Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tweaked!

Does something need to get better? Of course it does.  When a need to improve something is noticed, the first thing to do is examine the current reality.  Where are we now?  If the data tells you that things are in pretty good shape, then you tweak a few things and monitor the improvement.  If the data tells you that things are in bad shape, what usually happens?

In schools, there are two common answers:

1.  We tweak.  We make a few changes and hope for the best.  We hold on to what we know and try to do some sort of facelift.  We make a few adjustments while grasping on to the current practice because it is what we know.  Even if it doesn't work, it is comfortable.  Comfortably uncomfortable.  We need a big improvement and hope for a big payoff due to a few minor tweaks.  This rarely works.

2.  We make a purchase.  We pay for a system and throw it into practice.  We know we need to get rid of the bad and replace it with something.  Anything!  For example, we hear about this great new web-based service that will revolutionize learning for students and we buy it!  Because...it has simply gotta be better than what we are doing now!  They wouldn't be selling it if it wasn't worth buying!!!  We buy it.  We train, then we hope it is better.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.  All the time, it costs a bunch of dollars over several years before we can truly determine if it was worth it.  It might make things better and it might not.  It usually doesn't revolutionize the learning process quite like the salesman promised.  A few years down the line, if teachers don't eventually buy in, it fizzles and dies.

A third, less-common answer is convening an improvement team to investigate the whole thing and create something new that will fill the need better than ever.  This is the tough one.  It takes time.  It takes research.  It takes a team dedicated to improvement.  It takes a group of folks willing to address the brutal facts, determine the current reality and define the perfect destination, then create the best system to get there.  It takes a group that is passionate about the effort and willing to learn as much as possible to make it better, especially if the members realize that they do not already own the necessary knowledge for creating the vision.

An improvement team effort almost always aligns more stakeholders to the cause.  The team's efforts are built on a shared vision and a common goal.  Improvement teams usually layout a multi-stepped plan for improvement rather betting on one magic arrow.  This process may actually include tweaking a few things or buying a new program.  However, they are included in a well thought out plan that was created collaboratively.  The collaborative part builds shared buy-in and shared ownership of the efforts.

Everything improvement in education seemingly needs to happen immediately.  Fix it now!  Make things better!  Immediate fixes are like band-aids.  Sometimes they cover the problem.  Take the time to truly investigate the current reality and determine how to fully address the issue.

***I have been writing this post slowly over the last several weeks.  As I added the last few sentences, I remembered that I already wrote a similar post.  I appreciate your feedback on either one.  Leave a comment!***