Background: Amid calls for increased data use, there is little research or policy guidance for how to build schools’ capacity to leverage data to improve teaching and learning. Building on previous research highlighting the social nature of data use, we contend that in order to understand how capacity develops, research must focus on relationships and networks that support educators’ practice, conceptualizing capacity as socially embedded.
Purpose: This article explores the development of data use capacity in an elementary school through a social network approach. Our analysis focuses on the structure of data advice networks, the characteristics of perceived experts in the network, and the productiveness of the network in terms of influencing beliefs and practice.
Population: Data come from a sample of 42 educators from an elementary school exemplified by its district as a strong user of data to improve teaching and learning. Participants completed a survey about their data use beliefs, practices, and school context, as well as a social network questionnaire indicating from whom they sought advice on using data.
Research Design: We used the survey data to identify characteristics of the schools’ data use networks using descriptive statistics and social network analysis (SNA). SNA was also used to develop measures of structural location in those networks, which were then used to predict similarities in teachers’ beliefs and practices around data use.
Findings: Findings reveal that data use networks are influenced by the larger professional structure of the school, with data advice being from colleagues who are part of their larger professional network. Network structure reveals few highly central “advice givers” and many “advice seekers” connected by teachers and leaders who serve as brokers of advice. We find that brokers may play an important role in developing shared practices, given that the indirect relationships they support are predictive of shared data use practices.
Conclusions: This research is among the first to explore data use through a social network approach and offers early evidence about how educators’ networks enable schools to build capacity for data use. Our findings have implications for the design of professional development, for professional development for school leaders, and for successful implementation of reforms related to data use.