What Kinds of Evidence Will We Collect?
Framing our evidence of learning is something that as a school we are beginning to unpack and wrestle with. The question we have been asking is: "How do we know that what we are doing is making enough of a difference?" Research is clear that no matter what initiative you undertake, you will see change, but change and improvement can be two completely different things. What we choose to collect as evidence of our actions and school improvement is very important. The graphic titled "An Inclusive Evidence Base" comes from an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (Lisbeth B. Schorr, "Broader Evidence for Bigger Impact," Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2012) and it states that to have a better idea of an impact, we need to examine evidence from a variety of sources:
- Evidence from Experimental Evaluations (ie. studies)
- Evidence from Non-experimental Evaluations (ie. report card data)
- Evidence from Other Research (ie. studies and scholarly papers around the same initiatives)
- Evidence from Practice and Experience (ie. what we experience, observe, and collect in schools every day)
In short, the better we do in broadening our evidence base, the better idea we will have of the positive impacts our work is making. As a staff, as we move down the road of collecting evidence to inform our practice, we will use this framework to guide our thinking about the collection and analysis of our evidence.
So, why choose Inquiry as the vehicle for school improvement? Traditionally, the school planning process has been a positive experience that has focused on data collection and data analysis, and then putting in systems or programs to improve that data. Schools would improve their data, or not, and would adjust strategies and goals as needed from year to year. Data is still central to school improvement, but what Inquiry adds to this overall process is a real focus on systems of professional learning over time that is rooted in curiousity about individual student needs. Inquiry is a systemic and informed approach to school improvement that involves all stakeholders in a school community – school administration, staff, students, and parents/guardians – to be involved in this transformative process. School districts around the world have been using Inquiry to guide their practice for some time, and as a result have been seeing more authentic and meaningful school improvement occur.
The Spiral-Playbook.pdf is an Inquiry model out of British Columbia, stemming from the work of Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser. The model has us ask questions as a learning community to uncover what is really going on for our students in our classrooms, to structure professional learning around what will make a difference for our students, to take informed action, and then to measure if it made enough of a difference. The Spiral of Inquiry framework allows for constant checking and re-checking over time. By having our students at the center of our school's Inquiry, and by collaboratively tailoring learning and actions to improve their learning experience, our school will dynamically improve over time in a living, and breathing reflection of our school's learning journey.
School Community Learning Plan Update (June 2018 )
Using the Spirals of Inquiry framework, our staff has started working toward a common goal - improving the day-to-day experience of students in our classrooms – in September of 2016. Teachers were provided implementation time, guidance, and support to shift the focus of inquiry to students, and were provided choice as to what area (Connections/Intellectual/Social-Emotional) they wanted to inquire about. Having a common direction, and the creation of common professional language has made for powerful learning and discourse at Rutland Middle.
With colleagues who have similar interests, as collaborative teams, they scanned their students using a variety of questions and surveys to get an understanding of what was going on for the learners in their rooms. An example of some of the questions used came directly from the Spirals:
- Can you name two people at RMS who believe you will be a success in life?
- What are you learning and why is it important?
- How is it going with your learning?
- What are your next steps?
Once having time to scan and rescan, the three inquiry teams began to focus their work down to three main questions that align with RMS's school goal (Institutional/Intellectual/Social Engagement). This stage was reached last year for our three groups:
- Supporting Connections/School Culture Goal:
- In an effort to increase student motivation to learn, how do we support students so that they feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to the RMS community?
- Intellectual Learning Goal:
- How can we ensure intellectual growth and continued academic improvement through strategies, such as growth mindset, as well as other targeted strategies?
- Social-Emotional Goal:
- What skills can we identify and provide our students to improve their social and emotional well-being, in order for students to be able to self-direct and reflect on their learning?
These "umbrella" questions have helped to focus each group's work, aligning into the Hunching phase ("What is leading to this situation? How are we contributing to it?"), and into the Learning Phase. This year, groups have been working on the Learning/Action phases of our Spirals process. These are phases that take a lot of time and effort, as teachers have been asking hard questions, learning new strategies, and are starting to implement changes in practice. This is all happening while having limited amounts of time, working in staff meetings, after school, and off the sides of their desks.
As mentioned above, a key aspect to Spirals is knowing whether or not we have made "enough of a difference." Groups are looking into methodology and trying to decide how to best to measure the effectiveness of things that are difficult to measure. As of now (June), this is the next step of our Inquiry work. We are hoping that as we move into the end of the year, and into next year, we are able to implement solid qualitative and quantitative measurement to inform our practice.
The implementation of the Spirals of Inquiry as a learning improvement system will likely take three to five years to effectively implement, but after the hard work this first two years, we are now working collectively as a staff toward improving the daily experience for students in a more mindful and disciplined way. Ultimately, Spirals is not a linear, "start to finish" process – professionals jump between stages all the time – and once we are more familiar with the various stages, later iterations will deepen the work and will lead to greater growth and improvement for student learning and experience.
As we move into the 2018-19 school year, our groups will re-scan, and may choose to refine some of our inquiry questions and goals to reflect the students that we will have, not the students that we had when we started. We will also be working to incorporate the OECD Seven Principles of Learning more deliberately into our work as we move forward.