Method: Using Improvement Research to Implement Student Consulting
The purpose of this study is to implement and develop an effective student consulting program at High Tech High Media Arts. Improvement research was the methodology employed to conduct this project. IR provides a cohesive structure to understand the root causes of a problem using a fishbone diagram and identify possible change ideas to address the problem using a driver diagram. Perhaps most importantly the IR process consists of an iterative process of testing change ideas called a PDSA. The plan, do, study, act cycle allows a researcher to gather data in the service of evaluating the efficacy of their change idea, making refinements based on data, and if necessary pivoting to exploring change ideas if necessary. This approach was helpful in implementing a program like student consulting because it required just this type of iterative process of gathering data from participants about specific elements of the program and refining as necessary to ensure a meaningful experience for cooperating teachers and student consultants.
In IR the purpose of going through this iterative process of PDSA cycles is to achieve the AIM or goal of the project. The AIM of this initiative was that by April 2016, 5 cooperating teachers and 9 student consultants will report the program to be mutually beneficial. Cooperating teachers will report they changed their practice based on dialogue with student consultants. Student consultants will report they were listened to by their cooperating teacher and thus have a greater sense of belonging. The students of cooperating teachers will report a greater sense of community and a more positive relationship with their teacher.
This method section starts with an explanation of the origins of a student consulting program and the baseline data from student consultants and cooperating teachers. Finally, the four PDSA cycles that were employed to achieve this AIM are described.
Origins of program, enrolling student consultants and cooperating teachers, establishing baseline data
The first week of school an HTHMA teacher Anna Chiles shared that she wanted to develop a student consultant program at our site. She explained how she had been a student consultant at Bryn Mawr and the impact the experience had on her and the professors for whom she had consulted. I was excited by the opportunity to be part of a new initiative that systematized student voice at HTHMA. I found out that Anna would be working with Janie Griswold to train a group of students during x block to develop the program and asked to co-teach the course.
We started the process of developing a student consulting program by recruiting a representative group of
students. We were able to recruit nine students who represent a variety of student experiences and backgrounds. Since one goal of the AIM is to increase the belongingness of student consultants we are using the SAIC survey that is being administered at three points throughout the school year to evaluate whether the belonginess of student consultants will grow. Interestingly the group of students we recruited has a more profound sense of belonging than the average HTHMA Junior with the exception of the extent to which other students think other people at your school would be surprised if you or people like you succeeded in school.
At the same time, we needed to find cooperating teachers for the program. We initially had a meeting with Robert who described the student consulting option to new teachers and asked if they wanted to be part of the program. We then followed up with teachers who indicated an interest by hosting a second lunch meeting where Janie, Anna, and I described in more detail the program. As a result of that meeting five teachers chose to be cooperating teachers. We asked these teachers to anticipate the impact the program would have on their practice. Sixty percent expected that the program beneficial to their practice while forty percent expected that the program would be very beneficial to their practice.
PDSA 1: Letting student consultants decide when they are ready
During the twice weekly X block sessions since the start of school we have sought to train these students in the techniques of teacher observation and instructional coaching. We have tried to make this process feel authentic for the students by showing video of actual HTHMA teachers to practice the process of observing lessons. Using these video observations we tested various protocols that we had developed to observe teachers, debrief about these observations, and ultimately have coaching conversations with teachers. We role played having these coaching conversations with some of the student consultants assuming the role of teacher. We also fishbowled a coaching conversation with Anna after watching a video of a lesson she had taught that day. Student consultants went on instructional rounds with myself and Robert Kuhl the director. Finally, some members of the student consulting team attended a training on instructional coaching facilitated by Greenwich Leadership Partners at the HTH GSE.
We have frequently checked in with the students to gauge their sense of readiness to take on the work of student consulting. The students report feeling increasingly prepared and each week seemed to increase by an average of l point out of 10 on a self-reported readiness scale. When the students all reported being a nine out of ten we decided they would start the following week.
PDSA 2: Shifting to a semester long partnership based on student consultant feedback
As of the week of October 5th, we divided our student consultant teams into complementary pairs and assigned each team a cooperating teacher. Every team had their first meeting with the cooperating teacher where they sought to build a relationship and develop a shared understanding of the purpose the student consultant will play in their classroom. We changed the structure of our meetings with the student consultants so that each meeting starts with each team sharing where they are in the process, how they are feeling about it, and if they have any questions.
One immediate outcome of using a check in procedure at the start of our meeting was that it led to a major change in the structure of our implementation plan. We had originally planned to have the student consultants work in six week cycles moving on to a new cooperating teacher at six week intervals to provide a variety of perspectives. After their first meetings, multiple student consultant teams shared that both the consultants and teachers wanted to meet for the rest of the semester and not switch after six weeks. Due to to this feedback we polled the student consultants who voted unanimously to make the change to a semester long cycle.
PDSA 3: Using Student Consultant Feedback to Refine our Biweekly Meetings
As student consultants went through several cycles of observations and debriefs with their cooperating teachers they developed relationships. This led the student consultants to gain confidence in their ability to provide meaningful feedback to their cooperating teacher and to propose some changes to the structure of our biweekly meetings.
Student consultants reported that the structure we had adapted of having whip arounds where every group was expected to give an update was repetitive and not always useful. This led to a dialogue with student consultants to solicit a deeper understanding of the issues with the current structure and to consider change ideas. Students reported they wanted more time to complete logistical tasks associated with the program like emailing the teachers whose classes they would be missing. We decided to implement a new structure for our meetings where during the first fifteen minutes of our meetings they would fill out a form updating their progress and detailing their plan for working with the cooperating teacher for the week and sending out emails setting up observations and or debriefs for the week. We would then create time for student consultant teams to share only if they have a dilemma or question for the group.
PDSA 4: Using Cooperating Teacher Feedback to Improve Scheduling Procedures
We met with cooperating teachers at the end of the first semester of the program to get feedback to refine elements of the program. One clear theme that emerged from the cooperating teachers was the difficulty that many of the teachers experienced in scheduling observations and debriefs with the student consultants. We decided to implement a consistent system of scheduling: Unless a teacher requests that the student consultants observe a specific class the observations will now happen based on the availability of the students to miss class and not require they notify the teacher in advance. Debriefs will be scheduled as a standing meeting on a consistent day and time on a biweekly basis.
Evaluating Progress Towards the AIM
The success of the student consultant program hinges on whether meaningful conversations between student consultants and cooperating teachers actually occur. Therefore, we will collect data from both the student consultants and cooperating teachers. We will ask the student consultants to evaluate whether cooperating teachers listened to and implemented changes based on their feedback after each conversation. In addition, we will ask cooperating teachers whether student consultants provided useful feedback that led to changes in their teaching practice. In addition, to the surveys and bi weekly check ins with student consultants we plan on checking with cooperating teachers and in some cases conducting informal interviews to learn more about their experience working with the student consultants.