Does Your Work Net-work?

December 5, 2017

Drew Schrader, NTN Director of Assessment

Sharing our most promising ideas or strategies is great, but often we leave so much of the thinking behind our work invisible thereby severely limiting collaboration. As NTN has explored formal improvement science with our schools, some practical tools have surfaced. These tools provide promising ways of organizing local school improvement work while also making ideas more visible and accessible to others.

The following two-part blog series will include tools that can help make schools’ local work begin to network and can aid educators in sharing improvement work across a network.

The chart below summarizes the tools we will review including what part of school improvement work they support and the thinking they help share.

The ToolWhat it SupportsThinking it Shares
 Strategy card The strategyWhat I did
 Theory of action: If… then… The theoryWhat I was testing
 Driver Diagram The set of strategiesHow I think it works
Fishbone DiagramThe diagnosisHow I see the Problem

Emerging Tools

Strategy Cards/Hack Cards: 

As educators, we have the least trouble sharing strategies, but we are finding that our efforts can be improved when we package strategies in a common format. Strategy Cards or Hack Cards provide one example of a way educators can help others access what they did more effectively.

The Math Agency Improvement Community sponsored by High Tech High has a great example of this in their change idea repository. The repository contains a number of promising strategies formatted in common way to allow for easier browsing and access.

A Theory of Action:

A theory of action reveals the next layer of thinking behind a promising strategy and forces educators to make our reasoning for trying a particular strategy visible in the form of an explicit prediction. This reasoning typically takes the form of a prediction: If we employ X strategy, then we believe Y outcome will occur. 

As an example from the New Tech Network Assessment Improvement Community, teachers at Belleville New Tech developed a very promising practice around student run workshops as a way to increase ownership over learning. Their theory was: if we create a way for students to provide workshops for each other, then students will begin proposing and requesting workshops rather than waiting to be assigned to them. For another teacher in the community, this explicit theory makes it clearer what the teachers were trying to accomplish with their student-lead workshops so they can try it out for a similar effect in their own setting. This shared understanding also allows for others to share back with Belleville about how the strategy worked for them and what adjustments they might have made to make it even more effective.

A Driver Diagram:

A driver diagram is an improvement science tool used to illustrate overall understanding for a set of strategies that lead to a desired outcome. Similar to a theory of action, a driver diagram can be read as a series of “if, then” statements, but a driver diagram more accurately represents the complex nature of most improvement efforts by mapping the way multiple strategies flow through a set of important factors to produce a particular outcome.

In the kick-off for NTN’s Sustainability Community, the team from Coppell New Tech created the driver diagram below to map out their work to improve student recruitment and retention. If you follow the first item from right to left, you can see that they have an idea to give middle school teachers a tour of their school. Their logic is that if they do that, then the middle school will think more positively about what they offer, which will improve the perception and awareness of the school and lead to better student recruitment.

Fishbone Diagram:
A fishbone diagram is like a driver diagram in reverse. Rather than mapping out the strategies that can be put together to create a positive outcome, a fishbone maps out the set of factors and conditions that are causing the problem in its current form. Before creating the driver diagram above, the team at Coppell first used a fishbone diagram to map out their understanding of their current challenges with school identity:

Tune in next week for Part two of Does your work net-work? Drew will share tools that will help enhance your thought process.

This blog originally appeared on P21

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