LifeKnowledge Spotlight: A Rigorous Approach to Continuous Improvement

By Stephanie Deckard

First it was no child left behind, and now it’s placing more rigor into the curriculum. It seems that as soon as educators caught on to the tune of the first initiative, a new buzz was already emerging. It’s these types of changes that make teachers say, “Enough already! Just let me do my job!”

Despite feeling as educators you should succumb to the puritanical punishment method known as the press—where the accused was placed under stones of gradual increasing weight until his life was pressed out—you can escape from feeling overwhelmedand you don’t need a white flag, either.

Setting these initiatives to a different harmony of your own will relieve the pressure of the do-this-instead-of-that message you’ve been hearing. Rather than viewing these initiatives as a push to overhaul your current methodologies, it would better serve your students to model the importance of continuous improvement as part of your own professional development.

What can continuous improvement look like in your classroom? Is it something you impose on your students indirectly? Is it just another name for rigor? Is it a personal goal you want to pursue? Sure! It’s all of these. Continuous improvement is about taking an inventory of the things you do well and accentuating them.

Maybe you have a knack for finding supervised agricultural experience program (SAE) opportunities that will interest your student. As you know, a student who executes a sound sae is applying the curriculum in a rigorous and tangible way. Why not set a goal to enlist three or five new students in an sae and communicate your success to your administrators? When this happens, be sure to explain to your administrator how FFA fosters time management, communication and skill mastery in the students. Rigorous? Indeed.

And what if your niche is preparing your students for FFA competitions and your students have earned the awards to validate that? Do you use a matrix to benchmark the areas where you see student improvement as you’re practicing with them? If not, maybe it’s time to create one! Don’t hesitate to include areas outside of agriculture in your matrix. Consider the writing, speaking and critical thinking skills found in the language arts academic standards or some of the social studies, science or technology standards, too. You can stretch this opportunity a little further by working cross-circularly with those teachers in the building to validate that those particular students are showing improvement in those classes as well.

The point: think incrementally when you think of rigor—just a continual, gradual progress along the way will look like long strides when you stop to see how far you’ve come. Whether it’s covering all the standards in one year or challenging the students differently, the programs, events and the three-circle model vilify that participation in FFA will meet and does meet whatever higher expectations surface on the education front.

Check out the LifeKnowledge® lessons about continuous improvement to bring your students on board, too!
HS.46 developing a plan using goals
HS.47 evaluating plans and goals
AHS.9 long-term goals and opportunities