Scaling Initiatives For Positive Student Impact

A recent blog post, “Looking at the Numbers in Education: What Scales, Anyway” by Alex Hernandez, intrigued me. In the post, Alex talks about the things that scale in education and wonders if those solutions actually help students learn. He notes that “scale” is not good or bad but that we should define what we mean when we talk about scale. NCLB, textbooks and homework have reached the largest scale in education but we know those things aren’t having the biggest impact on student learning in our schools.

It’s the schools and districts that are trying many solutions, using data, and then scaling those initiatives across the organization that are getting results. A 10x solution for a district may come from putting five 1% ideas together in a remix that has a big impact. So how do we scale the right solutions in our schools and use data wisely to inform next steps?

Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  1. Ask the “why” about what you’re doing and focus on student learning while acknowledging from the beginning that no one solution will fix your challenges.
  2. Build a culture of innovation in your district to encourage teams to explore solutions to existing problems. Provide substitutes so that teams of teachers can get away for an extended time to collaborate. If possible, provide seed funding so that teams can purchase supplies, books and classroom resources.
  3. Use the design process to work with groups to explore multiple solutions for a problem. A great resource is Ewan McIntosh’s new book, “How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen.” The Notosh design approach emphasizes finding the right problem to solve and using a variety of team activities to develop a solution that will bring the most value.
  4. Use the business model canvas to plan how you’re going to implement. The business model template can assist you in identifying all the necessary components of your plan.
  5. Try your solutions on a small scale with a first and second iteration. Rapid prototyping allows you to quickly deploy and receive feedback to inform your next steps.
  6. Gather quantitative and qualitative data and create a case study of the results to share with all stakeholders including your local school board and community partners. People will invest in your idea if they see the value.
  7. Use the “yes and” mindset to find ways to grow or pivot your initiative. We sometimes have too many “yes buts” in education. We use excuses like “we don’t have time,” “the administration won’t support it,” and “the students aren’t ready” to stall initiatives. When you discover a new challenge, brainstorm solutions that will allow your initiative to move forward and grow.

It’s very easy to continue the status quo in education by implementing programs on a large scale before discovering if your solution will have a positive impact on student learning.  By using the startup model, your organization can get to those results much more quickly. The rapid feedback process will help you to build a successful and lasting initiative that will scale across your organization.

Donna Teuber is the team leader for technology integration in South Carolina’s Richland School District Two, a Project RED Signature District with 1:1 computing in grades 3-12 impacting 21,000 students. Technology leadership has been key to the success of the Richland Two initiative, and Donna has created a Technology Leadership program to provide school administrators with the tools to lead the initiative at their schools, as well as leading the R2 Innovates! innovation incubator which provides teams of teachers with the training and resources that they need to implement innovative practices. 

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