As the K-12 Goal Manager for Milwaukee Succeeds, I stay abreast of current evidence-based practices through conducting research, attending trainings, and talking to many of you—the experts. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a symposium about the Continuous Improvement methodology at work in the Menomonee Falls School District. Prior to joining Milwaukee Succeeds, I spent over a decade as a Process Improvement Engineer at Rockwell Automation, so I was extremely excited to see how a school district applies the quality tools used in industry to education.
The symposium was kicked off by the Superintendent, Dr. Pat Greco, who is an absolute dynamo. One of her opening slides featured the father of continuous improvement, Edward Deming, and his "14 Point System Principles" applied to education. Point #5 "Leadership is not a title” and #10 “Everyone works to reach the transformation” stood out to me. I was eager to get into classrooms to see Deming’s principles put into action.
Greco explained that for the majority of process improvement, a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is used on a fixed time-span. Every 45 days, the leadership team meets with teachers to review what has worked, to learn from one another, and to begin the PDSA cycle anew. It quickly became clear to me that Greco and her staff believe metrics drive behavior and as such, many items are graphed and tracked. I saw charting of standardized test scores, student satisfaction survey results from the librarian, and even the time IT takes to resolve issues. Everyone is involved in the PDSA cycles, from the custodians to the School Board, and the resulting pride and culture is palpable throughout the Menomonee Falls K-12 schools.
I toured classrooms in the high school, middle school, and ended my day at one of the elementary schools, Riverside. Through continuous improvement, the school has reduced the achievement gap for both children of color and children with disabilities, which comprise one-third of the population. I was lucky enough to observe Ms. Zahnow and her second graders explain how process improvement works in their class.
The students and Ms. Zahnow collaboratively kicked off the school year by creating a mission statement, “We, the second graders at Riverside School, will do our best to learn every day and make our classroom a fun place for everyone. We will do this by following the Riverside three B’s of being respectful, responsible, and safe. We will work as a team so all of our classmates are successful and ready to move to the third grade!” A mission statement signed by each student was displayed in each classroom I visited, whether it be 7-year-olds or 16-year-olds.
Also displayed in each classroom were the following headings: “Plan,” “Do,” “Study,” and “Act.” Every 45 days, the students and teachers collaboratively decide on a goal and display it in the “Plan” section. For Zahnow’s class, the goal read, “I can identify the main idea of a passage.” In the “Do” section, the students chose from a variety of strategies and posted the following strategies, “Partner Work,” “Teacher Modeling,” “Independent Work,” and “Confer with Teacher” as the best tactics for the class to attain their goal of interpreting the main idea of a passage. At Menomonee Falls, the proper terms and lexicon for classroom management and learning are used throughout every building so that students and the adults are all using the same language and have shared ownership and accountability.
In order to understand how the children are progressing toward their goal, the “Study” section of the PDSA board charts student progress. At the beginning of the 45-day cycle, four children were able to identify the main idea of a passage; in the middle, seven children were able to do so. On the day I observed the class, the teacher was able to say the seventeenth and final child attained the goal! The children bounced around and cheered excitedly! Throughout the 45-day cycle, the teacher regularly checks in with the children to understand what strategies are working for them, and where improvements can be made. These ideas are recorded in the “Act” section. For achieving their goal, the class was rewarded with a dress up day. Students voted between wearing hats, pajamas, or choosing a partner in class and dressing alike for school the next day. Overwhelmingly, the children voted for a pajama day, and I for one was with them!
Each of the 4,019 students and staff are involved in the continuous improvement journey. They fail forward, and they succeed together. The PDSA model for improvement allows for stronger student engagement, reflection, and performance. Students engage throughout the learning cycle in ways that personalize the learning plan to meet their learning needs. Menomonee Falls is meeting the needs of all students to a higher degree. The high school has 296% more AP Scholars than it did in 2010 and 100% of the black and Hispanic students graduated on time last year.
The symposium served as a welcome reminder that our work in education, much like many other industries, thrives with a process for continuous improvement. Teachers had a target, students had a goal, and everyone was working together. I departed the symposium full of inspiration, hopeful for the future of education, and brimming with Falls pride.
The next Symposium on Continuous Improvement will be held on November 16-17, 2017 in Menomonee Falls. Click the link to learn more: www.studereducation.com/continuous-improvement-symposium.
Have a great week!
Goal 2 Manager