Training Youth Development Practitioners to Be Organizational Change Makers

Lessons Learned From the Student Success Network's Continuous Improvement Fellowship Pilot

Lisa Merrill, Sophie McGuinness and Camille Lafayette (2018)

The Student Success Network (SSN) consists of about 60 youth development organizations and schools in New York City that are dedicated to improving students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) and academic and career success. Notably, all member organizations administer the same SEL-focused student survey twice a year and then receive individualized reports and support to help them interpret and make use of the survey’s results.

In the 2016-2017 school year, SSN launched a year-long Fellowship aimed at helping member organizations use a continuous improvement (CI) approach in their efforts to boost students’ SEL. A total of 12 Fellows from 12 different organizations participated in the pilot year. SSN requested that the Research Alliance study the Fellowship’s pilot, provide formative feedback, and share relevant lessons with the broader education, youth development and continuous improvement fields.

Our brief, Training Youth Development Practitioners to Be Organizational Change Makers, draws on focus groups and interviews with Fellows (as well as colleagues at their home organization) to highlight several key lessons:

  • Implementing CI requires a shift in mindset (including new ways of thinking about diagnosing problems, collecting and analyzing data, starting small, and learning from failure);
  • Creating community deepens CI learning; and
  • Gathering support from within organizations is critical to making change.

Our practice guide also illuminates some of the challenges SSN faced during the Fellowship pilot year, as well as some of the changes they subsequently made to address those challenges. We hope this brief will provide valuable information for other initiatives that aim to teach CI to youth development practitioners.