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Go Forth And Quantify

Updated: Sep 24, 2018

I saw a post on facebook recently by a veteran teacher bemoaning the focus on data in education.  She posited that the emphasis should be on kids, not numbers.  I hear this kind of thing a lot.  "I don't teach [insert subject here]; I teach children."  Or "nobody cared about data when I was in school, and I turned out just fine."

These are the kinds of populist witticisms that *seem* to be grounded in common sense and are therefore tough to argue with.

But I think good teachers have always relied on data to inform their instruction.  Formative assessment isn't a new development.  It's something effective teachers, whether in the classroom or in the library, have always relied on to guide their practice. 

One thing that classroom teachers have going for them, in this regard anyway, is an abundance of data.  These days, there's a test for everything and, regardless of how we feel about them, they do make it relatively easy to quantify student performance. An aside: as a former classroom teacher myself, I realize that not all of this data is valuable or even reliable, but for the sake of this post I'm simply "not going there." Rather, I'm suggesting we pick up the sword our teachers and administrators must live/die by and defend (to the bitter end!) our programs and even our jobs.  That said, for better or for worse teacher-librarians are not in the same data wealthy position as classroom teachers.  The line between us and student achievement is, at best, discreet.  Therefore, it's up to us to connect the dots for the rest of the world.

So... how do we do that?  Good question!  :)

Before I get into how *I* do it, let me say that I'm open, heck! I'm even EAGER, to hear about how this is done in your library.  Because there is no universal handbook for quantifying the effectiveness of school library programs (perhaps this is the book I was meant to write!) the more we share, the more we elevate our entire profession.  But I digress.

Ok.  Here goes:

Step 1:  Identify yearly goals that seek to solve the problems faced by your principal.

Example:  If your principal is under pressure to bring up the test scores of ELL students, then everything you do should also be openly and obviously focused on that goal.  Some ideas would be to create a collection development plan that focuses on buying paired novels in both English/Spanish so that ELL students can share the reading experience at home with parents who may not speak any English at all. Then plan a Family Literacy Night and invite those families to your library where you can get to know them and they you. This is your chance to put the resources you've lovingly picked directly into their hands AND identify yourself as their key to success.

Quantify it: By all means, keep data of your own (ie: collection/checkout/attendance stats). However, if bringing up the scores of this subgroup has been identified as an area of focus at your school, then both your teaching and administrative staffs will spend the year collecting data on their performance. When their test scores come in, use the data you've collected in concert with the scores to illustrate how your programs were an integral part of the strategies that impacted student growth. 

Bonus:  Purchasing requests that are focused on solving the problems faced by your principal are FAR more likely to be funded than those that aren't.  If he/she has said no in the past, making his/her goals the focus of your purchasing proposals may very well untie those purse strings.

Step 2:  Identify yearly goals that seek to solve the problems faced by your teachers.

Example:  Every year teachers are faced with "one more thing" that they have to do in order to prove the effectiveness of their instruction.  You need to be the answer to that problem.  For example, if teachers must include 21st century technologies in their lessons, you need to be jumping at the chance to collaborate with them. When you hear teachers moaning about how the world would be a better place if we all went back to teaching with nothing but a piece of chalk, instead of shaking your head in disgust while checking in on Foursquare, you need to jump up and down and yell "pick me! pick me!" And when they do call on you, your motto must be, "I've got the answer to your problem." 

Similarly, if teachers need to participate in a PLT to show professional growth, you need to find out the topics they're studying and create a collection development plan that includes professional resources on those topics.  Even better -- you need to let the teachers create the plan and then, rather than simply putting the books on the shelves and wondering why nobody checks them out, you need to set up a PLN preview event where teachers can come in and ooh and aaaah over their new toys.  (Having chocolate there helps). Again, this is your chance!  Take a look at the topics they are studying, figure out how your expertise can help them and then identify yourself as the key to their success.

Quantify it:  Again, if this is a focus of your school, you won't be able to swing the proverbial dead cat without hitting some data.  Your job is to a) collect the library related stats, b) help teachers collect and mine the data they need for their own evaluations and c) make sure that combined data gets in the hands of your principal and/or other stakeholders.

Bonus:  I find that teachers are more than willing to share the glory.  When your principal tells them that a particular lesson was inspiring or compliments them on implementing a new strategy, they are usually quick to say "I couldn't have done it without _________."  The important thing is to make sure your name fills in that blank.

Step 3:  Find or create a rubric for your programs that address school/district wide goals and share it with stakeholders.

Example:  I use Joyce Valenza's Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarianship. Not only is Joyce Valenza a library rock star, but for me, this just looked a lot like the gold standard of what librarians in my district should be doing.  So I created a wiki based on its contents and, as the year progresses, all librarians in my district have been using it to evaluate their programs.  At my school, teachers and administrators who serve on the Media Technology Advisory Committee have been helping in that self-evaluation process. I've since shared this wiki with my principal, my superintendent and anyone else who was in earshot and might have a role in saving libraries. 

Quantify it:  Changing the info on the wiki to numbers is not hard if you ever wanted to do it, but I think it's more useful as a self-assessment tool.  Because I've put it into a table, it's easy to identify areas of strength and weakness and, more importantly, to grow your practice from there.

Bonus:  If I ever meet Joyce Valenza, I've got some instant brownie points.

So... that's it.

Clearly, I don't have all the answers.  I can only say that this is what has worked for me and therefore I think it might work for you.  And I know... I know... if you're on a fixed schedule, teaching 6-8 classes a day with no assistant, this is a tall order, but  here's what I do know for sure:  However we can, whenever we can, we MUST seek to align ourselves with the goals of our school.  Then we must be able to provide some quantifiable data to prove that we are necessary to achieving those goals.  If we don't, we're sunk.

Finally, if any of this reminds you of Doug Johnson's Three Commandments for Successful Library Programs, it's only because he (and others) continue to be a great source of inspiration.   Besides, when you're only 5'3" standing on the shoulders of giants is practically a requirement.


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