Matt Navo

Matt Navo is director of systems transformation at WestEd, for the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention. He helps districts and schools develop strategies, structures, policies, and practices that assist in closing the achievement gap for all students.

The 10 Deadly Sins of Improvement

As an educator for more than 27 years in the heart of California, I have learned a great deal about the challenges educators face to improve outcomes for students.


I have spent my entire career working to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth, particularly students with disabilities. And over the course of playing musical chairs in various education positions, from general education teacher and special educator to a variety of administrative positions and eventually superintendent, I have come to realize that our focus to improve as educators has been focused on the wrong behaviors.


With years of learning to improve under my belt, you would think that I would have figured out the “magic sauce” or the “silver bullet”, but I have not. However, what I have found and discovered on my journey to improve outcomes for students is that although clear strategies for improvement may not always be visible, the mistakes of poor improvement are very obvious. Obvious and visible to both the “user,” those within our system, and the public. 


Now that I have had the opportunity to learn more about improvement, recently being certified in improvement from the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI), it has become clear to me that there are 10 behaviors educators need to avoid if we really want meaningful system improvement, improved staff capacity, and improved team collective efficacy that ultimately leads to improved outcomes for students.


The Ten Deadly Sins of Improvement:

  1. Focus on the scoreboard instead of the vision.
  2. Do pilots for every district/school initiative and call it a PDSA.
  3. Anoint one person responsible for improvement instead of a team.
  4. Believe that pressure and humiliation will help schools improve.
  5. Don’t waste time adapting improvement; simply spread and scale as fast as you can.
  6. Spread and scale of improvements should be the responsibility of one team/person.
  7. Determine improvements by using only end-of-year data.
  8. Always expect to improve results quickly and rapidly.
  9. Use leadership teams to do improvement work.
  10. Focus on accountability and compliance as a form of school/district improvement.

Being a leader doesn’t have to be complicated. It does have to be focused on improvement. Using a system to learn and grow from planning, doing, studying and acting like an improvement team instead of a leadership team might well be an improvement by itself. Leadership teams solve problems quickly and scale solutions widely. Improvement teams study problems, learn about potential solutions and give ideas that can be tested, tried and proved before they spread and scale improvements. 


Avoid the 10 Deadly Sins of Improvement, and you might start looking, sounding and acting like an improvement team.

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