Welcome to the Fall 2020 issue of Unboxed, which focuses on “Continuous Improvement” in education. We chose to re-launch Unboxed with this topic, because at The High Tech High Graduate School of Education (HTH GSE), we have become increasingly excited about the potential of Continuous Improvement as a tool for identifying problems and developing solutions across education, from individual classrooms to entire school systems.
First, we need to define “Continuous Improvement.”
“Continuous Improvement” is a phrase with a long history, and multiple interpretations (much like “project-based learning,” as it happens). Here is our definition:
“Continuous Improvement” is a process in which one seeks positive changes by first gaining a deep understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, then answering three questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish, for whom, by when?
- How will you know that a change is an improvement?
- What are you going to try in order to achieve your goal?
Once you have answered those three questions, you try something out, collect data that lets you know in what ways it is and is not an improvement, tweak it, try again, study what happened, and repeat again.
You will come out of this with concrete changes that you feel confident will, at least, go some way towards solving your problem. You may make a series of small steps, mostly in the right direction, or you may achieve a breakthrough in which multiple improvements seem to happen at once.
The other critical component is that you are doing this work alongside other people who are tackling the same problem in their own contexts, so you can all share ideas (and commiserate in frustration) with each other.
There’s a lot more to it, obviously, but everything else is scaffolding that increases the effectiveness of the core processes.
In this issue you’ll read about a range of educators working on various continuous improvement projects and reflecting on the processes and their results. Stacey Caillier shares ten lessons learned from five years of leading and supporting continuous improvement projects, Julie Holmes explains how the High Tech High Teacher Center has integrated continuous improvement into their credentialing program, Julie Ruble describes how she used continuous improvement to change reading instruction in her classroom, Michelle Pledger describes her experience combining culturally responsive pedagogy with continuous improvement, Ben Daley outlines findings from the HTH GSE’s facilitation of a state-wide network of high schools using continuous improvement to help more students of color and students from low-income families attend college, and Rodrigo Arancibia and Cesar Fernandez interview Escondido High School principal Adriana Lepe-Ramirez about her experience with this work. Finally, Daisy Sharrock, Katerina Milvidskaia, and Curtis Taylor illuminate the stories behind their current work with networks of teachers and administrators combining “lesson study” with continuous improvement.
We also included a glossary on pages six.