Summer Lessons: School Improvement Planning in the Pandemic

This summer we’ve provided remote support for improvement planning in a number of schools. We’ve learned six lessons that we think are worth sharing. 

  1. School improvement planning is more important than ever. No matter the mode of instruction (virtual, hybrid, in classrooms), families and students are counting on schools to facilitate learning. Given all the demands for their attention, school leaders need to identify a few priorities and then build a plan that ensures those priorities are achieved. A clear, well-managed plan also creates collective responsibility for student success among the adults in the school.  
  2. It is absolutely possible to plan effectively in a virtual environment. We’ve facilitated multiple school improvement planning processes this summer – all virtually. Platforms like Zoom, NearPod, Mural, and Google Docs combined with facilitated protocols for team-building, data analysis, and prioritizing make it possible for school teams to identify their challenges, select priorities, and develop realistic plans for improvement. In addition, at a time when many school staff yearn for connections and community, the planning process brings people together to do critical work. 
  3. Even without state test scores, we have the data we need to plan. We’ve heard some school leaders argue that they can’t do school improvement planning because they don’t have Spring 2020 state test scores. In our work this summer we’ve found that good planning can take place without state test scores. Historical trend data, formative data from before March 2020, and even log-in and assignment data from the virtual environment of March-June 2020 can paint a picture of student needs. We’ve helped many school planning teams identify, access, and analyze a wide range of data to inform their plans, and most report that widening the scope of their data review and reducing their reliance on state test data has led to stronger plans. 
  4. We need to both address past root causes and anticipate future barriers. Our “Road Map to School Improvement Planning” describes a strong root cause analysis as fundamental to setting the right goals. We continue to push school teams to examine both their data and their practice to identify the root causes of low performance. Given the instability resulting from the pandemic, we’re also pushing school teams to look forward and anticipate potential barriers to implementing their plans. These conversations have helped teams identify and start to address new pandemic-related challenges like device connectivity, teacher illness, remote engagement, and family communication. Anticipating barriers allows the school to proactively plan to address these challenges with clear actions in their school improvement plan to meet student needs.  
  5. Action plans need to be flexible. As local public health conditions change, the mode of instruction for some or all students may shift between in-person, hybrid, and virtual. School improvement plans need to anticipate these changes and be flexible enough to proceed under varying conditions. A school’s goals remain the same but the plans for meeting the goal might look different. The key is enough detail to be confident that action will be taken but not so much detail that plans become obsolete as conditions, and mode of instruction, evolve.   
  6. It’s not too late to start planning. Because of pandemic-related uncertainty and confusion at the district and state levels and the inability to meet in person, many schools delayed planning for the upcoming school year.  Now that districts have decided on how and where instruction will take place, there is still time for school leaders to bring together (virtually or in person) a team to build a plan that ensures students and teachers will have the supports they need to be successful.   

To learn more about Mass Insight’s support for school improvement planning click here 

Rob Jentsch

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