MindMatters in Minutes. Using data for planning and success.

How do you build a positive environment for young people?

How do you know if it’s successful?

You could, if you wanted to, just make it up. Use your intelligence and insight to just put together a plan that you believe will transform your school. But this runs the risk of oversimplifying, if not completely misunderstanding, your school’s and students’ needs.

A better approach is to base your plan on data.

What kind of data? Well, the first important data source is your school community — meaning staff, students and families. An effective plan will be tailored to their needs, which you can uncover by asking questions like: What does everyone want for our young people? What do people think the school is doing well? What could be improved? Are better relationships between staff and students needed? Resilience training? Anti-bullying measures?

There are several ways to get this kind of information, but one of the easiest and most effective, is to issue an online survey. The MindMatters website has a tool that lets you do exactly that. It’s simple to use, it lets you reissue the same survey so you can track your results over time, and as data builds up from schools around Australia you can compare your results to state and national averages.

However, whenever you gather this kind of community opinion, you need to understand who is responding.

Are the people responding representative of the whole community?

For instance, if you had a 70% response rate, you might ask if those 70% are spread evenly through the school population. Or does the 70% represent one majority group, and the other 30% represents a minority that didn’t respond at all? And if that was the case, then what extra steps could you take to capture the opinions of those people not represented in the main results?

In addition to community opinion, your plan can be informed by school data of all types. For instance, you can track attendance, enrolments, retention, behavioural incidents, staff absentee days and academic performance, and compare this information to the progress of your plan.

Ideally you would see improvements in some or all of these areas in line with your plan. However again there’s a cautionary note. A school is a complex system and it can be difficult to know exactly what’s causing what. Attendance is going up, why? Behavioural incident reports are going down, why?

The answer may not lie just with things in your school, but events or trends in other local schools or your wider community.

So how have you been thinking about your plan to date? How could you incorporate data into your planning and design? And what kind of data could help assess your plan’s effectiveness over time?