Educator Best Practice: Continuous Improvement
I had the opportunity to do experiential corporate training as part of being a graduate assistant. Learning how to conduct training and development for corporate groups was some of the best training I ever received to hone my skills as an educator. Two of the lessons learned that are pertinent to this post are:
- The Importance of Continuous Quality Improvement
- Implementing a Procedure for Formative Evaluation
Continuous Quality Improvement
Continuous quality improvement is often written into the missions and built into the practices of high performing corporations. Because I became impressed with this practice, I included it in my own mission statement and guiding principles as an educator.
Set standards that encourage continuous improvement and the production of ideas that result in improved solutions.
Some of the tenets of Kaizen [the translation of kai (“change”) zen (“good”) is “improvement”] can help guide the practice of continuous quality improvement within one’s teaching.
- Improvements are based on many small changes rather than the radical changes.
- All educators should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance
- Ideas for change and improvement come from the educators and students themselves.
- Educators to take ownership for their work and related improvements.
I advocate for the use of reflective practice activities by educators and by students, and discuss this in Where is reflection in the learning process?
Reflective teaching means looking at what you do in the classroom, thinking about why you do it, and thinking about if it works – a process of self-observation and self-evaluation. By collecting information about what goes on in our classroom, and by analyzing and evaluating this information, we identify and explore our own practices and underlying beliefs. This may then lead to changes and improvements in our teaching.
This is directly related to formative evaluation. Formative Evaluation (different than Formative Assessment) is . . .
useful in analyzing learning materials, student learning and achievements, and teacher effectiveness…. Formative evaluation is primarily a building process which accumulates a series of components of new materials, skills, and problems into an ultimate meaningful whole. – Wally Guyot (1978) (http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/isd/types_of_evaluations.html)
I am proposing the use of formative evaluations as part of one’s teaching practice in a less formal manner than what might be used in training and development settings. The goal, though, is the same . . . to assess efforts prior to their completion for the purpose of improving the efforts (http://www.beyondintractability.org/bi-essay/formative-evaluation).
How can the educator, given limited time and resources, build continuous quality improvement and formative evaluations into his or her practices? As I previously stated, I advocate for the use of reflective practice into one’s teaching, not only for the teacher, but for the student.
I have been asking students to reflect on their learning since I began teaching. Since I am an experiential educator, our face-to-face time is/was spent doing cooperative learning activities, Socratic seminars, art-based activities, case study analysis, and others. As such, it becomes important for students to extract personal meaning. An ongoing course assignment in my classes is to reflect, through journaling, on significant learning during our class time together.
It began with them just handing in typed out versions of their class reflections. Now I do so using Facebook and Blogging. For an example, see my Facebook Page for my Interpersonal Relations course.
The purpose of this post is to propose a rationale and a means for educators to engage in continuous improvement. What I discovered through student journals and blogging is that not only does it promote reflection, it is an amazing source of feedback for me as an educator. I learn, through the student reflections, what was most significant for them during the class time. This assists me in focusing on their learning needs in future classes as well as in helping me re-design future similar courses.
I also encourage students to back-channel (usually through Twitter). I have discovered that this is a powerful form of note talking and for some students, this active way of learning helps to retain information covered during class time. As is the case for student class reflections, it also provides me with information about the points of my presentation that are most relevant for the participants. This helps me revise and re-focus future, upcoming classes.
These are just a few ways that instructional activities provide me with rich data of what they learn and experience during class time. I, then, take the initiative to use this data as a type of formative assessment to engage in and practice my form of Kaizen, continuous quality improvement.