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Jan 04

Chris Smeaton

Continuous improvement is not a New Year’s resolution

I’ve made my feelings known about New Year’s resolutions before. To put it politely, I’m not a big fan. It is not that I’m against kicking a bad habit, getting in better shape or making a positive lifestyle change. All of those life adjustments are positive but my complaint, is that one must seemingly wait for a specific date on the calendar to engage in the change. Any goal must have a specific date to initiate, but that should happen anytime we believe the change is necessary.

Continuous improvement, especially in education must be an ongoing process. Students do not deserve for us to wait until the New Year, the next semester or any future date. Continuous improvement is about taking first steps now, even when the terrain may be rocky and the future unknown. That does not insinuate that it is reckless because continuous improvement involves a high degree of planning too! However, there is good merit in the Wayne Hulley saying of “Ready! Fire! Aim!”

For too long, educators have defined the term continuous improvement with a negative connotation. Nothing could be further from the truth as members of a profession. Our education degrees have established us as learned; continuous improvement suggests we are learners and essentially, true professionals! It is our responsibility to always be developing our instructional practice and honing our professional craft. Often the difference between the person who successfully teaches 30 years and the one who teaches one year 30 times is an attitude of continuous improvement. I’ve been blessed to witness educators nearing their retirement more learner focused than ever before in their career. Sadly, I’ve also experienced those who continually hold on to their jaded view of “professional judgment” and employ strategies that even years ago were likely ineffective.

It is difficult for me to understand our aversion to continuous improvement. The world of the arts, music and sports are filled with examples of a desire to move forward. Arguably the greatest hockey player in history, Wayne Gretzky never rested on his laurels. As a true professional, Gretzky always worked to improve his abilities. Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning is another excellent example of someone who seeks to continually improve. Coming back from what many believed as a career ending injury, Manning has re-written the record books this past year. Both Gretzky and Manning illustrate the importance of viewing ongoing improvement as a positive part of their jobs.

Taking the first step, no matter what the date, is the beginning of the continuous improvement journey. Understanding that it is a journey (and a long journey at that) as opposed to simply a destination is also critical. But possibly the greatest factor in continuous improvement is a realization that failures and setbacks will occur. Without that knowledge, many who encounter future challenges become paralyzed with fear and unable to make any further forward progress. The greatest leaders, athletes, musicians and the most successful inventors experienced far more failures than successes along their paths.

We want our students to become learners and continually seek to be more learned. We expect that they will not master every concept on the first try and that they will often fail. Yet, it is our desire for them to move along their educational journey making continual improvements. What better role models for our students to do the same, to always be a learner and engage in continuous improvement now!

2 comments

  1. Sean Beaton

    Chris,

    I really enjoyed your post. Just like all professionals, we must keep on top of current research and continually look at how we can improve our practice. In addition, I also believe we must encourage students to try beyond one time. The idea of frequent attempts in learning is significant.

    I also agree with your statement “the greatest leaders, athletes, musicians and the most successful inventors experienced far more failures than successes along their paths.” I want to work in a division where this is fostered and valued. Unfortunately, I think we too often get caught up in test scores, diploma and achievement test results, and Fraser Report rankings. Regardless, I really enjoyed your post.

    Sean

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks Sean for your comments. Continuous improvement must be part of our professional practice- we owe it to ourselves and to our students. With PATs being eliminated, we can no longer use that excuse as a barriers for innovative and creative practice in our classrooms. A focus on test scores will be eliminated when we as a profession better define and communicate learning to our students, parents and society in general. As professionals, that one rests solely on our shoulders and we can no longer shy away from it! Enjoy your start up tomorrow and best of luck in 2014.

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