Transforming the performance of a country’s education system

How the ‘leerKRACHT’-approach can help

Worldwide research shows that the quality of a country’s education system is heavily dependent on whether its schools have a continuous improvement culture. A culture in which teachers learn from each other and jointly improve educational outcomes. Foundation leerKRACHT has developed and implemented such an approach in the Netherlands. Eight years after its start 1.000 schools have chosen to use this approach to improve the quality of education.

You might have read about us in Forbes or in the HundrED community. You might be a school in another country that has an interest in a continuous improvement culture. Or a public organisation or ministry that seeks to improve student outcomes. Are you wondering what foundation leerKRACHT can do for you?

We are willing to help and inspire you to bring that change to your own organisation or country. How? Read on and find out:

  • What is known about the importance of a continuous improvement culture
  • How a continuous improvement culture in a school can look like
  • How our approach to create such a culture in a school works
  • What we do to scale up to the level of an education system
  • What we can do to support you

1. What is known about the importance of a continuous improvement culture

A continuous improvement culture is hardly new or revolutionary. In regions with strong educational outcomes (Ontario, Massachusetts, Singapore, Estonia) and in high performing companies and hospitals, this is a tried and tested way of working.

We based our approach on successes in these school systems, as well as the ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ methods of working that companies and hospitals use to work in a continuous improvement culture.

The 2010 McKinsey study How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better stresses the importance of ‘process’ over structure and resources. Improving a system’s performance ultimately comes down to improving the learning experience of students in their classrooms.

The meta-analysis done by John Hattie came to the same conclusion. He concludes that ‘collective teacher efficacy’ is the #1 largest factor related to student achievement. With an effect size of 1,57 which dwarves classroom interventions like feedback (d=0.72) and classroom management (d=0.52).

2. How does a continuous improvement culture in a school looks like? The leerKRACHT-method

In a school with a continuous improvement culture, teachers learn from each other and - together with their students and the school management - improve educational practices. With the leerKRACHT-method one can create such a culture in your school. How does that work?

It is based on three pre-conditions (ambition, rhythm and retrospective) that, together with the four leerKRACHT-instruments, form the core of the concept. These conditions are:

  • Ambition. At the beginning of the school year, the school team will reassess its ambitions and decide on the educational topics it wants to work on this year. These themes are put on a year board, divided into different periods.
  • Rhythm. After working on its ambition, the team goes to work on the individual themes in (smaller) teams of 6 to 10 teachers. They do so in periods of 6 to 8 weeks. Each period starts with making a theme concrete and achievable in terms of goals and actions. Thereafter the teams comes together in weekly team session of 1.5 to 2 hours to work on these actions.
  • Retrospective. At the end of a period each team reflects on their educational goal and their way of working. This takes the form of a 'retrospective' and ends with concrete improvement actions for the next period.

The four leerKRACHT-instruments that help the team realize their goals in this  weekly rhythm are:

  • The board and work session. The board session is a weekly 15 minute session, in which teachers and school management discuss progress towards their goals. After the board session, the team continues for another hour to work on their teaching practice (the work session).
  • Joint lesson planning. Teachers work in pairs to translate the goals they have set with their team into concrete lesson plans. By preparing lessons together, they make use of each other's knowledge and skills and improve their own practice.
  • Lesson visit and feedback. Whether an improved lesson design works can only be proven in practice. That is why in each pair one teacher gives this lesson and ask his or her colleague to join and observe it. The purpose of the observation is to understand the effect of the lesson on students.
  • The voice of the student. The student is the greatest source of inspiration for new lesson goals. They are uniquely able to provide feedback on teaching and thus participate in improvement.

Figure 1: Overview of the leerKRACHT-method

3. How the leerKRACHT-approach to create such a culture works

We built our leerKRACHT-approach together with pilot-schools, learning from their experience and feedback. In the past 8 years, we’ve had 1.000 schools participating in our approach, which is about 12% of all Dutch schools. Every school that participates in our programme receives measurement tools by which we can get an indication of the impact that is made on that school.

Independent impact research by the University of Utrecht, paid for by the Dutch ministry of education, shows that our approach works. This study in 231 schools is still in progress, but initial results confirm that we can create a continuous-improvement culture within one year. Eighty to ninety percent of participating school leaders and teachers have great confidence that our methods lead to better teaching quality. Most excitingly, initial results in primary schools suggest an 8 percent improvement in learning outcomes two years after the start of the program.

Figure 2: Outcome of the research of the University Utrecht on leerKRACHT

To deliver these outcomes we developed a change management approach. The aim of this approach is to create a culture of continuous improvement. The approach consists of four phases:

  • Preparation phase. Representatives of the school get to know the leerKRACHT-approach and we help them create support for participation in the team. The school leader makes time available for the team members. Furthermore, a small ‘leerKRACHT-team’ is formed of teachers and school leaders, who will work together to prepare for the kick-off of the program and guide the team during implementation.
  • Kick-off. In this day-long meeting the school team reassesses its ambitions and decide on the educational topics it wants to work on this year. These themes are put on a year board, divided into different periods. Thereafter each (sub)teams develops concrete goals and actions for the first topic.
  • Implementation phase. The teams work with the four leerKRACHT-instruments in a weekly rhythm to achieve their first educational goals. In doing so, they experience successes and learn how continuous improvement works in practice.
  • Continuous improvement phase. Teams use leerKRACHT to realize a new educational goal every period. Students are involved in the improvement of education. They adapt the leerKRACHT-method to fit their own school.

Figure 2: Overview of the leerKRACHT-method

4. How to scale up to the level of an education system

We developed an approach which is both effective and efficient. The efficiency of the approach is critical in order to be able to scale up to the level of a school system. To realise that goal the approach should be implementable with minimal trained resources.

To this end we provide school support in four complementary forms:

  • Expertcoaches. Our experts visit schools between 12 and 26 times in the first year (depending on their size) and half that in the second year. They guide the ‘leerKRACHT-team’ of the school in the preparation and the implementation of the programme.
  • Online academy. The full leerKRACHT-method and -approach is made available to the schools for the introduction of leerKRACHT. This takes the form of 100 short (2-3 minute) screencast video’s and 1 A4 implementation guides. The leerKRACHT-team uses these to learn the approach and implement it.
  • Online measurement. During the implementation we provide a couple of progress measurements to the teams. With these they can assess how they are doing and can take action if needed. An additional benefit of these measurements is to ensure quality control of our work in schools.
  • Meetings. To kick off leerKRACHT we organise a bootcamp in which the leerKRACHT-teams of 6 to 10 schools in a region participate. Together with four subsequent intra-school exchanges during the year, this forms an efficient way to support schools and provide the participants the opportunity to learn from other schools’ experience.

To complement this change management approach for participating schools we added a number of variants (e.g., for smaller schools) and for school boards (e.g., building internal capacity to roll-out leerKRACHT).

Figure 4: Thousand schools participating in leerKRACHT all over the Netherlands

Figure 5: leerKRACHT-programs to complement the core school programme

5. What can we offer you

We strongly believe that schools that work with a continuous improvement culture offer better quality education. Therefore, our wish is that more countries can work in a similar way, so that millions of students receive better education. We offer to help you and inspire you in finding a way to implement this in your own country. We do this free of charge, as we aim to build sustainable change in education internationally.

One way to get inspired is to join our online academy. You can do this by signing up as a guest. Although the videos are in Dutch, the content is easily comprehensible and translatable to your own language. You might want to build your own academy by following our example. All the content on our website and academy is licenced by creative commons, which means that you can copy it for your own use, as long as you give us some credits.

We choose not to support individual schools outside the Netherlands. Our approach asks for support by an expert coach, as well as regional knowledge exchanges between schools. We make an exception for international schools that use the Dutch language in their team, that we can offer online support. For other schools we hope that this article and our academy can help you to build your own continuous improvement culture or that you can find an organization in your neighbourhood that can support you in this ambition. We wish you all the best!

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Interview McKinsey February 2020

The leerKRACHT foundation: Continuous improvement in Dutch education

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In 2020 ánd 2021 we were selected as one of the 100 global innovations in education internationally

How can we create a strong body of teachers and create a continuous improvement culture?

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OECD on the impact of foundation leerKRACHT in the Netherlands

Reviews of National Policies for Education

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Equal opportunities in education. Watch this school's approach

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In our webinars we explain more about how you can create a strong body of teachers and a continuous improvement culture

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