You Are Not A Number

Thanks to @mrbalcom for creating this image.

Thanks to @mrbalcom for creating this image.


I recently said the above statement at a conference in Nebraska, after asking teachers, “Have you heard of the term ‘data driven’?”, to which they responded with audible groans.

This isn’t the first time I have made this statement, and it will not be the last.

Still, some people are bothered that I do not like the term.

Here are some of the arguments with my rebuttals…

We always have to remember that there is a “face” behind those numbers.

No…you have to remember that the “face” is in the front and the most important. You can use numbers, but do not be “driven” by them.  Do not forget our students are human beings with unique needs, characteristics, qualities, and should be treated accordingly.

Yes, we are not “data driven”, but it should inform our practice.

I struggle with not only the term “data driven”, but I struggle with the word “data” in itself because we have made the term “data” all about numbers in education.  I believe we need to be “evidence informed“.  When you see your students perform an amazing musical, or create an incredible work of art, is that evidence of learning, or do you want to reduce what they have done to a letter or number?  As soon as you do that, you jeopardize the “artist” losing the love of the art.


Here is my bottom line…

I am not against using “numbers” to help our students. I am against using “numbers” to define our students.

How often do you go to a conference and they are really focusing on how to get better grades out of our students?


How often do you go to a conference and they focus on seeing the genius and finding the strengths of each student you serve?

If you wanted to, you could start focusing on the latter right now, and make it happen immediately.

I remember going to large classes in universities, not caring about the content, and knowing the professor did not care about me as an individual. They would show up, teach, leave.  I was a number on a piece of paper outside an office, that had another number attached to it that told me how smart I was in that subject.

True story…I am lucky to be a teacher because I needed a calculus credit to teach elementary education.  I went to this course with 500 other students.  I didn’t understand any of the lectures and struggled with all of the content, and eventually just “checked out”. At the end of the semester, I found my “number” (identification) attached to another “number” (my grade). That number happened to be 40%.  Luckily, so many others had that number or lower, that with the “curve”, my 40% became a 60%, and I passed the course. Without that curve, I would not have received my teaching degree.

Here are a few other numbers from that course.

Times talked to the professor = 0

Times professor referred to me by my name = 0

Percentage chance that they knew my name in the first place = Less than 5%

(“Never say never.” Justin Bieber)

Just from the story above, I know that I am going to get some “that’s the real world” comments.  Here is what I hope the real world is about.

If I struggle, that I can be comfortable asking for help. 

I am valued as an individual.

If I work with you, you know my name (at least), and I know yours.

These are all characteristics of being “student-driven”, not “data-driven”.  If the “real world” is crappy, I don’t want our students to adjust to it; I want them to make it better.

In business, without the customer, there is no business.

In education, without the students, there are no schools.


Let’s not take the most human profession in existence, and reduce it to letters and numbers.  Our kids need more from us.



Source: George Couros