Over a year into the pandemic and with some way still to go until a return to “normalcy,” our grantees are leveraging Continuous Improvement (CI) practices, including in virtual settings, to make an impact in the lives of their students.
Nowhere was this clearer than in my virtual visit earlier this year with the Bronx Latin Post-Secondary Success Team (PST), which illustrated how improvement teams are using CI methods virtually to keep students on track early in their high school careers. For those not familiar with the term, Continuous Improvement is essentially a process where a group of educators sets a clear goal for what they will do and what change will result, applies specific interventions or changes, and then evaluates what worked and what didn’t and uses those insights to refine the approach through a continuous feedback loop.
At Bronx Latin, one of 43 New Visions for Public Schools partner schools that are part of the foundation’s K-12 Networks for School Improvement (NSI), PST teachers and counselors are working to help ninth graders achieve an 80% average GPA by implementing continuous improvement practices to boost their academic performance (note: in some New York City Public Schools, GPA is based on a 100-point scale rather than the 4.0 scale that I grew up with and that you see in other places). The improvement team works to understand barriers and challenges students face, identify change ideas to address them, and reviews their impact over time to support more 9th graders to stay on track for success. Interventions include one-on-one check-ins with students, mentoring and advising, and data-driven evaluation and goal setting. Bronx Latin students are well-positioned to achieve at least an 80% GPA, and progress has remained consistent in a year that’s been anything but. By the numbers:
- Of the 847 courses that 9th graders are enrolled in, they are earning an 80+ in 596 of them - that’s 70%!
- Students are currently on track to meet their goal, with at least 65% of 9th graders earning an 80+ GPA.
- At Midyear, 58 students were projected to earn an 80+ GPA and over the last quarter 3 more students have moved above 80+.
Sitting in as a guest on the Bronx Latin improvement team’s weekly meeting, I was thrilled to see the progress in metrics - homework completion, test scores, grade point averages - the team reported. But even better was seeing how the PST’s commitment to CI drove the improved outcomes, and how they applied an improvement mindset to the challenge of engaging 9th graders and building relationships virtually in what research shows is a critical year for students.
What stuck with me most from the PST meeting is that many teachers and counselors had never met their students in person, or even face to face - yet their students are still staying on track. How did they do it? In response to the challenge of teaching and learning in a virtual setting, Bronx Latin teachers and counselors set a goal of intentionally incorporating relationship-building and fostering interpersonal connections into their CI work.
Take Nancy Yeh, for example, who built a connection with her students through a common love of old films. After a student shared in conversation that they loved old films, she jumped on the opportunity to start a “movie club.” She developed a love for film herself while in college, and now she recommends films for students to watch and discuss. Other students have caught onto the idea and are joining as well. Building this connection with students who are harder than ever to reach is nothing short of game-changing - both for students’ confidence and sense of belonging, which contributes to their academic improvement.
Or, look at the case of Panayiota Cubero, who shared that she had not yet been able to connect with one of her students - even after consistent outreach via chat, calls, and emails. Hearing this, another teacher, Kayla Desmond, realized she had the same student in class, and offered her fellow PST member to virtually “sit in” on her next class so she could use the opportunity to catch the student in virtual instruction and finally connect. It’s this kind of above and beyond effort that lets students know adults in their lives care and are invested in their success - even when the world is upside down.
Weekly improvement meetings allow the team of educators the opportunity to calibrate their approaches and share learnings about what works and what doesn’t. Using practical tools, such as spreadsheets that track students' data on a daily and weekly basis, allows teachers to identify progress and challenges over time, themes across students’ performance and their shared needs.
Success is moving the needle on metrics of academic improvement. But what I learned from Bronx Latin is how the everyday wins - a student joining a tutoring session for the first time, turning in assignments on time, answering a mentor’s chat, or building friendships around shared interests, are critical building blocks for that success. If everyday wins are the result, this commitment to continuous improvement - and the consistent use of practical tools to assess impact - is the groundwork.
Bronx Latin is an example of what continuous improvement can achieve with consistent effort over time. Three years into their continuous improvement work, the Bronx Latin PST was well-positioned to take their work online, and their successes are in no small part thanks to their years of hard work implementing continuous improvement strategies. They knew how to address a problem such as student engagement, stand up solutions, compare notes, and keep a close eye on the data to learn as they go. All schools implementing continuous improvement - no matter where they are on their individual journeys - can take a page from Bronx Latin’s book by focusing on and celebrating everyday wins. It’s this kind of progress and transformation we hope for all of our NSI partners - and that we know they can all achieve.