The Hexagon Tool was the number one resource accessed in 2021 on the Active Implementation Hub. What is so fascinating about this tool? Why is this resource the most utilized out of all of the resources on the AI Hub?
For those who are not aware, the Hexagon Tool is a tool for selecting Evidence-Based Practices during the Exploration Stage. The tool provides Implementation Teams with an opportunity to examine a potential evidence-based practice through the lens of six indicators (need, evidence, fit, usability, capacity, and supports). However, many organizations fail to realize that the Hexagon Tool is so much more. It should be handled as a process that includes communication, stakeholder involvement, data collection, review, and time to have rich and full discussions around the evidence-based practice. We often see organizations begin the tool and then abruptly end due to a lack of information.
Recently I had the opportunity to discuss these questions and challenges with a former colleague, Amy Wassmann. We were in our early stages of learning implementation science in the Michigan Department of Education Transformation Zone. We were taking our learning to the regional level and expanding it throughout the work of the Instruction Department at the Saginaw Intermediate School District (SISD). Let’s look at how Amy utilized the Hexagon Tool twice for the same initiative with the hurdle of the COVID-19 shut down in between.
The Need for a Formalized Process
Schools can get inundated with many requests to try a new program, whether it is a new way of doing math, a new literacy strategy, or a new health topic. All were vying for school districts’ resources. School administrators get overwhelmed and respond by either latching onto everything or implementing nothing. Teachers get overwhelmed with the thought of learning “one more thing” and finding the time to fit it in. Because, let’s be honest, teachers’ plates are overflowing! What we often hear from staff is, “This too shall pass.” If I wait long enough, something new will come along, and I won’t have to learn this one. We needed a system. We needed a way to assess whether a new program was “worth it.”
A common message that we heard from educators, both teachers and administrators, was that there was limited support for teachers to provide student physical activity in the classroom. Teachers often mentioned that they saw an increase in distracting student behaviors in the classroom when students did not have physical education and/or recess. Students can go several days without recess in the winter in Michigan due to extreme temperatures. When InPACT at School, developed by the University of Michigan, was brought to our attention, we knew that this could be the solution we were all looking for. But how do we ensure that it is the right fit? That it will meet the needs of the students and the schools? And that it will not detract from learning, but will support it?
During this time, SISD used the Hexagon Tool to help guide programming decisions. We decided to convene an Implementation Team to explore the options. The team followed NIRN’s Hexagon Discussion Analysis Tool to strategically look at each of the six indicators of the tool: capacity, fit, need, evidence, usability, and support. The tool included useful guiding questions to get the Implementation Team started in rating the ISD and local districts in each of those indicators. At the end of the meeting, the team determined that InPACT at School was a fit for both the ISD and the local school district’s missions and visions and that the team would move forward with implementation.
Prepare for the Hexagon Tool Program Analysis meeting
Research is more than just finding a program that may address a need in your building.
- Review the questions under each of the six indicators to understand what is being asked, and so everyone can come prepared to share their thoughts and perspectives.
- Determine whether the program has been implemented in a community similar to yours.
- Learn if other similar programs are currently taking place or have taken place in the past. Consider if this program would be supplanting programming or filling a continued gap. If a similar program took place in the past, was it successful? What stopped the program from continuing?
- Meet with your finance team to determine funding streams and sustained programming.
- Request input from the consumers, those who directly work with consumers, and the community to get their perspectives of need.
Gather diverse partners for the Hexagon Tool Program Analysis
Ensuring diverse voices at the table is key to securing comprehensive data for the analysis process. Not only should the Implementation Team include those individuals who will be charged with implementing the program and those overseeing the implementation, but also consumers (students), community members (families and non-profit organizations), those fiscally responsible for the organization’s expenses (finance staff), and, if possible, individuals who are implementing the program in other schools/communities.
Re-evaluate fit and feasibility throughout various stages of implementation or when extraordinary circumstances impact the organization and community.
In our situation, the Implementation Team met to go through the Hexagon Tool Program Analysis on March 11, 2020, and it was determined that the InPACT at School program was a fit for the district. This meeting was two days before schools shut down in Michigan due to COVID. Programming paused for the 2019-20 school year due to school closures with the plan to start implementation in the fall of 2020. But Fall 2020 saw hybrid in-person learning with restrictions on movement and activity to reduce virus spread. While the elementary school was still very interested, they had to pause implementation further due to health and safety priorities. We used the pause to complete the Hexagon Tool again to see if/how COVID changed any responses/scores. The second Hexagon Tool Implementation Analysis meeting took place in February 2021, and the results were vastly different.
The first analysis meeting was completed one month after the initial meeting with the InPACT at School researcher and developer. The partners had limited knowledge of the InPACT at School program to adequately answer some questions. By February of 2021, almost a full year had passed, and the team had a better understanding of the evidence, usability, and fit. Time allowed for a more comprehensive understanding of the program and, therefore, a more accurate reflection on how well it tied with the elementary school’s needs and the support that the Saginaw ISD could offer. The collaboration between partners during the “pause” time allowed for the securing of resources (people and monetary), finding ways to fit it into the school day without it being viewed as “one more thing” for teachers, and allowing for planning to utilize precious professional development days to train. Finally, the pandemic lifted the Need and Supports scores during the second analysis. Due to COVID, educators saw a greater need for children to be more active throughout the day. Students were less active while home: extracurricular activities were canceled, not all youth had access to exercise items, some students did not have space outside to play (apartment complexes), and some students did not live in neighborhoods that are safe for outdoor play. Students returned to school and either could not sit still or were disinterested in physical activity. They had difficulty focusing. Behaviors that needed redirection increased. The need for STRUCTURED physical activity was evident. Because of our data, we knew that physical activity was necessary in our schools; as a result of using the Hexagon Tool, we knew that InPACT would not only be a fit, but also feasible.
The Hexagon Tool provides organizations with the ability to examine the fit and feasibility of evidence-based practices. However, the power of the tool lies with the process that is followed. To successfully explore a practice before selecting, organizations should focus on the before, during, after of the Hexagon Tool. Being prepared for the conversation is key to a successful discussion and examination of the evidence-based practice. Ensuring you have the right voices at the table will allow for greater understanding and need for the practice or program. Finally, communication of results and next steps must occur following the meeting.
Amy Wassmann is a Social and Emotional Learning School Consultant with the Michigan Department of Education.