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Keeping Your Class on a Continuous Improvement Cycle

Change is hard. Fear, pride, comfort, cynicism, and indifference are barriers to change inside and outside the classroom. However, we constantly tell our students that they cannot grow and learn unless they are willing to try new things and fail.

So isn't it time that we take our own advice? 

Below we will explore ways to make meaningful and consistent changes to your class to keep it on a continuous improvement cycle.

Don't Be Afraid to Try Something New

I attended a professional development session one year in which the presenter gave us five or six different strategies to improve student learning in the inclusion setting. She then told us that she felt she had done her job correctly if we chose just one. 

You see, many of us sit through training and professional development sessions and get overwhelmed at all of the new things that we are being asked to do. But what if we just picked one that we felt was valuable and realistic to implement in our classroom and tried it out? We just might end up with a new go-to strategy for teaching vocabulary or favorite classroom management technique. 

Now imagine if we could do this for each of the professional learning sessions that we attend in a school year. We would be introducing multiple new and effective strategies into our classrooms and making a positive difference in our students' experiences. And we wouldn't have the overwhelming feeling of needing to overhaul everything we are doing. 

By choosing one and trying it, we are opening our practice and our classrooms to change and improvement. As we progress through our teaching careers, we may sometimes fall into a rut of the same lessons. Introducing new strategies and activities ensures a few critical things: that our students are accessing the curriculum through teaching that reflects best practices and that we can remain excited about our teaching and the learning that is happening around us.

Meaningful Change Takes Time

Most of us don't get everything right the first time. It is a fact of life. In this spirit, we must not try a new strategy or activity one time and use those results to determine if we will ever try it again. 

Each lesson is different, each group of students varies, and what worked yesterday or last school year may not work today. If we are going to change the teaching and learning that occurs in our classrooms, we need to give things time to work. 

Students might struggle with group work the first few times it happens in your classroom, but after a few times, they begin to learn how to manage that setting and work together to meet expectations. Classroom management strategies and routines may need to be explicitly taught and reinforced for a few weeks before they become a habit the students can remember and follow.

Some things will not work for your current group, and that's okay. What's important is that you give any improvement you make to your class a fair chance. You need to sustain any change for a considerable amount of time or an activity repeated a few times so that you can truly assess if it works or not once you work out the initial challenges.


Although continuous improvement in your classroom may seem a daunting task at first, identifying the cycle should not be. The school year gives us very neat dates to begin our work and identify natural times to reflect on the plans and strategies you have in place (think breaks, semester ends, grading cycles). 

Most teachers already engage in evaluation plans with their administration on a one or two-year cycle as well. These plans typically include student learning and professional practice goals, which are a great jumping-off point if you are unsure of where to get started.

SMART goals are a great way to keep yourself moving forward with improvements in your classroom. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic (or relevant), and time-sensitive. Creating goals that meet each of these attributes or expanding on your goals, so they fit the SMART goal format gives you a better chance of meeting goals, as they are well thought out and realistic. 

Identifying benchmarks to these goals or dates/times to reflect on your progress toward them is the next step in making meaningful change.

Self-Reflection is Key

It can be hard to tell ourselves the truth about the work we are doing. Are we successful in meeting our goals? Am I working hard toward the outcome I want to see? Is this plan working? A critical piece of development and growth in a position is the ability to self-reflect, honestly identify strengths and weaknesses, and meet goals for improvement or next steps. 

In the best-case scenario, you can do so on a more formative basis, constantly evaluating your work and the process as you go throughout your days or year and making adjustments accordingly. If you struggle to do this meaningfully, you may require a structure, such as a teacher evaluation process, to do so. 

Choosing dates in advance and setting aside time at the beginning of your cycle may help you stay on top of evaluating your plans and action steps. You'll see how well they are working and if you need to make changes. 

Seek Feedback From All Sources!

Even if you tend to see the truth about your classroom, your practices, and student learning in your class through rose-colored glasses, not everyone will. An important piece of creating a continuous improvement cycle is seeking out feedback from other sources. Administration, other teachers, students in your class, and parents can be surprisingly helpful resources in your efforts to make positive changes to your practice.


Written by  Jackie Sugrue

Education World Contributor

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