Continuous Learning and Distributed Leadership

Continuous improvement“Schools need structures, practices, routines in place to undertake CI [continuous improvement] in order to experiment, test, and iterate to address ongoing changes.”

Continuous learning is the process of regularly looking at data to understand where students are succeeding and to develop and implement changes to improve outcomes. Schools may or may not have already cultivated a practice around continuous learning across a group of school leaders, both formal and informal, but now that practice is more critical than ever. Circumstances will change throughout the school year. In order to adapt and adjust in ways that serve all students, schools should have a clear, regular process for looking at data, identifying areas of strength and challenge, and using that information to implement changes that can improve student outcomes. Using distributed leadership in this process empowers teachers and ensures that their voices are represented, that the formal leaders are not overwhelmed, and that the school is building a leadership pipeline.

Guiding Questions

Portrait of young Indian woman with mask for protection from corona virus outbreak relaxing at the park outdoors

  • What does our data tell us about our school’s strengths and challenges?
  • Where do we want to replicate or spread a strong practice to improve outcomes across classrooms?
  • What do we want to change to improve student outcomes?
  • When will we come together to look at new data from the changes we made based on this conversation?

Professional Development Connections

  • Ongoing PD and modeling of continuous improvement, at all levels including classes and teacher teams, will help to build and maintain a learning culture.
  • Principals and school leaders may need PD to learn how to create and practice distributed leadership. Creating or using an instructional leadership team can also support distributed leadership as a team that represents the larger school community and is made up of content and pedagogical experts (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
Use these selected strategies and resources
Strategies and Tools Aligned Resources

Data Collection Priorities

Set clear data collection priorities for ongoing input including surveys, results of daily check-ins, and other key metrics of school connectedness, belonging, and engagement

Use or adapt these free surveys tailored to remote schooling under COVID-19 to learn what is working and what needs adjustment:

  • TNTP COVID-19 Support Survey: This resource includes survey questions designed to help district and network leaders understand what everyone in your school or school system needs during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Distance learning surveys to students, families, and staff: This resource helps you understand and address the needs of your district community with comprehensive feedback on distance or hybrid learning, well-being, school public health practices, and access to resources. (Panorama Education)

Data Analysis and Response Team

Create or reassign a data analysis and response team, data team, or continuous improvement team. This team will focus on continuous improvement by analyzing the available data and developing needed responses, tracking their implementation and effectiveness, and making adjustments as needed. (Everyone Graduates Center)

Support the data team in using the Carnegie Foundation’s “Plan, Do, Study, Act” (PDSA) cycle to guide the continuous improvement process. Carnegie notes that “Most schools and districts plan plan plan, then do, and then they never study.” Using PDSA, schools will see that if interventions or change ideas don’t work as expected (better or worse) there’s a lot to learn there. (How to Plan and Implement Continuous Improvement in Schools, MindShift)

Teacher Teams/Classes

Create regular times in teachers’ and leadership teams’ schedules to move away from the logistical problem-solving mode to an analytical and reflective mode to look at current data and make adjustments to improve student outcomes.

Simple protocols like the examples below help teachers stay student-centered while cultivating a team approach to continuous learning:

  • The Atlas: Learning From Student Work protocol (School Reform Initiative) helps teachers focus on student learning collaboratively by looking at student work samples. Using a protocol like this can help shift teacher conversation back to student learning in a moment where they are thinking about countless logistics.
  • The After Action Review protocol (2Revolutions) helps teams to assess successful and unsuccessful actions: What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? Why? What can we learn from this?