Giving Teachers a Voice: Five Common Themes from Teacher Focus Groups

Magnolia Consulting has been working with Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows since 2015. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization, Hope Street Group supports State Teacher Fellowship programs in Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. State Teacher Fellows lead these programs and collaborate to develop state-specific solutions to education challenges and to influence education policy. On an annual basis, Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellows collect survey and focus-group data from thousands of teachers in their respective states. We have partnered with Hope Street Group on these data collections, providing support in analyzing the data and developing recommendations based on the data collected.

Over the past two years, we have examined focus-group data from more than 16,000 teachers nationwide. In analyzing this data, we have noticed five common themes, irrespective of question topic:

  • Teachers want to be heard. Teachers want their voices and opinions to be valued and appreciate feeling empowered. They believe that their “on the ground” experiences in the classroom and in schools give them a unique, professional viewpoint that should be shared and considered when enacting state-level education policy and regulations.
  • Teachers request instructional and personal supports for their students. Teachers hear students’ voices, see students’ daily struggles, and serve as their greatest advocates. Teachers request resources to support all student needs. Specifically, they commonly request family support programs and resources, especially in social-emotional areas. Teachers also regularly request class size reductions to help them better address the instructional needs of every student.
  • Teachers want to be respected as professionals. Teachers want to be viewed as professionals with various supports and professional autonomy, such as additional planning and collaboration time; more high-quality, relevant professional development; and competitive compensation. Teachers also desire the chance to provide greater input and feedback on school-level decision-making, particularly around instructional programming, resources, and professional development opportunities.
  • Teachers desire a positive school culture. Teachers want a supportive, welcoming, and positive school culture. Schools with this type of culture provide a sense of community and create a safe learning environment for students and educators.
  • Teachers advocate for streamlined student testing. Teachers believe that student assessments should be decreased or streamlined, allowing educators more time to focus on instructional content and additional time for student learning and growth.

Magnolia continues to appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Hope Street Group on meaningful work that aims to give teachers a voice at district and state levels. We remain hopeful that by sharing teachers’ voices with school district and state policymakers, Hope Street Group and its State Teacher Fellows will help cultivate more educator-led opportunities for knowledge sharing at the national level.

Tips for Qualitative Data Analysis Using a QDA Software Program

Qualitative analysis can sometimes seem daunting, particularly when dealing with large amounts of data. We have found qualitative data analysis (QDA) software to be immensely helpful with collaboration, coding, organization, and analysis. The software we use, ATLAS.ti, allows us to collaborate across platforms; co-develop, share, and organize codes; and analyze data through different techniques. Below are important points to consider when selecting and using any qualitative analysis tool:

  • Look at collaboration capabilities across platforms. When choosing QDA software, consider your organization’s collaboration needs. Do team members use a single platform, or is there a split between PC and Mac users? ATLAS.ti has recently expanded to allow for file sharing across platforms, which is particularly helpful when analyzing large data sets. Each team member can take and analyze a section of the data on a PC or Mac, and the analysis can later be merged into one master file on either platform.
  • Consider ways to create and share your codes. As part of the coding process, we use a shared Excel codebook with predetermined codes that can be revised as team members identify emergent codes. A shared codebook allows our team members to easily share, collaborate on, and organize our thematic codes. ATLAS.ti also has an internal codebook function that allows users to define predetermined and emergent codes; however, we have not found an effective way to make this codebook continually accessible to all team members.
  • Find ways to organize your codes. One of the strongest benefits of QDA software is the amount of organization it offers. Within ATLAS.ti, we can merge multiple thematic codes into one larger code, break apart codes, and organize codes through color coding and the creation of larger code groups. This is particularly helpful when the analysis process begins with “lumping” data to look for overarching themes and then moves into “splitting” the data in those themes to look for more detailed themes or smaller categories.
  • Understand that QDA software will not run an analysis for you. While QDA supports various analyses (e.g., content analysis, thematic analysis, analytic induction), it will not run an analysis for you. Unlike SPSS or SAS, you cannot select an analysis method and have the program run the analysis or provide an output of results. Qualitative analysis is still subject to the skills of the individual, but QDA software offers one tool for better collaboration, coding, and organization.

AEA Summer Institute: Introduction to Infographics

This month, we presented Introduction to Infographics at the American Evaluation Association’s 2017 Summer Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. As one of 35 professional development workshops geared toward evaluation professionals, this workshop focused on how to use infographics to communicate evaluation findings in an effective and engaging way. In our experience, lengthy written reports often go unread and unused. As an alternative, infographics can be a powerful visual tool to communicate evaluation findings in an easily accessible way. This workshop was an opportunity to share what we’ve learned about infographics along the way with other evaluators who are interested in using infographics to disseminate information.

As part of our workshop, participants were introduced to our Checklist for Reviewing Infographics as a tool for guiding the infographic design and review process. We demonstrated practical, easy-to-use resources and tools for creating an infographic, including an overview of software and websites, icon collections, and stock photo websites. Finally, our workshop participants went through our 10 Steps to Creating an Infographic and took a stab at creating their own infographic. We were impressed by our participants’ willingness to dive into the process, and many were on track to developing inspiring and creative infographics.

Based on the feedback we received, we know our workshop participants learned a lot, and so did we! Specifically, we are now working to integrate more resources for ensuring that infographics are accessible to those with visual disabilities. We also plan to translate our resources into Spanish in order to reach a wider audience. We hope that workshop participants will join our Magnolia Infographics LinkedIn community as a way to continue to share questions, ideas, and examples of infographics.

We are thrilled that we were able to share our knowledge with other evaluators, and we look forward to future collaboration about how infographics can be used in evaluation. Check out some photos of the Summer Institute workshop in action, and feel free to visit our Tools and Resources page for more information on the various tools mentioned here.

Get the Story Straight, and the Rest Will Follow: Developing infographics with a purpose

Too often, people begin developing infographics by playing with templates, images, and data visualizations. And who can blame them? It’s fun! But while this process will produce an infographic, it might not result in a story that connects with your audience. A better approach is to begin by making intentional decisions about your infographic: clearly defining your audience, purpose, and message constitutes three foundational and critical steps for developing an effective infographic.

Identify Your Audience (The Who). The first step of 10 Steps to Creating an Infographic focuses on identifying the information needs and interests of your intended audience. What information matters to them? How much do they understand about research and evaluation, and what might this mean for the tone and language you use? The local context in which your audience will access and use your infographic has implications for design elements you choose during later steps of infographic development, such as layout, size, and visualizations.

Clarify Purpose (The Why). The second step is about determining what you hope to accomplish through the infographic. Why are you creating it? What do you hope will change for your audience as a result of reading it? The purpose of an infographic can range from increasing awareness of a topic, issue, or research finding to improving program implementation or instructional practices based on study results. Think of purpose as the intended outcome of your infographic.

Create Story and Message (The What). The third step involves creating your main message, with primary points, secondary points, and supporting details. The story is what you share with your audience to achieve the infographic’s purpose. An effective story that conveys a compelling message includes an engaging title, an introduction with the foundational information the audience needs to grasp the main message, and a conclusion with a call to action that reinforces the purpose of your infographic. The story is intentional. It is not an afterthought or a by-product of populating a page with super cool images and data visualizations.

Getting the story straight by identifying your audience, clarifying your purpose, and creating an intentional main message will set the course for subsequent design decisions for your infographic. As you contemplate design elements, keep yourself in check by asking, “Does this support the main message and purpose of the infographic? Will this resonate with my audience?” Following this process will result in an infographic with greater coherence, clarity, and relevance for your audience.

Share your experiences with these three steps by joining our Magnolia Infographics LinkedIn community!

For more information about Magnolia Consulting’s infographic services, tools, and resources visit the Tools and Resources page!