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How to Get Better at Getting Better | Q&A With Dr. Anthony Bryk

Saskia Traill

Saskia Traill is Vice President of Policy & Research at ExpandED Schools.

I was fortunate enough to have had a conversation with Dr. Anthony Bryk, author of many books on school improvement and the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He was seminal in the creation of the Framework for Great Schools, a foundation for accountability within the New York City Department of Education. We spoke about the findings in his latest book, Learning to Improve: How America's Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better.
 
The book describes his work in improvement science, which is framed around three seemingly simple questions:

  1. What’s the specific problem I am trying to solve?
  2. What change might I introduce?
  3. How will I know whether or not that change is an improvement?


Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting BetterWhether you’re part of a network improvement community or involved in other efforts to improve, there are some key lessons. First, while we need models for change that are based on evidence of effective practice, we also need to leave room for flexibility so practices can be fit into different contexts. Second, we have to understand the challenges of implementation and adjust new models to ensure that effective implementation can happen.
 
Perhaps the biggest lesson is his reminder that until those who actually implement changes are able to define the problem they want to solve, try something new and see an improvement in their practice, innovation will not be sustained or as effective as it could be. Research, practice and policy must work together throughout the process of change, and researchers and policymakers cannot dominate the conversation.

It’s a humbling thought for those in policy and research, and I think we should frame it as a challenge, or even a New Year’s resolution: ask yourself how you can create conditions for real change among practitioners. I imagine there’s a long list of ways to create those conditions, and creating that list together could be powerful work for 2016 and beyond.
 
A transcript of the interview is available here.

 

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