By Michelle Bowman
The Student Success Learning Network, a collaboration of 15 school districts facilitated by Learning Forward, is focused on supporting students in college and career readiness. Districts participating in the network learn strategies and tactics to effect change on a chosen readiness indicator.
After an initial planning session with each system’s team lead in September 2017 and through a series of virtual learning and individual system coaching sessions in the fall, teams began to examine their own systems to find the root causes of student learning problems. The network’s goal is to achieve improvement both overall and in subgroups in select college and career readiness indicators by 2020 through a continuous improvement process.
The network met as a group for the first time at Learning Forward’s 2017 Annual Conference in Orlando last December. Based on improvement science principles, informed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement for Teaching, participants developed testable hypotheses and identified specific measures to track the process and outcomes of a plan-do-study-act rapid improvement cycle.
In mid-May, the district teams came together in Fort Worth, Texas, to share their progress. As the teams reflected on what they learned, they confirmed the value of their collaboration and dedication to address specific student learning challenges within each district through a continuous improvement process.
Network members report and consistently agree that what they learn from the network impacts their practice. The system-to-system accountability and collegial interactions result in collaboratively unpacking dilemmas, generating ideas and possible next steps to resolve similar challenges. One network member wrote, “I like that the environment is safe for me to say, ‘I tried, and a certain thing didn’t go well.’ ” The various protocols also facilitate interactions and dialogue among members in similar district roles and responsibilities through role-alike roundtables.
Not only are teams working across systems, they are also investing significant time working within their district team to engage in deep discussions that move the work forward. Both during network sessions and when they return to their districts, teams develop action and implementation plans and provide thought partnership to one another.
Individual and system-to-system interactions will continue through the summer. Some will participate in Learning Forward’s Summer Institutes July 19-22 in Portland, Oregon, to deepen their learning on the connection between curriculum and professional learning. Others will connect virtually to continue role-alike collaboration and engage in content-specific webinars based on needs identified in the coaching sessions.
Student Success Learning Network members are committed to continuous professional learning, and many are planning ways to expand the continuous improvement practices and include more teachers so more students will benefit. Learning Forward will continue to support the network with refined practices and protocols and ongoing learning for network members.
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Sample Problems and Change Ideas
Here are some examples of problems and the associated change ideas.
Problem: Too few students justify their reasoning and critique the reasoning of others in middle school mathematics.
Change idea: Pull out a small group of the same students on Tuesday and Thursday for small-group instruction to raise their confidence in math.
Problem: Too few students productively persist in high school mathematics without support from the teacher.
Change idea: Give three students positive individual attention throughout a class period to affect their motivation in class.
Problem: Too few students persist through multistep, multiskill problems.
Change idea: Teach a specific strategy for attacking multistep problems.
Problem: Learning is not personalized and adjusted based on student understanding.
Change idea: Assess student understanding using a formative assessment to personalize and adjust the lesson.
Problem: The significant presence of a fixed mindset in Integrated 1 math students inhibits student success.
Change idea: Give students opportunity to write reflectively about their own math identity and to provide a specific, clear strategy for all word problems.
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The advantages for school systems collaborating through a continuous improvement process focused on specific student learning challenges include:
- Accountability to the process and work
- Thought partnership to unpack the dilemma
- Generating ideas together
- Hearing what worked
- Safe environment to share what tried
- Role-alike connections
- New learning
Michelle Bowman (m[email protected]) is Learning Forward’s associate director of communities.