An Educator’s Journey Through Special Education Blog 11

Using Data to Make Decisions about Professional Growth

Blog 11


This week we learned about using data to make decisions in our professional growth in our weekly session at the Connecticut Aspiring Leadership Academy for Special Education. Our presenter was Mary Beth Bruder. She casually and deftly slipped in again and again on how we all innately and naturally use data to make decisions in our everyday lives. We do this without even realizing we’re doing this.

As a special education teacher, my mind tends to travel right to frequency data points when I think about using data to drive decision-making in my classroom. However, this type of data collection is arduous and not much fun. It requires you to walk around the class with a clip board and chart how many times a student performs a specific undesirable behavior. Most teachers don’t usually enjoy this part of the job. It’s hard to do excellently when you’re also trying to do the other million things to produce a good lesson plan presentation.

Mrs. Bruder shared ways of using seamless, easy-to-do, and natural data. She even shared that when things have gone well in our lives, we have usually made a data-driven decision and just didn’t know it. And when things have not gone so well in our personal lives, we have most likely ignored the data or used it poorly. We all know that old adage listening to your gut feeling.

However, this is where it gets tricky. On the flip side of that bad feeling in your gut, we also discovered how that feeling should sometimes be ignored when considering a career advancement in the special education field. We all get nervous about shooting for bigger things in unknown territory, especially in special education, where there are many moving parts.

In that same vein, my butterflies calmed some after talking to a classmate who told me she was pushed into a special education administration job. She didn’t do well her first year. She thought maybe the new leadership position wasn’t for her. However, she stuck it out, and four years later, her special education leadership job is easy, and she enjoys it. Now, it seems foolish for her to be afraid of her career.

This week’s learning objective was to learn how to identify data, use reflection, and collective input to guide professional decisions. In addition, my goal was to identify informal and formal leadership positions in national, state, or local organizations for professional growth.

And to help us accomplish these learning objectives above, we went to the University of Southern California Executive Master of Leadership webpage. There we took an interactive leadership style assessment. The six leadership styles of this assessment were: Servant, Front-Line, Transformational, Metamodern, Postmodern, and Contrarian.

Taking this leadership assessment inventory is supposed to help us understand our personal leadership style as the first step in developing our leadership skills and becoming better managers, public officials, law enforcement or safety officer, and/or emergency responder. The test was simple. It had about a dozen pictures pop up one after another with four multiple choice answers to pick one that best represents the picture. This leadership profiling assessment was done in just a few minutes. It was swift and simple and seemed pretty accurate for a lot of the participants in my class.

My leadership style inventory came back depicting me as a Front-line Leader. And it said:

You know how to be genuine and present during interpersonal interactions. You have the emotional intelligence to feel empathy, and you know how to express it. Your authenticity means you are generous and share yourself with others. Storytelling is one of your strengths; it is how you connect with people and engage them in a shared vision. Perhaps your most prominent gift is the ability to empower the people around you to achieve their best.

I thought this leadership profile of mine sounded pretty good.

If you want to take the leadership inventory yourself, go to this link:

Next, we talked a lot about leadership roles we’ve already had in our lives. I’ve had quite a few, from high school captain positions on sports teams to the Army to college to speaking and authoring organizations like Toastmasters International and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. I am a leader for my local teacher union, the New Britain Federation of Teachers, and its parent union, the American Federation of teachers. I have been on many committees at school and was president of the parent teacher organization (PTO) and more…

The amazing thing here was that I had to admit to the class that I actually enjoyed each of my leadership positions. Many others didn’t. Mrs. Bruder said our goals should be to learn how to have fun and enjoy our present and future special education leadership roles. We won’t always get the reinforcement in our special education roles that we need to always have fun. So, we have to find a way to reinforce ourselves somehow, even if it’s something as simple as keeping a list of to-do things that we check off. With each item checked off, we know we’re making some progress and thus reinforcing ourselves that we are being successful.

I’ve been challenged this week to find two leadership roles not related to each other for career advancement. I have also been challenged to pick one goal to help my career advancement happen over the next year.

The first leadership role I think would help advance my knowledge, skills, and network and give me exposure as an expert while allowing me to do good and push inclusivity in education would be the United States Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship.

The second separate leadership role I think would help me advance in the special education world comes from the list of a ppt specialist, a coordinator, a program supervisor, or a director. These roles have seemed scary to me in the past and still do scare me. But, perhaps it’s time to begin looking at these positions and seriously considering them. I’m assuming it would be wise to start with the entry-level position of ppt specialist. However, I’m also going to keep my ear to the ground and keep my eye open for other possible opportunities.

Over the next year, I have a goal to learn how to be a better interviewee. I have an excellent background in leadership. Now, I have to figure out how to put my best foot forward and present myself in the best possible light when interviewing for my next position.

In conclusion, this week, this special educator, who also teachers all the history classes in my school, has learned that using data to make decisions is natural, and we all do it every day. So we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We also should be brave and bold and continue to climb up that special education career ladder. And, of course, continue to be a life-long learner.