In this episode of our special Deming in Education series, David and Andrew talk about the difference between "continuous" and "continual" improvement - and how that applies in classrooms.
0:00:02.5 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I'll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, I am continuing my discussion with David P. Langford, who has devoted his life to applying Dr. Deming's philosophy education, and he offers us his practical advice for implementation. Today's topic is: Should we be continually improving or continuously improving? David, take it away.
0:00:30.6 David Langford: Thanks Andrew. So some people say it's semantics and it doesn't make that much difference to how you think about it. And I think in the last podcast, we were talking about how people have trouble with the idea about continual improvement anyway. But the first person I ever heard really talking about the difference between continual improvement and continuous was Dr. Deming. And not only did he talk about it in his Deming way, he was pretty emphatic about it. And it took me a long time, I'd say 10 years or more, to start to really get it and understand the difference and what that means. But basically the difference is if you have some function of what it is you're trying to do, some program, some process, a manufacturing thing, a classroom or whatever that might be, and you're doing that process over time, continuous improvement means that you're just continuously changing things over and over and over and adapting and moving forward and changing forward. It sounds like a really good idea until you think about it.
0:02:01.5 DL: I don't think it's actually possible to do it unless you're in some kind of a mechanical machine world or maybe artificial intelligence kind of a world where changes are just constantly being made, adaptations and changes moving through. When you're working in systems like education, which is primarily a human system field, and yes, we have computers and technology and things coming into the education system now, but it's still primarily a human system, and my experience is that humans, whether thats students, teachers, parents, whoever, cannot adapt to continuously changing everything. Such like change upon change, upon change, upon change, upon change or sometimes you hear your teachers say, "What's the flavor of the month?" They don't really understand why they're changing anything, they just know that somebody up above is just changing it, then they're just going on with it.
0:03:08.6 DL: Whereas when you have a continual improvement kind of environment, Deming taught us about, you let the system run basically, because you have to understand the data, what is the system producing, and once you understand that data, understand the variation in the system, then you can do a PDSA process and Plan-Do-Study-Act and come up with a small trial method to figure out what could I change to get a significant difference in the system, and then start applying that in a larger and larger scale level. On human systems, those things take time, because it's the psychology of the people in the system, and you have to persuade people that what to do and etcetera, sometimes it can take... And especially in education, it could take years to make a transformation system like that, so people have to learn to, okay, we've gotten to a certain point.
0:04:17.5 DL: We're getting a certain level of quality. And you can measure that, anything you wanna measure that with. You can measure that in attendance records, you could measure that in test scores, you could measure that in happiness of students, you could measure that in happiness of parents or doesn't matter whatever you want. But once you get that baseline data and you start to understand it, and then you have to say to yourself, "Well, am I happy with what's happening now?" I always joke with the