- Many teachers and administrators become jaded by the stream of seemingly endless initiatives presented to them, but district leaders who use improvement science as they implement new approaches may see better results, University of North Alabama Director of Teacher Education Matthew Campbell writes for Edutopia.
- Improvement science is a concept developed by the Carnegie Foundation that uses a six step process to solve problems and implement change:
- making sure that the problem is addressed in a specific and user-centered way
- identifying and focusing on the variables that affect performance
- fully understanding the systems that affect current outcomes
- identifying and finding a way to measure outcomes so the process can be scaled
- using disciplined inquiry to identify successes and failures and learn from them
- using networked improvement communities to collaborate and improve
- Improvement science requires hard work and investment by staff members at multiple levels but offers a way for school districts to implement new initiatives in a more constructive way and to evaluate the new ideas to see if they need to be adapted to meet the needs of the district.
As district leaders consider ways to improve practices and ultimately produce better results, they are constantly pondering the next new initiative. In many cases, these initiatives involve the acquisition and implementation of new technology, such as the push for 1:1 technology access. In other cases, it may involve new approaches to classroom discipline, pedagogy, grading systems or other elements that make up the complex world of education.
These initiatives often live or die based on the amount of planning involved in their creation and rollout, as well as the level of buy-in they have from teachers and administrators. Clearly identifying the problem to be solved is the first step, and this often requires input from educators on the front-line. Even if implementation goes fairly smoothly, the true success of any new initiative cannot be determined if goals are not set and if there is no way to measure whether the idea has succeeded in meeting these goals. School leaders also need to carefully consider contingency and back-up plans in the (often inevitable) scenario where obstacles stand in the way of progress.
Improvement science helps solve some of these issues by engaging participants in the process early, setting clear goals and means of measurement, and embracing the wisdom of the educational community by developing networked improvement communities to help accelerate progress, even if that means embracing failure as a path to future success.
As Alicia Duell, the director of technology and information services at Wheeling CCSD21, a K-8 school district in suburban Chicago, recently said at ISTE's annual conference in Philadelphia, reframing failure as an opportunity to learn can benefit the person experiencing it, as well as others who can learn from that experience.
The improvement science model also has clear roots in the scientific method. The six core principles of improvement laid out by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching share some commonalities with the age-old method of asking a question, researching, forming a hypothesis, experimenting and analyzing results before repeating the process. One of the added benefits of using a method such as improvement science to implement change in a district is that teachers are also learning a new problem-solving method they can take back to their classrooms and share with students, along with their successes and failures, as they collaborate in solving the problems presented to them.