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So, we did the Hexagon Tool. Now what?

March 7, 2022

You’ve heard the saying.

“An hour of planning can save you ten hours of doing.” (Dale Carnegie)

We know the value of intentional action planning and bold decision-making. However, in a time when more demands than ever are placed on schools and districts, it is easy (and often expected) to get practices and programs in place quickly and efficiently. This often takes precedence over soliciting critical perspectives and developing provocative plans that are more likely to produce the outcomes we seek. The data collected during the process of using the Hexagon Tool can take us further than the initial decision to implement, de-implement, or refine a practice (Metz & Louison, 2018). Those data can be the starting place for audacious planning and systemic changes. 

Data that Informs Actions to Dismantle Inequitable Systems

Done well, the discussions inspired by the questions for each of the six indicators are a rich source of data for moving selected programs from an excellent idea to a mediator of change for the system, the community, families, and children. 

Consider the question in the implementing site indicator, “need”: 

How do members of the focus population perceive their need? What do they believe will be helpful? 

What might be revealed in a team’s conversations around “fit,” such as: 

How does the program or practice fit with the community’s history? How does it disrupt the community’s history or systems? Or how does the program or practice fit with family and community values and assets in the impacted community, including the values of racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically specific populations? 

Answering these questions and prioritizing the responses as the critical determinants for the next moves in our action plan inspires teams to move away from traditional decision making that favors those in power (or who look and sound like those in power). This makes space for the team to move toward action planning that elevates the needs of those the decision will most impact.

Consider the story of a large, predominantly rural school district where only 32% of students are reading on grade level by the fourth grade. Over the last five years, the district has seen exponential increases in the number of learners who are multilingual. Using the Hexagon Tool, the district implementation team selected a reading curriculum that they hoped would support teachers to raise reading scores so that all students are reading on grade level within three years of initial implementation. The team that engaged in the Hexagon process was well composed with critical perspectives from the school, district leadership, family members (including representation from extended family members charged with the care of nieces, nephews, and grandchildren), a faith leader, and other community perspectives. In focus groups, the team asked the questions: What do you believe are the needs of your children when learning to read? What do you believe will be helpful? They discovered that families, children, and teachers who lived in the community valued the importance of learning to read in English. Many were frustrated that their children were learning to read in their home language but struggled with English text in school and were failing. They also believed that being bilingual was an asset. They did not want their children to lose the ability to read or speak in their first language, so they did not always speak or read in English in the home. Those surveyed thought it might be helpful if they had access to more English reading material so they could use both English and home language text. Families also wished teachers were more informed about linguistic differences in English and other languages. Some were upset that their children were told they were speaking or writing “incorrectly” when they were using linguistic structures that were correct in their first language. 

The team asked themselves: How does this program disrupt the community’s history or systems? They had hard conversations that revealed that despite the growing number of bilingual speakers, the district continued to utilize instructional materials that were not representative of the rich diversity in the community. As part of the Hexagon Tool process, a subset of the team completed an initiative inventory and audit of the current literacy curricula and materials in place across elementary schools. Of those materials, only 20% incorporated the community’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity. From the question, how does the program or practice fit with family and community values and assets in the impacted community? the team decided that the newly selected reading program was still in need of a more extensive selection of practices and materials that connect to various home languages and cultural assets to support literacy and language instruction. Therefore, the team developed several action steps to take place over the next four months. They determined they would purchase supplemental resources and materials built upon students’ background knowledge and cultural experiences to bridge the vocabulary and concepts taught in school. The district developed a timeline for providing classroom and at-home resources such as books and other reading materials that reflected students’ cultures and native languages as well as English. Additionally, the school leadership team incorporated training into the professional development calendar around understanding the linguistic and dialectical differences in languages that generate confusion when applied to English acquisition.

In this example, the district did not use the data to stop at selection. They prioritized the voices of those most impacted. As a result of the valuable qualitative information they collected, the team generated an implementation plan with a greater likelihood of reaching all students. 

Data that Sparks Innovation

Some of the questions embedded within the different indicators of the Hexagon Tool spark innovative ideas and new ways of approaching decisions. 

Questions such as this one in the “need” section – If the program or practice is implemented, what could potentially change for these population(s)? – provoke imaginative responses that inspire big, bold goals.  

In our case example, the district team coordinator asked the implementation team, “What if we woke up tomorrow and the program was being implemented with fidelity with all students? What might change for them? For us as teachers?” Starting with that vision, they brainstormed potential barriers and enablers to realizing that vision. They created several immediate action steps around building readiness for the new program with teachers, building excitement in the community, and securing training for administrators to support implementation. The team outlined proactive steps to move implementation forward rather than reacting to missteps.

In considering “evidence,” the Hexagon Tool process encourages teams to consider research and data beyond what can be found in traditional academic studies. The process opens schools and communities to the possibility of trying new and exciting practices and programs or, even better, designing programs with the communities and families! 

Think about how exciting these questions are to the innovators in your schools and districts!

If research data are not available, are there evaluation data to indicate effectiveness (e.g., pre/post data, testing results, action research)? If yes, provide citations or links to evaluation reports.

Is there practice-based evidence or community-defined evidence to indicate effectiveness? If yes, provide citations or links.

These prompts encourage us to look at evidence of impact indifferently. They encourage implementers to seek evidence of how practices or programs affect communities in real and lasting ways. Going back to our district example, the team acknowledged that, while they had sufficient evidence to justify the adoption of the primary curriculum, they had not yet sought evidence of using supplemental materials and resources. The team also did not consider how that may impact (or not) successful implementation of literacy instruction in the chosen curriculum. Rather than add to the new curriculum without data or a plan to collect data, they designed a series of steps to work with the purveyor to provide model implementation sites. They could visit the sites and/or interview to determine if and/or how additional culturally sustaining resources were utilized, and identify any data to support their use.

Data that Informs Actions to Guide Systemic Changes

The “usability” and “capacity” indicators can generate ideas for teams to make systemic changes to implement practices and programs effectively. Let’s examine how our district used data generated from these indicators to drive implementation. 

The new curriculum was selected partly due to the expansive resources defining a philosophy of literacy in line with the district’s beliefs, outlining and defining core components, and a validated and easy to administer fidelity tool. However, from the data collected in the discovery process, there were limited resources to support teachers to use the practices outlined in the program in ways that validated and affirmed the cultures represented within the district. Therefore, the team defined within the implementation plan action steps to select a group of teachers that would operationalize practices to support bridging the differences in native languages and English. As an example, the group took the practice in the curriculum of phoneme-grapheme mapping and further defined that practice with, “teacher affirms students’ backgrounds by acknowledging the second language acquisition process and building an awareness of the connections to the phonology and orthography of students’ primary language and/or dialect.” The team generated examples and non-examples of what this practice looks like and sounds like in practice. Additionally, to support capacity in each school, the team developed professional learning around the practice and supported coaching for first-grade teachers. You can see how the team moved beyond selection of the curriculum to enhance the usability of the program to better meet the needs of all students. They did not rely solely on training and coaching for the program but addressed the data received and planned for greater support in capacity building. 

Planning is an iterative, creative process that allows us to synthesize our understanding of policy, systems, and practices with our knowledge of our learners, families, and communities. It is a time when we envision the learning community we want to occur and analyze how all the pieces of an educational experience should fit together to make that vision a reality.

A special thank you to the New Jersey State Implementation Team (SIT), whose thoughtful conversations inspired the example for this blog! 

Related Resources:


Metz, A. & Louison, L. (2018). The Hexagon Tool: Exploring Context. Chapel Hill, NC: National Implementation Research Network, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Based on Kiser, Zabel, Zachik, & Smith (2007) and Blase, Kiser & Van Dyke (2013).