Avoiding the “random act of school improvement”

The fourth grade team begins their meeting by discussing yesterday’s PD. One teacher laments that she had the same training at last month’s special education team meeting; while another says she’s already using all of the strategies they learned. The third team member asks how he’s supposed to use every instructional minute when the custodian interrupts his class every day by chatting with his students while she empties the trash: “If the custodian won’t respect instructional time, how am I supposed to keep my students engaged?”

Our blog title this week comes from TNTP’s The Mirage (Jacob & McGovern, 2015), which focuses on professional development, but the phrase can certainly be applied to continuous improvement as well. Last week’s blog talked about some basics of continuous improvement in school contexts. This week we wanted to provide some additional guidelines from the research on what makes school improvement efforts work.

Consensus on the problem

Many school improvement efforts fail because the stakeholders do not agree the problem being solved is a problem at all. Individuals are not likely to embrace change if they do not feel the problem exists. Communication of the problem with all stakeholders is a good start, but convincing them that it is a problem is essential. As leaders we need to ask ourselves, “What makes me believe this is a problem?” If stakeholders are not on board, it may be wise to shift to a problem that everyone can agree on, and gather additional data on other problems to tackle in the future.

Coordinated efforts

Most districts have substantial resources dedicated to improving schools and instruction, including salaries for staff, release time for educators, funding for outside consultants, and money spent on various materials and resources. Many of the efforts, however, may be repetitive or even conflicting when people are not aware of the efforts of others. Coordinating efforts can be challenging, particularly in large districts that have many departments and funding streams, but it is essential to promoting continuous improvement. Creating a cloud-based record, or other regular venue, for each department, school, or individual to document current efforts and whom or where they are focusing these efforts is a good starting point. This record can serve as a starting point for enforcing an expectation for transparency and coordination of services across the district.

Set goals and assess progress at all levels

As schools are ultimately focused on improving learning, much of the burden for improvement tends to fall at the lowest level, onto individual classroom teachers. Continuous improvement, however, must focus on changing all components of the system. From lunchrooms and janitors’ closets to the school board meeting room, every individual must know and be measured on their contribution to improvement. While many schools have strategic plans, few translate those plans into contributions of each individual in the organization. What is the bus drivers’ contribution to our improvement efforts? What is the role of each individual school board member in helping the district achieve these goals? The overall goals must be broken down into the tiny pieces that are the responsibility of individual people in order for improvement to become a part of day-to-day operations.

Get Metiri to Help

Metiri’s TRAx system is designed to measure districts’ and schools’ readiness for digital learning at all levels, information that can then be used to inform continuous improvement efforts. Find more information here, then fill out the contact form online or call us for a demonstration of the system and examples for how it can work in your district.


Jacob, A., & McGovern, K. (2015). The mirage: Confronting the hard truth about our quest for teacher development. Brooklyn, NY: TNTP. Retrieved from

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