Before deciding what innovation to test, an SEL team begins the PDSA cycle by identifying an aim and a problem of practice.
An aim is a goal that answers the question “What are we trying to accomplish?” It may be directly related to an SEL implementation goal or linked to an important outcome that schoolwide data indicates needs improvement. For example, an aim might be to fully engage families in the schoolwide approach to SEL.
A problem of practice (PoP) is a key issue that the school hopes to improve in order to accomplish their aim. For example: families feel they do not know how to support SEL in their school.
After establishing an aim and determining problems of practice, a root-cause analysis can help school teams break down the problem into parts that can be feasibly addressed. In our example, one root-cause might be insufficient communication with families about SEL.
From their work with the Carnegie Institute, High Tech High’s GSE Center for Research on Equity and Innovation have assembled a library of tools and protocols for continuous improvement. They’ve made these resources freely available to use, adapt, and share. Some tools that school teams may use in the Plan phase to better understand their problem include:
During this phase of the PDSA cycle, the team also needs to plan carefully what data will help them assess whether they’ve met their aim and spot trends. For example, it may be helpful to collect descriptive data on families (age of children, number of children in school, language spoken at home, race/ethnicity, etc.) to examine who is more likely to engage in school events and any barriers to engagement.
After identifying data sources, the team determines what success would look like. For example, they may want to increase attendance at family events by 50% throughout the year and increase the number of positive responses from families to 80% on an end-of-year survey.
If the SEL team is looking to assess students’ SEL competencies for continuous improvement, CASEL’s SEL Assessment Guide may be a valuable resource.
During the Plan phase, the team will: