Understanding Continuous Improvement
How often do we hear the phrase continuous improvement? It seems to be a phrase folks throw around a lot but based on the gravity of status quo, how often is it really just a worn out phrase? And really - what is continuous improvement anyway? How do we know it when we see it?
According to Carla Silberstein, principal of Franklin Avenue Elementary School (Pearl River School District, Rockland County, New York), it’s all about using data to drive performance, “We’re continually measuring our progress. It’s a never-ending process. Good is never good enough.” And when Silberstein refers to the phrase “good is never good enough” – it’s not really the data (the results) that are the end game. Actually, maybe it’s more about the processes that generate the “good is never good enough” results. And in our world as educators, that can be a daunting set of processes. There’s leadership processes, workforce processes, operations processes, student and family processes, knowledge management processes, strategy processes… and they can (and likely should) work together to produce good results. In fact, the more integrated these processes, the more likely an organization will see good, positive, sustained trends. So often, we look to our results to find out if our processes are working and this can generate a lot of questions: Have we adequately trained our staff to do the work? Do we have enough staff to get the work done? Do we engage our employees in their work and organization? Do they feel cared for? How do we lead? Do our students/families have a voice? Are we listening to them or deciding for ourselves what they want from us?
What Does Planking Have to Do with Continuous Improvement?
All this makes me think continuous improvement may be a little like planking – a new thing in my world. While I am well versed in running, not so much in this world of balance and strength training. Turns out, running isn’t the only “process” you need to get good results when it comes to a complete system of health and long term physical activity/well-being. So when I first started this adventure, I learned quickly that planking demanded many muscles working together to support the movement. At first, I couldn’t plank for very long (results). But with practice, I continued to improve. Then, when I was getting better, I needed to change the process to keep improving (“good was never good enough”). So with a little tweak (which is really an innovation), I added a disc to challenge my balance while planking. So now the process demanded two results instead of one – time and balance. Why did I do this? To escape the gravity of status quo. While planking for a minute was now easier and I could do it – that process alone wouldn’t generate new and better results. It was time to improve the process to get even better results. Was it uncomfortable? Yes, but necessary to keep improving. And you can also see that the more processes you integrate – the more likely you will get better results.
How does this apply to educators?
We have many processes going on all at the same time, led by different departments and staff. Yet, the more we can focus on what we expect our key outcomes (results) to be, the more likely we can link arms to integrate our work processes to get there. So the results drive the process improvement and integration and when achieved on ever increasing levels – it’s a powerful position to confidently say, “good is never good enough.” Together, we got this.