A Focused Improvement Cycle

Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be excessively complicated. I’d like to share a straightforward model for working through any kind of change in your school:

4d change process

Let’s take a look at each step in the cycle.

Data
We start with data, some form of information about what’s going on. This could come from surveys, test scores, and other quantitative sources; or it could come from feelings, complaints, discussions, conversations, and other rich qualitative sources.

Inevitably, the impetus for change is that something isn’t quite right, or isn’t as good as it could be. Data helps us get a handle on the situation.

Diagnosis
What data doesn’t do is explain the reasons behind the problem or what to do about it. That’s why we need to bring our best collective professional judgment to the situation and diagnose it as thoroughly and rigorously as possible.

Decision
Once we have a sense of what’s going on and why, we can make a decision about what to do. Because the options are endless, schools tend to get bogged down in endless debate and discussion over the best course of action.

What’s the antidote? Action. Speed of execution. When we make a decision and get started, we can immediately start to get feedback about whether it’s working – and if not, we can try something else.

Deployment
Too often, we drag our feet in rolling something out because we want to build universal “buy-in” and “make sure everyone is on the same page” before letting the plane take off.

Guess what? You will never have everyone on the same page. And for most changes, that’s OK. What will get people on the same page and moving in the same direction is evidence that the change is working.

Instead, we need to find Margaret Mead’s small group of committed people:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

But we don’t need to wait for a corps of fanatics ready to put everything on the line. We need people who are willing to be early adopters, willing to start, willing to experiment and report back.

And it’s in the reporting back that the change can either grow or refocus, as the cycle repeats.

How have you seen the improvement process play out in your school?

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About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »

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