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The Missing Link in Cycles of Improvement

There is little doubt about the benefit of engaging in cycles of improvement. We can look at everything from design theory to short-cycle assessments. Almost every school we work with engages in some form of this process, whether it is informally through their PLCs or more formally through another structure (ie: PDSA). We know from the research of Hattie (2015), Donohoo (2017), and DeWitt (2019) that collective teacher efficacy makes a large impact on student achievement and that the best way to develop that efficacy is through shared cycles of improvement.

The problem is that we are often missing a critical component in the cycle.

In cycles of improvement, we typically use some version of the following: (1) plan, (2) apply, (3) evaluate, (4) adjust. Evaluate and adjust blend with planning to start the cycle over again. Consider what happens when we go from cycle to cycle to cycle. Rather than increased capacity, we often get increased burn-out.

How do we prevent burnout and increase our capacity to engage in improvement activities?

Let's look at one of the most universal types of improvement that humans engage in--exercise. We can certainly workout to the point of burn-out and even injury. Ask any physical trainer and they’ll tell you that the most overlooked component of the cycle is rest and recovery. Our improvement will be significantly limited and possibly regress if we refuse to rest and recover.

We need to apply this principle to our work improving teaching and schools.

As a school leader:

Is there a feeling of constant "churn" in your building? Think about how to incorporate “rest and recovery” into cycles of improvement in your building. Perhaps PLCs engage in cycles 3 out of 4 weeks with one week for broader reflection and planning. Maybe you have 6 week cycles, with a week of no meetings.

As a coach:

How can you build this into your coaching cycles? What does your post-cycle support look like? Do you stagger staff so that people have “rest and recovery” after a deep learning cycle?

For everyone:

Remember the importance of rest and recovery across the year. Take advantage of summer, spring break, and winter vacation. Carve out time on the weekends. Sometimes doing less work will actually lead to doing more work.

How do you support people in recharging their batteries?

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