We cite “best practices” all of the time in education. The exemplars, the models, and the idea that, “If we could only scale this strategy, all would be solved.” In some ways, the pursuit of best practices may be our collective way of saying, “Thank goodness, somebody else figured this problem out; now we can just do what they did.” The harder but much more sustainable strategy, however, is not about replicating the best practice, but about having the discipline and humility to constantly improve and iterate on your own strategies.
The harder but much more sustainable strategy, however, is not about replicating the best practice, but about having the discipline and humility to constantly improve and iterate on your own strategies.
To our disservice, the philanthropic and education sectors rely too heavily on best practices as the key to determining where resources should flow, which programs should be scaled, and which leaders should be speaking at your next conference or convening. Sometimes best practices are identified by virtue of strong aggregate student outcomes combined with savvy marketing, public relations, and advocacy strategies. I certainly don’t blame organizations for trying to raise the profile of their work in order to attract resources, but we should be collectively careful in what we celebrate and why. Perhaps our desire to find best practices makes us see them where they may not exist.
While we seek “best practices” in the world of education, I suggest that instead we should be focusing our attention on “best processes.” Everything we do in life, be it getting ready for work to improving educational outcomes for all students in an urban school district, is a process. Every process, furthermore, has the opportunity to be improved in factors of both efficiency and effectiveness. When I look to strong social sector and education organizations, I find those that are having a dramatic and sustained impact on outcomes share some organizational characteristics: they dedicate time and resources to understanding how they learn as an organization, to knowing what data are critical for improvement, and to adjusting their strategies based on what they are learning.
As you think about these organizational characteristics, there are some key questions that can helpful to answer as a team in order to identify your own “best processes”:
Often times, what is going to improve your organization’s outcomes and the outcomes of those you hope to serve is sitting within your organization.
I encourage all organizations to think about these three big questions and their derivatives. Often times, what is going to improve your organization’s outcomes and the outcomes of those you hope to serve is sitting within your organization. It is not a shiny new exemplar program that you learn about at a conference, but rather a disciplined and thoughtful set of learning and improvement processes that will lead to sustained success.