Updated: Jul 22, 2020



In this three-part series, I write a lot about three of my favorite educational words and concepts: PREVENTION, INTERVENTION and INTENTION. Each represents power-packed strategies that are a result of my research, evidence and experience; they are the ‘how to’s’ that finish incomplete, well-meaning educational advice telling us ‘what’ to do. In this series,

  • Part 1 is PREVENTION: Data Walls Reveal ‘the Real Story’ of System, School and Student Performance;

  • Part 2 is INTERVENTION: Case Management Meetings Provide System and School Knowledge-Building Forums; and

  • Part 3 is INTENTION: System and School Learning Walks and Talks Answer: ‘How Do You Know All Students Are Achieving?”



PREVENTION: Data Walls Reveal ‘the Real Story’ of System, School and Student Performance

PREVENTION of not knowing how all students are doing is accomplished by ‘seeing’ students’ or schools’ FACES positioned on Data Walls and being able to take intentional action, urgently, whether students are underachieving, stuck or needing extending. No students should ever ‘fall through the cracks’ having been missed, forgotten, or left behind because their teachers and leaders didn’t have avenues to collegial support.

Parameter 1- Shared Belief and Understandings – projects the thinking that all students can learn given the right support; all teachers can teach given the right support; high expectations are critical and early and on-going intervention essential; and, teachers, students and leaders must articulate why they teach, learn or lead the way they do. Given that we believe these things, it is a moral imperative to track and inquire about our progress right from the beginning of each term so that neither students nor teachers ever feel left behind. But what data sets to use and how should they be displayed? The answers to those questions come from examining what factors deliver the greatest impact for the teachers and leaders who create Data Walls of students’ and schools’ FACES (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012).


The impact of Data Walls comes from the notion that, when co-constructed, they become Questioning Walls, or Wondering Walls. They may present a stark reality, but very quickly begin to generate thinking and wondering about students, about “why a student I taught last year seems to be falling behind this year?”

Two points:

  1. Co-construction: building the data wall together is an opportunity for collaborative inquiry; and

  2. Conversations: talking about and questioning what is noticed on the Data Wall are inter-twined.

Data Walls are living evidence that display students’ growth AND achievement – both are essential. They provide visual reminders that teachers and leaders must be reflective practitioners and pose questions about student learning and about impactful practice. And, because teaching is a practice, there is no one ‘right way’ to visually display the data. When Data Walls are co-constructed, teachers and leaders own the data and conversations about instruction result. That becomes a demonstration of equity and excellence in action.

The most effective Data Walls are in discreet locations away from student and parent eyes – in places where teachers and leaders gather or pass by often and can stop to leave ‘sticky notes’ about their observations and questions. I have experienced many ingenious ways to keep the Data Walls and conversations private and focused on instruction needed for students that everyone is wondering about.

Capturing assessment data in a visual format marks an impressive leap of faith into uncharted territory for many educators; however, visual Data Walls raise questions about what can be done to assist teachers with their own instructional concerns about how to bring all students to the expected level and beyond.

Brave or courageous conversations are necessary and even braver commitments are needed to deal with many underlying issues in data that informs instruction. Sometimes getting to these conversations is a matter of putting the data on the wall; sometimes it takes courage to initiate intentional actions to mitigate concerns. Consistent, insistent and persistent courage is required to move beyond guilt to discuss the next best ‘learning moves’ needed. The very early introduction of Operating Norms around creating and sustaining a Data Wall ensures that leaders and staff are intentional about mutual respect and that the Data Wall is seen as a valuable working tool not a reporting tool.


Having a Knowledgeable Other as a conversation leader can reinforce the established operating norms and protocol; elicit conversations that otherwise might be lost or suppressed; and begin to move queries into formal Collaborative Inquiry processes using data as evidence. In Figure 1, Master Teacher, Penny Dewaele, is leading Professional Learning in front of her staff members’ co-constructed Data Wall. Dewaele begins every staff meeting with conversations at the Data Wall.

Figure 1: Using the Data Wall to Begin Every Professional Learning Meeting

Source: Principal Mona Anau, DDSWR, 2017 in CLARITY, Sharratt, L. Corwin 2019.

As Sue Walsh, pictured below says, the power of the Data Wall lies in the co-construction. It’s the whole system or school staff working together to determine:

  • how best to represent the data on the Data Wall;

  • what data should be included; and,

  • consistently naming and testing assumptions that any may have been making about aspects of the school