« Our Decisions & Actions Are Symbolic | Main | Wrong Focus: Teacher-Centered Classrooms and Technology »

Lean Transformation: From Danger to Opportunity

The notion of continuous improvement is nothing new for America’s K-12 schools. Unfortunately, it seems a limited number of schools have pushed past the “notion” to realize noteworthy, sustained improvements in meeting the broad array of student and community needs. As the US economy struggles, families and communities dig deep to sustain the American Dream, a hope that our children’s future will be as bright or brighter than ours. President Kennedy once noted that the Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other representing opportunity. The crisis our country faces can be turned to opportunity if we choose a different course. In terms of continuous improvement and K-12 education, I believe that a focus on Lean thinking and doing can empower all stakeholders and shift our course from one of danger to one of opportunity.

What is Lean and how can it be applied in the K-12 setting?

Lean is a way of seeing processes and work so that waste is eliminated and resources are used more efficiently and effectively. When I talk to educators about Lean, many of them think it means reducing the number of positions and dividing the work between remaining employees. This is not Lean. Lean is a way of seeing processes in steps, figuring out which parts of the process actually add value, and eliminating the unnecessary aspects of our work. The most powerful part of Lean is the empowerment of all employees and employee groups to consider solutions to challenges and opportunities for improvement.

When schools use time, money, and other resources more effectively, students are the beneficiaries. Lean puts the focus on what matters and helps schools understand and prioritize service to students. Value-added activities are strengthened, and unnecessary, non-value-added aspects of work are minimized or eliminated altogether. In this continuous improvement model, employees and students identify and solve problems. When waste is reduced and learning is prioritized, the full range of learning activities are more thoughtfully addressed with the same or even reduced levels of funding.

How can leaders learn more about Lean and K-12 education?

School leaders should look for models of excellence in this area as well as sources for support and further learning. Manufacturing and healthcare have embraced Lean in many communities, so it is possible that leaders across these organizations can talk about the synergies that exist across their organizations.

In terms of K-12 settings that are doing this well, I recommend the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) in Evansville, Indiana. The EVSC has embraced Lean and Six Sigma and realized millions of dollars in savings as a result. These savings are helping the district avoid teacher layoffs while focusing a larger percentage of taxpayer dollars on support for schools and classroom instruction directly. Another K-12 example exists in Denver Public Schools. Since 2009, DPS has saved millions of dollars through a variety of Lean Six Sigma projects.

For Lean learning resources, I recommend Lean Education Enterprises and Lean Enterprise Institute. For those interested in making a deeper commitment to operational excellence, I recommend the Operational Excellence program through The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

America was once a scrappy, utilitarian, and more self-sufficient country. Times have certainly changed, and I do not advocate isolation, status quo, or returning to past practices in education. However, I do believe that success and excess have diminished our capacity for sustained growth and development. The resources we have in K-12 education are significant. In a recent blog post, Rick Hess noted, “It's painfully obvious by now that transforming an urban school system is not easy work. It requires strong instructional chops, being a smart steward of limited funds, revamping troubled systems, and exploring how to use new tools and technologies to start pushing the boundaries of what's possible.”

Lean thinking and the associated continuous improvement model provide real solutions to our educational and economic crisis. With tough, thoughtful leadership from all aspects of the K-12 organization, we can turn our focus from danger to opportunity and, as a result, give more students access to the American Dream.

Dave Dimmett

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Tags

#ccko9
#eci831
#ic3s21
#passiondriven
1:1
1:1 laptops
21st century
21st Century
21st Century Schools
21st Century Skills
21st Century skills
Abraham Lincoln
Accountability
accountabilty
adifference
administrator
Adolescent Literacy Panel
advice
aldonza
aleccouros
Alfie Kohn
Angela Maiers
aptitude
Arthur Benjamin
Artists
Arts
ASCD
Assessment
astronaut
Author
avatar
basketball
Beyond Discipline
Blog
blogging
blogs
boss
calculus
Capacity
Career and College Readiness
Carnegie Foundation
CEDS
Cell Phones
Challenge
Change
change
Charleston Children's Museum
Chris Anderson
CIES
class blogs
Clay Shirky
College
Colonel Eileen Collins
commenting
commitment
communication
Community
community
comparative
compassion
compensation
Comprehension
Comprhension
computers in the classroom
Constructivism
cookie
Copyright_infringement
Copyright_laws
Council of Conscience
Creativity
creativity
Creativity Conversation
Creativity Index
Cultivate
Dan Pink
death valley
Decision making
dennisar
Derailed
Disruptive Innovation
Divergent
dkuropatwa
Don Quixote
Dr. Jeff
Dr. Jeff Goldstein
Drive
dulcinea
education
Education
Education in the United States
educational change
Educational Leadership
educational leadership
educational technology leadership
Educators
effectiveness
Element
empathy
Enactivism
energy savings
Engage
engineering
Engineering
evaluation
evernote
evsc
Facebook
failure
Feedback
Festival
Film festival
firing
formative and summative assessments
Frank Smith
friendship
Future
Garr Reynolds
georgesiemens
Global
Golden Rule
Grades
green technology
heart
heart of a teacher
high school
High school
Higher Education
Higher Order Thinking Skills
hire
history
HOME
Home School Partnership
Homework
hospitals
humility
I Notice
Ian Jukes
Ideas
Identity crisis
imagination
Improvement
improvement
Indexing
influence
Innovation
innovation
innovation3
innovation3 llc
inspiration
instructional leadership
Interests
international
International Society for Technology in Education
interview
ipad
ISTE
Jayson Richardson
job
Job Readiness
John Seely Brown
K through 12
K-8
Karen Armstrong
karl fisch
kellychristopherson
Kent
leaderhhip coaching
leadershiop
leadership
Leadership
leadership development
leadership management influence
Leadership Resources
lean
learning
Learning
Learning 21st Century
legislation
Lifelong learning
Literacy
Literacy and Learning
Love
Man of La Mancha
management
math
math education
mathematics
Mathematics
mboe
Media literacy
medicine
mentoring
merit pay
mguhlin
Michael Watkins
Minds on Fire
moodle
Motivation
Movies
Multiple choice
NAESP
NASA
national educational technology plan
National Governors Association
NCESSE
Neil Rochelle
netbooks
NETS-A
Norma Rae
Nurture
Obama
one to one
online
online learning
Online Software
Originality
osu
Paradoxical Commandments
Parent Invovlement
Parent Partnership
passion
Passion Driven Classroom
Passion Education
Passion Leadership
performance
pete reilly
peter o'toole
Peter Senge
plagiarism
pln
PLN
plurk
Positive feedback
power
preconceptions
President Kennedy
principal
Principal
principal preparation
priorities
probability
Problem Solving
productivity
Professional development
publishing
read/write web
Reading
Reading Next
Reflection
reform
religion
reorganization
research
saving IT dollars
Schedules
school leadership
School Reform
schooling
Science
science
Scott McCloud
Scott McLeod
Second Life
self management
Seth Godin
Shall We Dance?
Shanghai
SIF
sir ken robinson
Sir Ken Robinson
SLC
Social Media
Social Networking
sophia loren
Standardized test
statistics
STEM
stephaniepacemarshall
stephendownes
strategy leadership
student achievement
student led conferences
suffering
summer
Switzerland
systemic change
teacher
Teacher
Teacher Professional Development
teachers
Teachers College Columbia University
teaching
Technology
technology
technology change
Technology integration
technology research
TED
TED Prize
textbooks
The First 90 Days
thin client
Thinking
Thomas Dewey
Tim Irwin
time management
Time To Act
transformation
transformative change
transitions
Tribes-We Need You To Lead Us
twitter
Twitter
Uniqueness
United States
University
University of Alabama-Birmingham
University of Kentucky
vacation
Value
Vision
vision
Wagner
walkthroughs
Web 2.0
Web Filtering
Webinar
weighting
Whole New Mind
wisdom
Wordle
workforce
World Read Aloud Day
Young People