Focusing on “Next Practice”
I spent two days this week attending the London West Regional SIM (System Implementation and Monitoring) sessions. As is often the case, the conversation and debate at these sessions had a direct parallel with our work with integrating technology.
My team spent the first day of the meeting pondering school and system monitoring, and what it looks like when it is done well. The same as when we have this conversation about technology integration, the goal always seems a long way off, and the route to get there paved with hurdles and uncertainty. For the most part, these conversations lead to participants trying to define “best practice”. The work of Steven Katz is an essential anchor to conversations like this, as “best practice” really shouldn’t be how we define a plan, rather focusing on “next practice” to make the steps more manageable and to ensure that at every step of the process we are acting upon what we learn, rather than continuing to pursue a “best practice” vision devised at a time when we knew less about the work. The second day of our meetings was a lot more introspective and focused on the question of “what will I do next now that I know this?”. This allowed my team the chance to turn our lofty conversations into a realistic, focused next step. The continuum of “next practices” will take us to our “best practice”.
The link I made throughout this was to technology use in the classroom. People always ask for examples of where things are “done well”. What is the impact of the classrooms, schools, or practices that we showcase? Do we sometimes hold up examples of “best practice” for people to aspire to and set the bar too high? Instead of encouraging people to visit places “where things are being done well”, should we be encouraging them to visit places where “we are learning about…”? Our choice of language is powerful, and as much as visiting other classrooms or schools can be inspirational, it can equally be intimidating. Do we focus on “best practice” rather than “next practice”, and if so does that set a standard to aspire to or make success seem so far away as to be unobtainable?
At the end of the second day, my team left with a very clear next step in the work that we do. There is an overall goal of being better at monitoring our work, but we are going to focus on our “next practice” rather than trying to define the “best practice”. Once we have done this, we will know a little more and then look again at our “next practice”. One day we will reflect on how far we have come and realize we have achieved what we set out to do, but until then we need to keep focusing on what we will do next rather than what we will do ultimately. There is a valuable lesson in this for all learning, and for leading and participating in change – a commitment to a cycle of continuous, incremental learning and reflection will get you further than aspiring to a lofty goal and trying to achieve it all at once.