The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on students from historically marginalized communities underscores the value of continuous improvement (CI) as a framework for understanding the depth of unfinished learning and responding to it in an urgent, data-driven, and adaptive manner. In the past decade, CI has worked its way into the lexicon of educators, largely due to the Carnegie Foundation’s plan-do-study-act cycle that has been applied to diverse education improvement efforts. This growing education application of CI draws on more than 30 years of CI best practices in improving products, services, or processes through successive, rapid, evidence-based cycles in a range of sectors.
Since fall 2020, Bellwether’s Academic and Program Strategy team has partnered with K-12 schools in more than a dozen district and charter networks nationwide to adopt comprehensive CI strategies that assess the depth of unfinished student learning and develop rapid, evidence-based responses within virtual and hybrid settings. Working alongside school-based teams, Bellwether has developed a refined and balanced approach to the traditional CI process that is more attuned to realities in schools.
Figure 1: Bellwether’s refined continuous improvement cycle
Bellwether’s CI cycle (Figure 1) follows a familiar four-step cadence (“Envision-Execute-Examine-Enact”), but builds on prior models by adding a high-impact adaptive leadership action to what’s typically been viewed as a predominantly technical process. This modification is grounded in the idea that while CI’s technical elements are critical to understand what needs to happen, the cycle ultimately doesn’t lead to sustained change without careful consideration of how that change will occur.
In Bellwether’s refined CI approach, the technical and adaptive components of the cycle (Figure 1, represented by a circled “T” and “A”) are intentionally blended. This approach enables school leadership to ground CI plans in measurable goal-based data metrics within aligned, agile teams and coalitions focused on supporting seamless execution on behalf of students.
Bellwether’s CI Workbook is a customizable, easy-to-use resource for leaders in any school context to implement these techniques for students. We hope this workbook will be a useful tool as leaders assess and respond to unfinished learning this fall and beyond.
Please click here to make a copy of the customizable CI Workbook, and visit our Ahead of the Heard blog to read reflections on what this process looks like in practice for district and charter schools.
Check out additional Bellwether COVID-19 recovery educator resources, below: