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Monday, August 08, 2011 - Pull schools to success
Shannon Flumerfelt, Ph.D., Lean Thinking for Schools

A key tenet of Lean is to focus on the “customer” and what that customer values. For instructional processes in schools, this means specifically delineating what students value as learning outcomes.

While this may seem like an obvious improvement strategy, that instruction should meet the learning needs and wants of students, it often requires more in-depth consideration for success. For “pull” occurs by design, not by default.

To ensure that value is being pulled by students from instruction, identify learning outcomes that are desired by students. The concept of pull requires that instructional processes are built to flow in one direction, from what the student values through the instructional system. So, determining what students want to pull from their learning is the place to begin. For instance, students may report that they value any one or more of these outcomes:

  • Safe learning environment
  • High standardized test scores
  • Social events
  • College admissions
  • Traditions, ceremonies, rites of passage
  • Excellent teachers
  • Career guidance
  • Character development opportunities
  • Community service experiences
  • Resume development
  • Meaningful relationships
  • Skills for success
  • Good citizenship projects
  • Life changing experiences
  • Global experiences, travel

If any one of these outcomes is selected by students as a valued deliverable of an instructional process, pull requires that the process drives backwards from these desired student outcomes and then formulates process improvement based on that end goal. In other words, if a safe learning environment is what students value, then this outcome is pulled through instruction, by reworking each component of instruction to make sure that a safe learning environment is provided - in the classroom, in the hallways, on the bus, in the lunchroom, etc. If this outcome is valued by students, it is concurrently valued by the school without reservation and thoroughly attended to.

Relying on pull is a means of creating success by enacting student-centeredness. In fact, schools engaged in continuous improvement can use pull as a core development strategy. It begins by asking sincere students what they value in learning and adjusting instructional processes and supporting protocols to deliver those outcomes. It is possible to pull schools to success.


Note: The Michigan Lean Consortium and the Lean Thinking for Schools initiative partnered to work with Warren Fitzgerald Public Schools. In July, an exploration of school improvement and Lean thinking was conducted with the Superintendent’s Office.