Are You Asking the Right Questions to Drive Continuous Improvement?
By: Jo Hannah Ward
Humans have an innate desire to learn and improve. We work to improve our health through nutrition and exercise. We also might set a schedule or use tools and apps to collect data and track our progress on our smart phones. We focus on changing our behavior (exercise and nutrition) to impact our data (the number of steps to help improve our cardiovascular system and our weight). Sometimes we join a gym, engage in group activities or obtain a coach. Along the way, we also ask ourselves and others in our lives questions that might lead to greater improvement: “What did I do to lose a pound this week?” or “How can I find time to walk in the evenings?” As we work toward our goals, we are continuously evaluating our personal data and engaging with others in ways that help us reach our goals. Continuous improvement in schools is very similar.
Just as we each have personal goals for which we continuously strive, Ohio’s education system has goals. Our focus for education is that all students begin school ready for kindergarten, actively engage in learning and graduate prepared for college and careers. Each district and school is working toward those goals and toward ensuring all student groups have equal access to high-quality instruction. Schools and districts that want higher achievement for all students should continuously plan for improvement.
The Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) is the process by which Ohio’s schools and districts examine their data and continually respond to it with plans for improvement. Although Ohio’s most challenged schools use the Ohio Improvement Process, all schools and districts can use the process as a means of continuous improvement. The following items are seven key elements of the Ohio Improvement Process:
- Aligns vision, mission and philosophy. Every step of the continuous improvement planning process should always consider the vision, mission and philosophy or beliefs of the district and community school. The questions should be, “Do the strategies, actions and resource allocations support our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?” and “Are our behaviors and decisions congruent with our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?”
- Is continuous and recursive. Districts fully committed to high performance do not view continuous improvement as a process that occurs in addition to what they do. Continuous improvement is the core work at every level of the organization and, by nature, repeats itself.
- Relies on quality data interpretation. An effective planning process is based on the ability of the district, schools and classrooms to use data to name critical problems, develop a focused plan, check progress of the plan and evaluate the plan’s impact.
- Is collaborative and collegial. Every plan gets its strength from the people who are committed to it. Engaging the community in understanding the plan will make it stronger and help others become invested in making it work. Make sure the plan reflects the joint thinking and planning of collaborative teams that include businesses, community members, students and families who support plan development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Ensures communication with those who are affected by the success of the district or community school at each stage. Districts and community schools may have the same needs that their communities or school buildings have. Gathering their feedback may help the planning team better understand the situation. Multiple opportunities for communication and feedback should be included throughout the process.
- Produces one focused, integrated plan that directs all district or community school work and resources. Districts and community schools have had many plans (for example, technology, professional development, Title 1, Title 2, special education, career and technical education) for many reasons (basis of funding applications or federal or state requirements). Multiple plans diminish the district’s or community school’s ability to respond to the most critical needs. By developing a single, focused plan that responds to the most critical needs, the district or community school will prioritize resources to achieve lasting success.
- Sets high expectations for changes to student performance and adult practices. The purpose of having a thoughtful planning process is to produce a plan that will change student and adult behaviors. This leads to improved instructional practice and student performance.
More than 400 districts and thousands of schools across Ohio engage in the Ohio Improvement Process. The Ohio Improvement Process is now 10 years old (Happy Birthday OIP). The Department has improved and updated the process through a continuous feedback loop, illustrated in the graphic at the beginning of this article.
For the 10-year anniversary, we have the biggest update coming your way soon! We have simplified the four stages and five steps in our current model into a single model. In the model, we move between steps in a not-so-linear fashion. Here is a sneak peek at the new look of the upgraded model:
For comparison, here is the current model:
Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students. You can learn more about Jo Hannah by clicking here.
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