5 Ways to Gauge Pilot Readiness

October 08, 2014
Chris Liang-Vergara
Foundation/nonprofit member

CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Tools

With the school year in full swing, class culture settling down -- and opportunities for free pilots popping up -- the temptation to try something new can be compelling.

I've helped hundreds of teachers pilot and evaluate new techniques and tools, first as a teacher and then as a technology and personalized learning specialist, and now as chief of learning innovation for LEAP Innovations Pilot Network. I've seen plenty of pilots transform classrooms, while others fail miserably simply because the timing or planning wasn't right.

Here is a checklist we use to help make sure each pilot has the greatest chance to succeed.

LEAP Innovations 5-Point Pilot Readiness Checklist

1.  Students are adept at self-directed learning.
Remember, as the teacher you're only one fraction of the overall pilot. The students are key. Supported, self-managed students are comfortable with inquiry, exploration, and learning through failing. Students become your teammates as you roll out a pilot and need to adjust things in the moment. Establish freedom with expectations for how students can help each other in the classroom. Make the pilot a fun, exciting project for everyone. (It will also make students a little more patient as you stumble together through the first few days!)

  Wait. Now is not the time.
 • Students show no self-direction and don't take any actions without my prompting.

✔  Getting there.
 • Students show some level of self-direction when moving from one activity to another or collaborating with each other independently. However, they need frequent prompting and guidance.

✔  Ready to go!
 • Students show exceptional sense of self-direction; they move from one activity to another independently and productively collaborate without losing focus.
 • I can literally not say a word, and learning among students will continue.

2.  You have a positive classroom culture and a behavior management system that kids understand.
Ask yourself: "Do I have a system in place that lets my students know individually and as a group if we’re on the right track as a team?" Any successful organization informs members of their progress. This allows self-management and the growth of the team as a unit. Have a clear strategy and messaging system for behavior management.

✔  Wait. Now is not the time.
 • Students have no knowledge of a behavior management system or their behavior record.

✔  Getting there.
 • A behavior system exists, but students don't understand it or it isn't followed as designed.

✔  Ready to go!
 • A complete, positive behavior system and culture exist that promote healthy and supportive relationships among students and staff.
 • Students can articulate the culture and how the system works, and they know their current record.

3.  A tiered support system is in place.
In any pilot you do, there are always some students who struggle. It's imperative to have systems in place to provide them with additional support. This goes beyond spending a few extra minutes with the student after class or giving up lunch for tutoring. You need a sustainable and reliable process to get students the additional support they need to address the gap. Talk with your department, grade level, and your RTI and/or special education teams to develop a system that helps everyone. If that’s not an option, consider creative scheduling within your class or establishing a peer-support system.

Wait. Now is not the time.
 • There is no formal method to identify students who are struggling, and they receive no additional support beyond a few extra minutes with me during class.

Getting there.
 • A formal method is in place to identify struggling students (based on both academic and behavior signals), but the process of providing additional help isn't integrated with the schedule and resource model.

Ready to go!
 • A formal method is in place to identify struggling students (based on both academic and behavior signals) and get them additional support or inventions within 48 hours.
 • Students are also self-aware and know what signals to look for and when to turn to others for help.

4. You are comfortable with the product or practice.
Are you comfortable with the product or new practice that you’ll be rolling out? Ignoring the “seat time” you may have put into learning about it, how are you feeling? Do a soft run of it with a small group of students or some fellow staff members to work out the final kinks.

​Wait. Now is not the time.
 • I have no idea what I’m doing.

Getting there.
 • I have a sense of how this all works and am comfortable with how it will roll out.

Ready to go!
 • I’ve practiced using the product or new learning approach with a small group of students or staff members, and I feel comfortable rolling it out.

5. You have access to all the resources you will need.
Starting a pilot without proper access to devices, lab materials, space, or other needed resources can be a nightmare of frustrations. Make sure you have concrete, reliable access to whatever you need so that the positive momentum you create isn’t suddenly destroyed.

Wait. Now is not the time.
 • I have no guarantee of reliable access to the resources I need.

Getting there.
 • I have a basic plan in place and can usually get the resources I need.

Ready to go!
 • I have stable, reliable resources, a clear understanding of who is responsible for providing and maintaining inventory, accounts loaded or resources properly divided up, and a student Acceptable Use Policy and/or expectations laid out.

Piloting new initiatives is a great way to innovate, yet it’s worth pausing first to be sure you're ready. It's also good to think about how you will evaluate the impact of the pilot. But that will have to wait for another post …

Photo "Checklist" by Oliver Tacke. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.