Making Sense of Some Requests

This post is by guest blogger, Chris Birr, Ed. Birr is a member of the ion Board of Directors, a School Psychologist, MTSS Coordinator, and deep thinker. Chris lives in suburban Columbus, Ohio with his wife, two daughters, and a dog.

To me, one of the best improvements in education has been the rapid delivery of information through Twitter or social media. Long gone are the days of being cut off from new innovations unless you were one of the lucky ones to attend a conference. That can cut both ways and with the lockdowns and shutdown of schools in March, advertising appeared to kick into high gear. At least, my inboxes were receiving more marketing emails than ever before.

Pre COVID-19, much of my previous role involved screening out requests for new products. My objective was not to simply be a gatekeeper to say “NO!” to each request. There was a fine line between becoming overwhelmed with requests, being taken by slick marketing, or overlooking products that might be very beneficial to students or teachers in the district. For the duration, I will refer to products or practices as “interventions”. I was generally involved in intervention selection or adoption but the process could apply to curricula to practices to interventions.

One of the best tools we adopted to process requests was the Hexagon Tool from the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN). If you have not heard of NIRN, click the link and explore their site. For anyone adopting new practices or making changes, they have resources that will be incredibly helpful.

The Hexagon Tool was designed to provide a framework for organizations to use when making decisions about whether to select tools or practices. According to NIRN, the Hexagon is most commonly used when exploring options for tools to use.

The main areas of the Hexagon Tool are as follows.

1. Evidence- what does the research indicate about the effectiveness of the tool or intervention?

2. Usability- who around you uses the tool or can help get it in place?

3. Supports- who in your system can help establish use?

4. Need- what is the target population of the intervention?

5. Fit with Current Initiatives- how well does the intervention align with other practices in the system?

6. Capacity to Implement- Do you have the staff, money, and infrastructure?

From my perspective, I leaned most heavily on the Evidence aspect of the Hexagon. Whenever I was approached with a request, I immediately went to the WWC, NCII Tools Chart, Evidence for ESSA, or Google Scholar to examine the evidence base for the intervention. If evidence was lacking, I was likely to pan the intervention and do what I could to shut down the process.

On the other hand, there were interventions or practices that adhered closely to expert recommendations included in the IES Practice Guides. For instance, a reading intervention could be closely aligned to a practice guide but lack inclusion in peer-reviewed journals as that was not the focus of the publisher. Although evidence was lacking, a need was present for a decoding intervention, the capacity of the system was present to deliver the intervention, and neighboring districts were experiencing success with implementation.

There were times when my biases could have led to the elimination of options that may have been beneficial to students and teachers in our system. On the other hand, there were times when interventions were subject to large marketing budgets and were low on design and impact. In those situations, having the Hexagon Tool in place was helpful for providing balance in decision making.

How to use the Hexagon?

For individual requests: The short version, make a template of a Hexagon report and share it with others. Decide by committee so decisions are as fair and equitable as possible.

The versatility of the Hexagon can be a strength and hindrance when first using. When asked to review a single intervention, I would use the areas of the Hexagon and collect as much information about each section as possible. From there, I would share the document with the person who made the request and ask for their input and suggestions of others to include in the process. If your system has instructional coaches, including several may lead to a more robust discussion and decision-making process. In this way, I was able to stay in my lane and focus on the evidence and research base of the requested intervention.

For reviewing multiple products for the same purpose: When gathering options to select a new intervention for a specific skill (e.g. decoding, computation), we would use the Hexagon headings as column headers and list the intervention choices in the rows of spreadsheets. Again, involve several professionals with varying backgrounds to build a fair and equitable process. I would encourage sharing the spreadsheet with team members, provide a timeline, and set a final meeting for a feedback loop about which interventions can be reviewed further and which can be eliminated from the process.

Summary

The upcoming school year will likely provide challenges that require flexibility and new ways of thinking and doing things. Establishing a process now to work through requests may lead to some increased efficiency as needs or situations change. Furthermore, having clear processes could decrease frustration as we all navigate stressful situations in and out of school. The Hexagon is one tool that may provide a clearer way of making decisions and increasing collaboration in an objective manner.