Mine the Data: Hooray for Monday

March 22, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 


In the month of March, my colleagues and I are bringing together teachers and school leaders from across the DC region and around the world to figure out how to make school worth it – for our students and ourselves – as we continue our return to in-person learning. Recognizing our shared experience of navigating school during a pandemic, we began last week’s workshop by describing the many things we’ve taught ourselves over the past 12 months. Our list included everything from learning how to use ZOOM effectively to making homemade bagels.

We spent the rest of the session collecting and analyzing information about our students’ and our own experiences this past year. We looked at what we’ve lost, and also at how we’ve grown and what we’ve learned. We built on this data as a starting point for reimagining schools and classrooms in a way that will make students feel welcome, engaged, and enthusiastic about learning.

We engaged in a design thinking exercise, focusing on the first three steps of the process:

Empathize: We watched three videos of an elementary, middle, and high school student offering advice to teachers, and sharing ideas for making school engaging right now. Then teachers examined the things they’ve learned about their own students, using an Empathy Map as a tool to deepen understanding.

Define a Problem: Building on the data we collected from students, we defined the following problems:

  • Learning is not the focus of education. How do we make sure it is, in creating change moving forward? 
  • How do we ensure students leave class more curious than they entered, and incorporate more student-led learning and student feedback into classes?

Ideate: We engaged our radical creativity to imagine a wide array of solutions. Ideas ranged from learning outdoors to allowing ourselves to “suck at something new” to creating structures to solicit student input in lesson planning.

These early-stage solutions will serve as a jumping-off point for teachers to keep thinking about what’s possible. Teachers left the workshop with the tools to continue engaging in design thinking with their colleagues in school.

Most of us are exhausted from this unprecedented year. As Inspired Teacher Kate Rizzi put it, teachers are experiencing a tsunami of information. But we need to pay particular attention to the information we’re receiving from our students and incorporate it into our plans if we want our kids to thrive in school.

Too often in education, time and money are put toward solutions without understanding the true nature of the problem. Then the decision-makers wonder why their grand plans fail. Design thinking can help. It’s a clean and powerful tool to help move from overwhelmed chaos to clarity and action, with the actual needs of the people in our school communities at the center.

Join us this Wednesday for a repeat session of Making School Worth It to learn to apply design thinking to your own school setting.

And next time you see your students, in-person or online, see what happens if you think of them as members of a focus group. Ask probing questions like:

  • What have you taught yourself this past year?
  • What has worked for you in online learning?
  • What do you hope will be different when we return to in-person school?
  • What do you hope will be the same?

Listen intently to what they say. Recognize the power of the data our students can provide. And build from there. 

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