Asking Big Questions in Small Steps

February 10, 2016

Improvement Science and College & Career Readiness

What do we really mean when we say “college & career readiness”? And what does college and career awareness look like in schools? How can we set a quality standard for awareness and find meaningful ways to measure it? These are some big questions I am asking with a few colleagues at NTN and 5 other organizations within the Deeper Learning network.

Over the past 4 months I have been part of a network improvement community that is using improvement science to tackle student access and readiness for College, Career and Civic Life.  It has been an intense learning experience, inclusive of excitement, frustration and forgiveness.  I am actively practicing a growth mindset in an attempt to learn in a community, support a school in their learning and continue to push the learning of our organization.

Improvement Science is a new learning process for me. I have a deep appreciation for three tenants of the learning process:

  1. Avoid “solutionitis”. This is so counterintuitive to my professional purpose. And, this has pushed me to be a more engaged thinker in the learning process, because I’m not searching for the solution. This opens a door to learning and understanding I’ve never experienced before.
  2. Dig into the problem and data. I appreciate how Improvement Science requires unpacking the problem to allow us to better understand the problem. The focus on data also gut checks assumptions and keeps a disciplined eye on learning, and not solving a problem based on what we think.
  3. How will you measure success? This is a seemingly practical question, but it unravels a conundrum of defining and measuring success, beyond the scope of my solution oriented mind. It has pushed my thinking about how to measure and opened opportunities to think differently about “success” and meaningful representations of what success is.

The power of the NIC (Network Improvement Community)

There is a great energy and wealth of knowledge working with five other organizations. It has been affirming to note trends in questions, frustrations and successes that span across many communities and varying approaches to student learning improvement. Having the opportunity to share learning and receive feedback beyond the scope of the New Tech lens has been reinvigorating. It’s great to feel a part of an even bigger movement and community and to learn from incredibly thoughtful and intelligent people who are leading deeper learning in a variety of ways.

How can I best support a school in this process?

Not only am I wrapping my head around Improvement Science, but I am also privileged to support a school that is learning this with me and using Improvement Science to improve College and Career awareness. A big learning curve for me is how to best support a school in this process, and how to identify their needs when I am not an expert. This process is so new to our network that we don’t have an established structure for the differences in support needs in Improvement Science. While the learning has been very beneficial, I carry a deep sense of responsibility to be a competent supporter of this process. I’m grateful for the patience of the school team and I am honored to be a trailblazer for NTN school Improvement Science support.

How can this learning build better capacity for NTN to honor its core value of students thriving in post secondary life?

At the end of the day, this learning is intended to improve our capacity around Network College and Career Readiness support and strategies. I’m excited at the questions we are asking now, that we weren’t before. I’m inspired by the data we are seeking and learning from in a different way. I am humbled by the incredible work of preparing students for an ever-changing world. Now that I am a more open learner, more disciplined in my learning practice and learning with a great community of practitioners, I am confident that the outcomes from this learning experience will be of great use to our network.