Using a Continuous Improvement Framework to Achieve Greatness

Using a Continuous Improvement Framework to Achieve Greatness

The purpose of a continuous improvement framework is to help you, colleagues, and program leaders look at your data, identify areas for improvement, plan for those changes, and then execute those plans. This framework encourages program staff to create a space to examine program services and make improvements within the program as needed. There are many ways that you can examine whether an intervention is successful.

I am going to talk you through four phases of a continuous improvement framework by walking you through one example using an out-of-school STEM program that, like so many other education programs, was impacted by COVID-19.

1. Plan

Identify opportunities for improvement. Once you have identified those areas for improvement, plan for change. 

After abruptly having to transfer from an in-person to a virtual service delivery model, program staff noticed there was a decrease in student participation and a decrease in student motivation. To address these concerns and plan for a change in the service delivery model, program staff leveraged a continuous improvement framework. The first step staff implemented was the planning phase of the framework. This step included surveying students and staff to better understand their experiences and perceptions of the program.

Through the survey, students shared how they were struggling with feeling isolated and were experiencing an increase in anxiety. This data provided critical insight that helped staff better understand why students were less motivated and engaged with their services. The survey also revealed that students said they wanted the program to provide mental health support and resources. This data provided staff with an actionable next step, which moved them into the “do” phase of the improvement framework. 

2. Do

Implement changes from survey insights on a smaller scale. 

Thanks to the information from the survey, the STEM program decided to introduce self-care as part of its service delivery model. The instructor for Fall 21 started by defining anxiety. After defining anxiety students identified things around them that create anxiety. As a group, the instructor and participants discussed how to decrease anxiety in the different areas that students brought up. Each session would end with some form of meditation allowing the students to center themselves before moving on with their day. To ensure the new self-care component of the program was making a difference for participants, staff needed to move to step three in the improvement process and check-in with students.  

3. Check

Use data collected to determine if the change has successfully occurred.

To ensure the new self-care component of the program was making a difference for participants, students were asked on an end-of-semester survey how they felt the self-care component impacted their mental health. Survey results indicated that students enjoyed having a space to focus on self-care practices. They even requested that this becomes a more permanent addition to the STEM program.

Beyond students enjoying the component, program staff noticed an increase in program participation and students indicated a decrease in anxiety surrounding virtual learning. All this data encouraged the program staff to act and fully integrate the self-care component into their service delivery model.

4. Act

If the change was successful, implement it on a larger scale while continuing to analyze your results.  

Though self-care is not directly related to STEM, the students were struggling and needed a change to help them be successful in their program. The world around them will continue to change and as the world changes, student support should adjust to assist them with the change. Now that students have identified the importance of self-care this will be implemented each semester.

By implementing these four steps into your program you are acknowledging that no program is perfect and that there is always room for improvement. As you stride towards greatness in your out-of-school STEM programs, remember to Plan, Do, Check, and Act!

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Contributed By Rayven Smart

Rayven Smart is a Graduate Research Assistant for the Research, Evaluation & Dissemination Department at the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP). She currently assists with the data collection process and data input of several of CEOP’s federally funded college access programs, including GEAR UP and Talent ​Search.