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New Toolkit Helps Schools Use Continuous Processes to Solve Problems

Diana Wogan

Diana Wogan
REL Researcher

Tue Dec 22 2020

REL Northeast & Islands recently developed a new toolkit to help schools and districts engage in continuous improvement processes. Practitioners can use the toolkit to focus on a specific problem of practice and, through a series of iterative cycles, test changes, gather data about the changes, and study the potential influence of these changes on outcomes of interest.

This new resource was conceived in response to a local Northeast & Islands Region need. Cassandra Townshend, Director of Special Education at Vermont’s Charlotte Central School, and her team noticed an increase in students being sent for discipline referrals. They suspected that students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) were being sent more than students without IEPs and reached out to the REL Northeast & Islands team for assistance with using a continuous improvement process to address the issue.

Based on our experience coaching school and district teams on continuous improvement processes, our team developed Continuous Improvement in Education: A Toolkit for Schools and Districts for educators. The toolkit draws from research and existing continuous improvement resources to provide a road map for educators who want to take their team through a continuous improvement process. It includes meeting agendas, activities, videos, and tools to build their capacity in continuous improvement. Educators can conduct their own improvement cycles, even without previous experience or additional resources.

Our REL Northeast & Islands team piloted the toolkit with the team at Charlotte Central School during the 2019/20 school year. The Charlotte team used the toolkit’s processes to dig into the discipline referral problem and its root causes. After exploring the schoolwide information system (SWIS) data, collected as part of their Positive Behavioral Information and Supports work, the team realized that behavior issues peaked between 12 and 1 p.m., when most students were transitioning to lunch and recess. Analyzing the data helped them see that discipline referrals were not disproportionate for students on IEPs. They were actually most pervasive during transition times in the hallways.

Based on this analysis, the team identified practices they could test to try to address the problem. These included reinforcing behavior expectations during morning meetings and announcements and praising positive behavior as it occurred during transition times. The team also created quick data collection methods to gauge responses to the practices, such as whether teachers were praising positive behavior in the hallways and whether students remembered behavior expectations that were reinforced during morning announcements in the afternoon. The practices were tested in Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles, in which the team gathered data about the practice and then studied the data to see if the practice improved the situation.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team’s work was cut short. Nevertheless, using the toolkit proved to be a valuable experience for the Charlotte team. And looking to the future, Townshend affirms, “We’ll continue to use the continuous improvement process as we enhance our systems and practices to support our students and staff.”

To learn more about our new toolkit, watch a webinar that explores the topic of continuous improvement and presents an overview of the toolkit. During this webinar, Townshend shares about her experience piloting the toolkit and answers questions from participants.