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Participants learned how to apply improvement methods across multidisciplinary teams to improve equity in a real-life school system example.

Shift created our Improvement Methods for Equity (IM4E) practicum in 2020, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to provide a team-based opportunity to learn and apply improvement methods to generate more equitable outcomes in education. Our first cohort included 14 nonprofit, university, and school district partners, who met for a virtual learning session in April 2020 and again between October 2020 – January 2021 During this time, participants learned how to apply improvement methods across multidisciplinary teams to improve equity in a real-life school system example.

At the end of this session, we received excellent feedback from the people who committed to this course. We were encouraged by their enthusiasm, but we still walked away from the final session with a nagging question: Did it work? Will this training result in more equitable outcomes in education?

We didn’t have to wait too long to find out. In April, more than 1,800 people virtually gathered to attend the Carnegie Foundation’s 2021 Summit on Improvement in Education. People working in education, many new to improvement, learned fundamental concepts and practical tools for driving improvement and leading networked improvement communities. Shift staff had the opportunity to reunite with several IM4E participants to present what we learned in our Improvement Methods for Equity (IM4E) practicum. Tanya Johnson of Impact Strategy Group facilitated a panel of IM4E participants, who provided critical and practical insights on how the training – and its tools – benefited their organization’s equity goals.

Each panelist had the opportunity to share the value of the IM4E training, what skills they gained, and what sparked an “Aha!” moment. Garner Andrews, a social studies teacher and team leader at Alexandria City High School, Alexandria City Schools, Internationals Network recalled a specific tool that his organization used – the .

“When I learned about this tool, it just opened my eyes to what I felt was missing in past years of attempting to do student growth goals … and what we’ve been doing slightly wrong,” he stated. “We applied [the key driver diagram] at the end of the past school year, and it was one of the most productive conversations that we had as a leadership team.”

The conversation continued as each panelist shared the value of the tools they learned through the program.

“I felt like I had a hammer, nail, and a couple of screw drivers... then coming into IM4E, all the tools, templates, and videos, I felt like I walked into Home Depot,” shared Jon Roure, executive vice-president & chief innovation officer of the Student Leadership Network, about his experience diving into all that the IM4E learnings offered. “There were just so many more tools, so many more avenues available to me and my staff to figure out how we take this concept and put it into practice.”

Sharing her experiences in Philadelphia, Alia Dickerson, assistant principal at William L. Sayre High School (participating as part of The Philadelphia Academies team), explained how her organization tracked rates for 9th graders to determine inequities in Special Education. By using a specific tool called a process map, her organization saw the roadblocks that they ran into by not having enough voices involved in this effort.

“We needed to make sure that we had other members, other stakeholders, in order to add their input into that process,” Dickerson shared. “I ended up looping our special education compliance monitor, another teacher, in order to figure out what were some really good change ideas that we can put into practice to improve how we support our students in Special Education.”

Shift strongly believes that the starting place for any improvement initiative is to build an improvement team that reflects the system that you are trying to improve. It is critical to bring the people most impacted by the policies and practices of that system into the conversation. By involving these people, organizations will illuminate blind spots to clarify the purpose of the improvement efforts, identity what measures will be most meaningful, and create new insights.

Shift’s program design supported participants as they applied their learning to their respective organizations.

During the panel discussion, Dickerson explained that school faculty members across Philadelphia are using the tools she learned in the IM4E training.

“I have colleagues that are utilizing the empathy interviews and interviewing parents and students and getting some ideas around the student experience in their schools.” Dickerson shared. “Everyone created a SMARTIE aim statement to ground their work this year.”

The IM4E training process offered participants the agency to decide which tool was for appropriate for their organization and when. As Roure explained in his “Toolbox versus Home Depot” analogy, knowing how to select the right tool was also a critical component of the process. This point was elevated through the experience of Tonia Shook, a secondary program coordinator for the Office for Leading and Learning at Pasco County Schools, as the district worked to improve diversity across sixth grade advanced mathematics.

“We piloted our project at one school. In doing so, we were able to put 33 additional students – a whole class of students –  in advanced mathematics,” Shook said. “What made us successful in getting those students in the courses – opening up a lifetime of opportunity – was that we began with the root cause analysis and figuring out why  there is a lack of diversity in eighth grade, and it starts in sixth grade.”

Shook, and other panelists, also pointed to the importance of having Shift staff support them throughout the process. They all said that the tools are great but having the coaching from the Shift team elevated their experience.

“I really want to highlight the coaching from Shift... that really helped us. Sometimes we would get stuck, although it was not part of the tool, it was extremely impactful.”

In all, putting the IM4E methods, skills and tools into action led to success for education teams across the country.

New to improvement? Check out our online learning page for instructional videos and tools to support your improvement journey.




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