How does a highly effective teacher unlock student potential?


“(Teaching) is an incredible opportunity to be a catalyst for what we want the future to be," says Shannon Hardy, a 21-year math and science teacher from The Exploris School, a Wake County charter school in Raleigh, NC.

Ms. Hardy uses data not just as a summative measurement tool, but as a key to unlock student potential that is not so easily realized. The video below shows the genuinely loving relationship between Ms. Hardy and two exceptional students with very different needs.

Invest four minutes in watching this video and I promise you will want to seek out Shannon Hardy to learn more about how she gets it done. In both cases, the data revealed what wasn’t immediately apparent, but critical for the teacher to know.

This is part 2 of a video blog series that illustrates how highly effective teachers do far more than positively impact student learning gains, but become part of something bigger to change students’ lives. Part One highlighted the relationship between a student-athlete and teacher-coach.


The video first introduces us to young Kaleo, a historically high-achieving student who was hampered by insecurity while struggling to find his place in a new school. “I was nervous about how I’d look in school, how I’d be in school, how other people would look at me.” Personal note: So was I, but it took me until my senior year in high school to snap out of it. Not Kaleo. The Exploris School and Ms. Hardy’s math class quickly became “like a family” because of the unique culture and climate. By using data to understand Kaleo’s abilities, Ms. Hardy was able to boost his self-esteem, his academic performance, and simultaneously help other students through his classroom leadership.

We then meet Hannah, a courageous young girl with autism who wasn’t always so outspoken, noting that, “learning is hard for me because I can’t really find the right words to say.” At the start of the school year, Hannah struggled academically. Ms. Hardy could not figure out how to get Hannah performing at the level she believed was possible.

Looking at her 6th grade academic record, initial expectations were bleak. But, by digging deeper into Hannah’s growth and achievement data, Ms. Hardy was able to show Hannah that she actually performed on grade level in third grade. Hannah could see that her social anxiety in 4th and 5th grade led to a steady decline bottoming out her math performance at 12% by the end of 5th grade.

Hannah had to understand her own potential.  Once a trusting relationship was established, Hannah finally spoke out to her peers about her autism because “at my school I felt safe there and I trusted a bunch of people there.” Ms. Hardy could then push Hannah harder because the data informed them both of what was possible, and she balanced the rigor with a great “sense of humor and she made learning experiences fun.”

So how did Ms. Hardy manage to pull this off for two exceptional learners amidst a class of many others who also needed differentiation? She focused on relationships before rigor, and relied on data as a guide. “Kids have so many social and emotional challenges in middle school and their feelings of security will impact all of their work and performance. So, if I have data that tells me this child was performing higher, then I know to ask for more. If I have a data that tells me that this child has always performed at this lower level, then we know to be more nurturing. We know to take our time, to chunk it more, and look for more resources…Teachers have to focus on values first….If values aren’t at the core of what we’re doing, then the rest doesn’t matter. We have to be people first.”

Amen to that.



About Author

Nadja Young

Senior Manager, Education Consulting

Hi, I’m Nadja Young. I’m a wife and mother of two who loves to dance, cook, and travel. As SAS’ Senior Manager for Education Industry Consulting, I strive to help education agencies turn data into actionable information to better serve children and families. I aim to bridge the gaps between analysts, practitioners, and policy makers to put data to better use to improve student outcomes. Prior to joining SAS, I spent seven years as a high school Career and Technical Education teacher certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. I taught in Colorado’s Douglas County School District, in North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System, and contracted with the NC Department of Public Instruction to write curriculum and assessments. I’m thrilled to be able to combine my Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Management and Master of Arts degree in Secondary Education to improve schools across the country.

1 Comment

  1. I’m so fortunate that my son is one of Shannon’s students at Exploris. She is so passionate about teaching and advocating for the school and her students, it is truly inspiring. I think what separates Exploris from other schools is their approach to teaching and how they structure the learning environment. I wish more schools took a page from the Exploris playbook.

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