ASK AN ADVOCATE - September 21, 2023
Ask an Advocate is a blog series where education leaders discuss their experience using Continuous Improvement and share real-world insight into how it works and how to apply it in their efforts.
This month, we present Rita Perez, Education Equity Specialist for MAEC and Program Manager for the Collaborative Action for Family Engagement center in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Rita brings three decades of experience in education as a teacher, elementary and secondary school principal, district and state-level leader. She’s worked in systemic school improvement, professional development, teacher and principal effectiveness, instructional and school climate practices, and teacher leadership.
With your experience in family engagement and education equity work, how, and in what ways, did you come to work with continuous improvement for equity?
Equity work is who I am as an educator. I may not have been able to identify it as such early in my career, but I grew to use an equity lens as a teacher and educational leader. As I learned more about myself and how the complex educational system impacts students, I worked to find solutions that were fair and just.
I arrived at this by constantly reflecting on the functions of our work: teaching, content, instructional strategies, assessment, and resources that meet the needs of the learners in front of us. As school leaders, we work with our staff to design learning opportunities that improve our daily practice and school climate. As district leaders, we collect and analyze data to improve every aspect of system operations. At the state level, feedback from constituents and stakeholders informs policy and program decisions.
The explicit use of the word equity has been an evolution. The concept of equity has now been integrated into the fabric of my personal and professional life.
Tell us about when you applied CI4E to address an issue. What did you and your team learn along the way?
I was part of a school team that piloted year-round schooling in an urban elementary school. The school was in the middle of a mid-sized city with 100% of the students eligible for free and reduced lunch. One of my roles in the year-round school experiment was to plan and implement out of school time opportunities for students during the three 3-week breaks between marking periods.
Initially, the opportunities were developed without student input. Through student feedback, including enrollment in the opportunities, the program grew, improved, and became a popular way for students to spend their out of school time. Students now had the opportunity to travel outside of the city limits and enjoy experiences that were new and for some unreachable. The exposure improved background knowledge, motivated students to read and write, positively improved the school climate, and allowed students to form strong relationships with the teachers and staff.
In what ways do you think a team needs to adjust or build their capacity to apply a continuous improvement for equity approach successfully?
Centering equity requires individual and team self-reflection. Teams need to develop a strong commitment to the work as well as a high level of trust with one another. One way to help teams build their leadership capacity is the use of the Public Narrative: Story of Self strategy because it encourages teams to accept responsibility for, “enabling others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.” This idea advocates for everyone to think of themselves as part of a larger whole and success is achieved when everyone is on board.
Any tips on how to center equity in continuous improvement?
We must make sure to revisit how issues around race, power, privilege, and oppression affect the team and its decision-making. The Center for Assessment and Policy Development’s Racial Equity Tools Tip Sheet has a set of reflections that teams should use to ensure collaboration and diversity.
Is there a resource that has helped you and your team move to a CI4E approach?
I think it’s important for teams to develop structures, routines, and processes that keep them on track and focused on the aims of their continuous improvement plans. The Improvement Collective’s PDSA Checklist can be found on MAEC’s CI4E Hub. This resource provides structure and routine to keep meetings focused and moving along. It also provides Equity Checks to ensure equity is centered in the process.
How do you introduce CI4E concepts to partners and clients?
Initially, I want to learn about a client’s current continuous improvement process or experiences. I want to find out their familiarity with continuous improvement language and gauge their readiness to dive into CI4E. Then, I like to learn what is their understanding of equity and what issues or problems they want to address. A client’s degree of readiness and their conception of equity guides how I introduce clients to CI4E. This approach generally works well because many clients are embarking on deep equity work for the first time so a measured approach to introducing equity centered continuous improvement is supportive to what can be overwhelming equity work.
With your experiences so far, where do you see yourself and your teams going with moving CI4E forward?
I see us using the CI4E as the framework for moving our work forward. Be it in family engagement or educational equity or both, continuous improvement should be the work in which school districts are engaged. The explicit incorporation of equity and asking hard questions about data and student experiences isn’t consistently applied. The CI4E framework, process, and curated resources provide a supportive way in which to reframe continuous improvement with a focus on equity.