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Making Organizational Changes with Improvement Science

Making Organizational Changes with Improvement Science

“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it” is a quote attributed to Dr. Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in social and organizational psychology. Consider the methods you use for change. Improvement science applies measurable and individualized changes to address issues in education and help uncover the root cause of problems. Let’s take a look at how we can work with the idea of using improvement science as the lever for transformation.

Do you consider the students at the center of every problem and solution? This approach allows for the successful structures of improvement science to make effective, systemic, and sustainable organizational shifts.

Surely, a problem of practice can be viewed through multiple lenses: resource, systems, environment, stakeholders, and the list goes on. Yet, improvement science focuses on a theory of change aligned with the instructional core of the student, teacher, and content always at the forefront.

I’ve used improvement science frameworks in tandem with Edmentum to support students in credit recovery, aiding those needing academic extensions, as well as remediation. I’ve used diagnostics for identifying learning gaps, while building executive functioning skills of independence, reflection, and self-advocacy. Hooray, it’s a win every day!

Let’s take a closer look at how improvement science can be applied to any organization. First, determine the specific question you’re trying to solve. Next, determine what change you’ll introduce and, most importantly, why. Finally, create metrics to determine how you’ll know the change is actually an improvement.

Diving into the six principles of improvement science, it’s important to consider two parameters: be aware that there are nuances to every situation, be aware and focus on coherence—how one principle affects another.

Principle 1: Make the work problem-specific and user-centered. Step away from one-size-fits-all approach of solutions, and identify what needs to be fixed and why.

Principle 2: Pay attention to variation in performance. Realize that cognitive overload looks different. Determine what systems are in place to support engagement in complex tasks.

Principle 3: Look at the systems that produce the outcomes by using protocols such as the five whys, a fishbone diagram or process mapping. Understanding why the current results produce the current outcomes is key.  

Principle 4: Review measurement for improvement and accountability. Improvement is connected to observable factors and common data points and relies on creating systems and effective social routines that encourage trust, value change, and produce data in a timely manner. 

Principle 5: Use discipline inquiry to drive improvement. Take the time to test ideas and challenge held assumptions that support new ways of thinking and acting with a diverse community of practitioners, researchers, and leaders.

Principle 6: Accelerated Learning Through Leverage networked improvement communities (NICs) to meet goals. NICs are a group of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds solving problems together, which allow a focus on specific and common aims. Determine what methods are effective and what refinements are needed to create interventions that accelerate educational outcomes.

Importantly, student-focused, problem-centered inquiry allows for a focus on improvement with a common lens of equity. Just get started—but start small to organize a process that allows to learn by doing. One approach is to pose a hypothesis, make a prediction, gather evidence, and prove if a change is actually an improvement; then, scale it to produce desired outcomes. Organizational change supports the hard work to ensure success of each and every student we serve.

So, next time you’re considering how to leverage Edmentum to support student achievement, go ahead and follow the framework of improvement science to create an effective and sustainable approach that taps the skills of students and teachers to foster the creation of active, engaged, and critically thinking students who contribute to a greater world for us all.

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Lauren Johnson's picture
Lauren Johnson

Lauren Johnson is Secondary ELA Specialist at Arlington Public Schools, VA, a member of Edmentum 2022 Class of Inspiring Educators, and a member of the Edmentum Educator Network. Her inspiration stems from leading with love for the students, teachers, and communities she serves. Using a lens of both literacy and equity, her goals are to ensure all students are successful, and can make connections with their coursework and the world around them.