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Getting Better at Getting Better: Improvement Dispositions in Education

by Manuelito Biag & David Sherer - 2021

Background/Context: Continuous improvement methods are becoming increasingly popular in education. Existing research has emphasized the technical aspects of improvement practice and has rarely focused on important social phenomena that underlie improvement work, such as the mindsets and identities of successful practitioners. To address this gap, we conducted an exploratory study of educators involved with networked improvement communities (NICs).

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Two questions guide our study: (1) How do participants in networked improvement communities describe the key dispositions of educational “improvers”? and (2) What do participants report as the types of activities, social processes, and tools that enable the development of these dispositions?

Research Design: We used purposive and snowball sampling to recruit participants from diverse roles and who had received training in improvement science and/or had been involved in a NIC. We asked respondents to refer us to colleagues who were incorporating improvement science principles and tools into their professional work. In total, we interviewed 22 participants.

Data Collection and Analysis: We conducted semistructured, virtual interviews using Zoom. We audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim each interview for analysis. Through a collaborative and progressive process using NVivo 12 software, we applied open and axial coding methods to the data to identify emergent themes and patterns.

Findings/Results: Respondents report that educational improvers engage in disciplined inquiry, adopt a learning stance, take a systems perspective, possess an orientation toward action, seek the perspective of others, and persist beyond initial improvement attempts. Results also suggest that having opportunities to practice improvement with guidance from a coach, having access to a learning community of trusted colleagues, working in an environment where there are resources to support improvement work, and having leaders who model an improvement mindset support educators’ ability to engage in new practices that shift how they see themselves and relate to their work.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study helps identify important dispositions associated with continuous improvement work in education. It also highlights the potential for NICs to bring about substantive changes in how participants connect to their professional practice, as well as with their colleagues, and how they pursue solutions to complex problems. Our research also suggests the need to provide educators with authentic opportunities to engage in fundamentally novel types of activities to cultivate new ways of approaching work that help all students learn and succeed.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 4, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23648, Date Accessed: 5/15/2021 8:17:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Manuelito Biag
    Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
    E-mail Author
    MANUELITO BIAG, Ph.D., currently serves as a senior associate at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. His interests include design thinking, research–practice partnerships, educational leadership, and networked improvement science. A current publication is: Biag, M., Gomez, L., Imig, D., & Vasudeva, A. (2021). Responding to COVID-19 with the aid of mutually beneficial partnerships. Frontiers in Education, 5, 309–324. doi:10.3389/feduc.2020.621361. Available here.
  • David Sherer
    Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
    E-mail Author
    DAVID SHERER, Ed.D., is an associate at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is particularly interested in using evidence to help educational leaders promote effective collaboration within their organizations and across broader improvement networks. A current publication is: Sherer, D., Norman, J., Bryk, A.S., Peurach, D. J., Vasudeva, A., & McMahon, K. (2020). Evidence for improvement: An integrated analytic approach for supporting networks. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Available here.
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