to find out how Mineral Wells ISD is transforming their classrooms by challenging teachers with projects that integrate technology at all levels.

You'll hear first hand from Dr. Gail Haterius, Superintendent, Greg Bird, Director of Technology, and Consultant Trish Panknin about the iRam program they've put in place and how it can be replicated in your district.

Infographic: Avoiding Common Pitfalls of Mobile Learning

Whether you are planning a 1:1 iPad initiative, in the midst of a BYOD program, updating from textbooks to eBooks, or using mobile technology to flip your classroom, the infographic below, put together by CoSN, outlines the areas where schools and districts stumble when it comes to implementing mobile technology in the classroom.

While it's wordy, it's well worth a read.

Ready to get started putting your plan together? Atomic Learning has created a free Collaborative Communication Workbook to ensure your district has a clear vision for the future and is on the right track!

The Power of Student-Centered Learning

A recent Edudemic article listed "student-centered learning" as the top educational buzzword—that was gaining traction with school leaders and teachers alike.

The concept of student-centered learning is not new, per se (John Dewey and Carl Rogers have been active advocates), but if you aren't familiar with the concept, it revolves around the idea of encouraging and supporting students to determine the direction of instruction in the classroom. Instead of a teacher acting as a "Sage on the Stage" and lecturing from the front of the class, they act more as a facilitator. The result being a form of personalized learning that engages learners by focusing on their interests while building critical skills, such as communication and collaboration.

If you are looking for a wonderful example of student-centered learning in action, be sure to check out a TEDx talk by veteran teacher Shelley Wright. In it, she shares her experience of turning her classroom over to her students, and how it changed all their lives. 

Here's an excerpt of her talk:

“…I learned to believe in my students. To believe in what really deeply matters to them. And to remove whatever obstacles I can to try to make that happen. More importantly my students learned to believe in themselves. They learned that they can make a difference…

Our schools need to be places that set our kids’ hearts on fire [so] that they can figure out what they are passionate about. Where we give them opportunities to pursue it, and that we give them a place to make a difference now…

Our students will often exceed our expectations of them if we only give them the opportunity. ”

Creating Buy-In: The 10/80/10 Model

The 10/80/10 model (or rule) is a theory of leadership that addresses group dynamics, and, though the theory originated in the corporate world, it is highly relevant in education as well. In the model, all the people in an institution fall into three distinct areas, with the vast majority (80%) falling into a central neutral zone, with the remaining 20% splitting equally between those that will readily embrace a change and those that protest any deviation from the norm.

Anytime that leadership must guide and transition individuals through change, such as adoption of a new technology or a shift toward learner-centered environments, these groups quickly come to focus. To better explain this, let’s look at each segment individually.

Positive 10%
These are the people that go above and beyond. If they weren’t the ones to push for change in the first place, they are the early adopters who, once you give them the tools (or they find them on their own) they’ll get straight to work. This group typically likes to try out new things, and if given the chance, will willingly share their success.


Neutral 80%
The middle section represent the masses, and, in comparison to the Technology Adoption Curve, they represent the Early Majority and Late Majority. Typically, those in this segment are those that don’t receive much attention because they just are. They come to work and do their job without complaint, question, or suggestion.



Negative 10%
This group is often identified as the “squeaky wheel”, and are highly resistant to change. While some may (eventually) transition to change with focused guidance, extra instruction, and extensive support, others simply have no desire to change current practices and behaviors.


Explaining Common Core to the District Community

While those of us involved in education understand what Common Core State Standards are and the intended impact, we can easily forget that others, such as the students taking the assessments, their families, and the greater school community aren't as familiar with CCSS.

The video below provides a brief 3-minute overview that's perfect for sharing on your school website or Facebook page, or even playing on monitors during open houses.

Three-Minute Video Explaining the Common Core State Standards from CGCS Video Maker on Vimeo.

If you're looking for more in-depth resources focused on Common Core, be sure to check out Atomic Learning's professional development resources and classroom lessons that are specifically designed to address individual tech-embedded standards, or browse our library of projects and training correlated to CCSS.

A Quick Look at Teachers' Professional Growth

Summer is upon us, which means it’s the time of year that teachers across the country get to enjoy seeing the progress their invested time has made in the professional growth of their students. But professional growth isn’t limited to just students during the school years, teachers grow professionally as well, and it’s also the time of year that administrators get to enjoy seeing that progress.

Librarians Role in Digital Transformations

The growing role of technology in education is opening a door for school librarians to play a larger role in schools' digital transformations, Stephen Joel, Superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, and Mary Reiman, the district's director of Library Media Services, recently wrote an opinion piece for District Administration titled, Tech Project Changed How We View Our Librarians.
The article discusses Lincoln's Project Connect, an initiative centered on uniting the library, classroom, and administration through the use of technology.  The district is in the midst of a $55 million 'digital transformation', and Joel and Reiman put librarians and media specialists at the center of the district's success—describing them as 'vehicles of change' and pushing for school leaders to acknowledge and utilize their expertise.

Report Finds Mobile Learning Continues to Grow

According to The New Digital Playbook: Understanding the Spectrum of Students' Activities and Aspirations report by Project Tomorrow, the prevalence of mobile devices in schools is on the rise. In fact, one third of 3rd through 12th grade students have access to school provided devices.
Another indicator of the mobile revolution is the shift of tolerance for personal devices. The Speak Up 2010 National Research Project found that 52% of districts did not allow student owned devices, down to just 32% in 2013.

Infographic: Tech Trends

This infographic provides a quick glimpse into how school administrators, teachers and staff are utilizing technology—with a significant emphasis on digital content and mobile devices. Check it out to see how you compare to your peers. Feeling left behind?

Are You Prepared for the Common Core?

Is your district ready for Common Core? If not, you are not alone. According to a recent article, professional development remains a problem for many schools:
Across the country, there is a substantial need for more teacher and leader professional development around the Common Core. Meeting the raised expectations of higher standards will require teachers to educate in profoundly different ways – not just in understanding what the new standards include and how they differ from the states’ old standards, but also how to make the instructional shifts needed for students to succeed.
One of the significant challenges with the new standards are the embedded technology components, meaning that in order to effectively address individual standards teachers must guide students on utilizing appropriate technology tools to complete projects and lessons.