Monday, August 31, 2009

Robustness or Resilience (PBS for example)?

In developing school-wide systems, it may be important to be explicit about whether you are aiming to make the school's behaviour management systems
  • robust - unlikely to fail in any of its parts so that problematic behaviour is prevented from occurring
  • resilient - able to recover quickly and easily from failures (life's ups and downs), even the big ones
Follow the link to a posting on this issue from my favourite blogger (Dave Snowden).
Sometimes, when you are introducing PBS, staff may unwittingly assume that the intention is to make the school's behaviour management robust so that behaviour problems will disappear. Of course, this is unlikely to happen and some staff will then naturally think that "PBS doesn't work".
It is more realistic to aim for school-wide systems that are resilient. This will achieve three major outcomes:
  • school-wide systems will cope better with the ups and downs involved
  • recovery by the school, staff and students will be easier and faster, e.g., restorative practices, and, as a result,
  • behaviour problems will reduce (even if they don't disappear altogether)
And this reminds me of the three measure of progress in relation to a problematic student behaviour:
  1. Are the incidents getting fewer, that is,further apart? - "Yes" indicates the students behaviour is more 'robust' and that the student has more resilience
  2. Is the recovery time getting shorter? "Yes" indicates the student has improved resilience
  3. Are the the incidents getting less severe? "Yes" indicates improvements in both robustness of behaviour and personal resilience)
Problematic behaviour tends to improve in the above order. A "Yes" answer to any of the above questions indicates progress , even if, the last thing that improves is the actual incidents themselves. When a serious incident occurs it does not always mean that "We are back to square one!!!" or "All our work has been in vain!!"
It may be useful to get any staff and the student involved to answer these questions for themselves. In this way you are helping them to building resilience.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

League tables, their use and limitations

What are the benefits of school league tables? And for whom? People need information for making decisions. Schools want to do well, and parents want to send their children to good schools. But are league tables likely to be helpful?

The tables do not contain measures of school performance. They contain measures of student performance. No one would deny that there is a link between school performance and student performance. However, it is just not that simple.

Only part of any student’s performance is attributable to the school. Other contributing factors include

  • the student’s natural ability
  • the student's effort,
  • his or her family,
  • his or her friends
  • and the wider community.
It is not possible to isolate and measure the school contribution separately from all these other contributions. Even in the twenty-first century it still ‘takes a village to raise a child’. If the tables report anything then it is the success of the combined contributions . As a result, the tables frequently do serious injustice to many schools, particularly in high needs areas – those areas where families and communities have significantly less to contribute.

The data in league tables are something less than what the labels suggest. For example, the literacy and numeracy data is derived from narrow measures of certain aspects of the students’ actual literacy and numeracy. But even this can be useful. Such measures can act as a ‘flag’ and draw attention to matters that might warrant further consideration, especially by those, such as the school, who can put the data into context and make improvements.

Public reporting pressures schools into giving undue attention to certain aspects of the curriculum at the cost of other very worthwhile learning. That is, pressure to improve the school’s contribution can distort and narrow a sound curriculum and thus be counter productive.

Finally, the question of parent choice. I support the right of parents to choose but choice comes at a cost. Schools that are low on a league table are likely to suffer most. Hard working and very capable staff may feel undervalued and unfairly treated. Parents who cannot move their children to a higher school may feel a little guilty and disappointed with the school. Parents who do move their children usually take with them valuable resources. League tables can promote the movement of social capital away from where it is needed most, towards where there is already a plentiful supply.

Fortunately, the vast majority of schools and families quickly realise the limitations of league table information and adjust their judgements and decisions accordingly. Most schools and communities survive the immediate collateral damage that occurs. Curricula narrow and distort. The life and work of schools go on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What is not negotiable in a school?

Are there any things that are not negotiable in a school?
For me, there are three things that are not negotiable,
  • No harm to self, others or property (aka care, safety,...)
  • No disruption to work or safe play (consideration, learning...)
  • No offense to other members of the school community* (courtesy, respect, friendship....)
(* Includes neighbours and visitors)
In fact, these are the three school rules. These rules are derived directly from the rules that apply in our society - the school does not invent these. And they related directly to the two key outcomes
  • success
  • well-being
There are several supportive ways in which we interact with students. The main ways include
  • coaching
  • negotiating
  • mediating
  • befriending
  • advocating
  • ...
In fact when it comes to the not negotiable three school rules, the bottom line is that at times we will just need to be assertive. Of course there are children who, based on their other life experiences, expect all things to be negotiable. And others who dismiss all support other than befriending... And yet others who simply don't understand. But these things don't change the rules.
It is best to achieve as much s possible on the basis of our working relationships with students (coach, friend, mediator...). However, when our working relationships break down, we may need to be assertive and our right to do so comes from our role: Principal, Class Teacher, Duty Teacher, Teacher Aide...
Making the role explicit while being assertive can help reduce the student's confusion.