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A Facilitator’s Guide to Leading Data Conversations About Equity

February 8th, 2022

When it comes to ensuring equitable outcomes for all students, holding equity-based data conversations is one of the most powerful tools an educator can use. Data can provide the foundation and impetus for the right conversations to take place around systems, policies, and practices. Data also help educators peel back the layers of why certain patterns are emerging and where change is needed.

However, conversations around equity are inherently delicate and complex situations to navigate. Moreover, if the group isn’t yet accustomed to looking at data regularly—much less to examine for areas of equity or inequity—these conversations can feel awkward or uncomfortable.  This makes it no less important to have these data-based, student-centered conversations, but it does mean that some preparation can go a long way in terms of how impactful these conversations can be.

The purpose of this article is to provide suggestions for how to prepare for and facilitate data-based conversations about equity, so that your team feels safe and supported and your meeting is positive and productive.


Start by planning out the who, where, and what of your meeting.

Identify an appropriate facilitator (or co-facilitators)

To ensure an open and honest conversation, select a neutral facilitator for the meeting. The facilitator should be someone who is trusted and respected by their peers and seen as a safe ally; they should not be connected to teacher evaluations, pay, or promotions. The facilitator should also be skilled and comfortable in analyzing data and navigating uncomfortable conversations with care. It might be a math or literacy coach, but should not be an administrator. 

Pick a new physical location 

If possible, try to schedule this meeting in a location that is different from other staff meetings, especially if those meetings tend to be “sit and get” type meetings. Onsite locations are ideal for these conversations, but if your meeting takes place in a remote environment, be sure to establish the appropriate norms/standards (e.g., whether cameras are turned on, what active participation looks like).

Set an appropriate time frame 

Ultimately, questions about equity should become part of all data conversations—and many of the articles in this toolkit depict how teams can start to weave those questions into their regular data conversations. However, if your team is new to equity-based conversations (or data conversations in general), try scheduling a dedicated meeting around this work instead of merging it into a meeting with other purposes. This allows for your team to take its time and be thoughtful without rushing into the next task of the day. Ideally, try to allow 2-3 hours for your first meeting.

Use your data management platform 

This work depends on your team’s ability to quickly analyze data from multiple sources through multiple lenses. If your team is distracted by how long it takes to find or access different data, the meeting will be frustrating and unfocused. Ensure that the right data are loaded into your platform before you begin and that the right people have access to appropriate data for the conversations.

Create small groups 

These conversations should not be held as assemblies. They are more intimate conversations for smaller groups of people. Plan on breaking participants up into groups of about 6-7 people for the training, and plan the small groups ahead of time.

Consider providing snacks and a break 

Providing refreshments can make staff feel more at ease and set a more comfortable environment. When basic needs are met, it’s easier for educators to engage in mentally rigorous conversations. Incorporating a planned break gives the participants an opportunity to clear their head and catch up on emails so that they are not distracted during the meeting.


Next, complete some pre-work around the content of the meeting. 

Have a pre-meeting about the data 

Before holding the meeting, create a team to review the data ahead of time. This team might include instructional coaches, reading coaches, math coaches, PBIS leaders, and the facilitator. Consider including an administrator, such as a principal, assistant principal, or special education director, as well.

The goal of this is not to craft a narrative to present during the meeting; in fact, doing so can make the educators in the meeting feel attacked or that their colleagues are colluding around them. The goal is to bring a number of perspectives to the table to unpack the data and identify possible pathways on which the facilitator can guide the conversation, especially if key findings exist a few layers down within the data. It also ensures that the facilitator is familiar with and has time to process the data, as opposed to reacting to surprises during the meeting. Finally, this planning helps establish cohesion across the data conversations (if there are several different meetings happening) as opposed to different groups looking at different data sets.

Create a list of questions and prompts

After the team has had a chance to look at the data, you may want to create a list of questions for the facilitator to reference throughout the meeting. While it’s important that the staff are actively digging into data and identifying findings, the facilitator can use a reference sheet for guiding the conversation. This helps the facilitator remember to draw attention to important data points throughout the meeting and can be a grounding reference if difficult moments arise. For a list of questions, download the Disaggregating and Analyzing Data Workbook.

Create a list of strategies and next steps 

During your pre-meeting, work together to create a menu of strategies and resources that can be available to help educators take action on areas of need. This avoids the event of identifying alarming or troubling issues without having clear next steps to take. This list should correlate with the findings from the pre-meeting. They should be resources and actions that are available immediately—not something that the participants have to wait a month or two to receive more information about. Depending on the situation, next steps might include reviewing additional data, creating a dashboard to monitor data, sharing findings with other stakeholders, forming a committee or work group, or creating an action plan. If you’re working with classroom teachers, your team might want to research and prepare a list of classroom strategies they could implement with students.

If possible, consider administering an anonymous student and staff survey beforehand

Surveys can be a powerful tool in better understanding how students and staff perceive themselves, their environment, and one another. This data set can be helpful in disproving or validating assumptions about system-level causes, and must be anonymous.

Work as a team to prepare the facilitator for uncomfortable or negative situations

Even with deliberate messaging to keep the meeting growth-oriented and student-centered, there may be moments when the meeting stalls, where emotions become high, or when discomfort sets in. Knowing that this is possible (even likely) and having a plan of action for navigating these situations makes it easier for the facilitator to unpack and work through those situations—without appearing to gloss over them or allowing them to derail progress.


Review these tips for facilitating the meeting itself. 

Create a safe space and establish norms

Before your team jumps into data, set the stage for the meeting around growth and student success. It is absolutely essential that the staff know they are not under attack or at risk of being blamed or shamed. The goal is to work as a team to ensure all students have equitable access, opportunities, and outcomes—data can help us both celebrate areas of success and explore and change areas of need.

As an example in Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, Glenn Singleton proposes the Four Agreements for Courageous Conversations:

  1. Stay engaged
  2. Experience discomfort
  3. Speak your truth
  4. Expect and accept non-closure

Always, always use data

The significance of using data is that it creates an inarguable starting point for conversations to happen and ensures that conversations are focused in the right areas for your unique district. If the meeting starts to drift away from data, pull it back. The intention is not to dismiss the importance of observations, gut feelings, and teachers’ experiences with students, all of which have their place in supporting learners. Rather, data provide a baseline starting point for these conversations to happen. Data are only as useful as the ways that they’re used, and these types of conversations are part of why data are collected. Use the facilitator reference sheet created in the pre-meeting as a guide. 

Start with data that are easier to digest

For instance, starting with attendance data can feel more approachable than behavior or assessment data. Disaggregating by gender first can feel more approachable than starting with ethnicity. Start with data at the district and school level, even if teachers are eager to look at data for their own classrooms. Then, gauge how the group is doing and determine whether to move into grade-level data or teacher-level data. Teacher-level data may not be appropriate for an initial data conversation around equity. For support, download the Disaggregating and Analyzing Data Workbook.

Let the staff do the exploring, questioning, and discovering

The facilitator’s role is to guide the conversation, establish a safe space for learning and growth, and help participants ask questions about what they are seeing. It’s extremely important that this not be a “sit and get” meeting; this can cause participants to shut down immediately, feel attacked, and can eliminate the potential positive outcomes of the meeting. Ensure that the participants are actively disaggregating the data and asking the questions. The facilitator can ask general questions and help call out important data points as they arise, but the staff should actively explore the data on their own. 

Start with areas of success

Deliberately celebrating areas of success can help keep morale and momentum high, while also pinpointing successful practices and strategies that can be applied to areas of need. It’s easier to replicate a successful process in a new context than to continually start from scratch in every scenario. Starting with areas of success puts the participants in a positive mindset that makes it easier to process and unpack data that are concerning or alarming down the road.

Use a common format

If you have multiple groups reviewing data in various meetings, use consistent documentation and processes for examining data and action planning. This way, next steps can be more easily aggregated across the various meetings.


Finally, connect the findings from your meeting to next steps. 

Specify when your next meeting will take place

Creating an annual schedule at the beginning of the year can also help establish a regular cadence.

End the meeting with specific action steps

At the end of your meeting, outline specific action steps your team will take, such as reviewing additional data, creating a dashboard to monitor data, sharing findings with other stakeholders, forming a committee or work group, or creating an action plan. Outline who is responsible for each task and its due date. Schedule your next follow-up meeting. Use the Action Planning Template in this toolkit for support.

Ensure district and school leaders help prioritize follow-up

In order to follow through on next steps and further meetings, teams will need support from administrators. Leaders have the ability and responsibility to provide the time, space, prioritization, and tools that this work requires. If team members are constantly getting pulled out of data meetings or can only work on follow-up steps after regular hours, it makes it unlikely for continued data conversations and follow-up steps to happen. Leaders can help ensure this work happens by valuing and protecting the time and resources that next steps require.


While this guide is intended to be a helpful starting place, many dedicated educators and experts have shared best practices, strategies, and insights that may be of further assistance. A few resources are listed here. Feel free to share other resources that have been impactful for you and your team that you would like us to consider adding.    


Thanks for reading an excerpt from our Analyzing Whole Child Data to Drive Equitable Actions and Outcomes Toolkit. Click here to download the entire toolkit for free.




Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. By combining comprehensive assessment and MTSS management and collaboration tools, the Illuminate Solution enables educators to accurately assess learning, identify needs, align whole child supports, drive system-level improvements, and equitably accelerate growth for every learner.

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