This week, the virtual PLC I’m leading will gather for its 6th time since November. We’re in our third round of what one might call “Plan-Do-Study-Acting,” or working our way through improvement cycles animated by the Carnegie Foundation’s improvement science work.

As I prepared for this week’s meeting, I reflected on the challenges my team members have expressed that they’re facing, namely that their change ideas may not (yet) be resulting in the outcomes they predicted. It should go without saying that this can be a frustrating reality and one that might lead one to question the effort in general. So I revisited Anthony Bryk’s, Learning to Improve, which has served as a guide for me in this year-long effort, and pulled a 1-page excerpt for the team to review. Here are some key passages from it:

Especially during the early stages of an improvement effort, it is likely that the predicted outcomes will not occur. The improvement team asks, “Why? What did we not take into account?” Their analytic probing helps them form the next PDSA cycle on the iterative journey toward reliable change.” (p.208)

If the initial hunches turn out to be wrong and the process deficient, the idea will eventually break down, and the predicted outcomes will not repeat. Such failures are valuable grist for improvement efforts. Reflecting on these failures causes improvers to question critically, “What did we miss? Does the change protocol need to be refined further? Do we need to make adaptations to make it work in this new context?” (p.208)

I want this crew to know that their failures (if you want to call them that) are learning opportunities, and in fact, it is this “messy middle” of an improvement process where some of the biggest learning can occur if you open yourself up to it and have the “holding environment,” or as Drago-Severson describes it, “a safe context for growth” to do so.

I am hopeful that the group will leave this meeting, which will involve some personal connections, some reading, a Consultancy protocol, and a broader reflection on our effort, with a newfound sense of possibilities as they look ahead to next steps they can take or pivots they can make to intentionally strive towards their aim for student outcome improvement.

If you’re interested in seeing how I’ve gone about the facilitation of multiple iterations of supporting the progress of PLC members’ improvement efforts, you can see the agenda from last month’s meeting here, and the agenda for this week’s meeting here. Both have been modified for public consumption and to honor the privacy of my wonderful PLC. You should feel free to copy and make them your own, if you find them useful.


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