Monday, July 26, 2010

Understanding Data

Why we need data
Data is used to construct our knowledge, actions and arrangements. In order to gather meaningful data we need matching concepts and some awareness of the context. A height of 170cm may be "tall" or "short" depending on the person's age, gender, race, group....

The application of data may, or may not, be problematic depending on the nature of causal relationships (if any) involved. For many physical phenomena, cause and effect are consistent over place and time. Thus data can be used to make reliable predictions and transfer best practice.

In most social phenomena, the relationships between cause and effect are not consistent over place and time. This fundamental reality is often masked by the fact that some observations can make sense in retrospect (after the event). The thinking error involved is, "because something can now be explained it could have been predicted before it happened".

Rather the following are often true if the phenomena are complex or chaotic:
  • cause and effect may not be related at all in any meaningful way
  • cause of effect may be remote from each other in place and time
  • cause and effect may be related but also inconsistent over place and time - repeated experiments give significantly different results, or small differences result in very different results
  • despite our best efforts, outcomes are unpredictable, messy
Data and Complex Phenomena
In complex phenomena such as social activity it is common for patterns to emerge in/from the interactions of the agents. That is, the outcomes are better understood as patterns rather than "products".
[Note: It is more appropriate to use  the term 'product' in relation to the outputs of a production process, one which can be properly understood in terms of Input-> Process-> Output (product)]

The use of data in relation to complex phenomena is to enable us to identify patterns, trends and opportunities rather than to manage our endeavours as production activities. Understanding the difference between production and emergence is critical in field such as education.  

Of course education and similar endeavours uses processes but they are typically iterative rather than linear, as is typical of production processes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Moving forward and gaining momentum

Enormous efforts are going into improving schools, schooling and education but most are disruptive, counter-productive and undermine stakeholder commitments to future initiatives.

Here are some basic (but counter-intuitive and very challenging) ideas about the way forward for schools, schooling and education:
  • Education is NOT a "process/production" activity and cannot be treated, nor modelled as such - A VERY BIG PROBLEM!!!  more...
  • Reality is complex, messy, uncertain and unpredictable - Forrest Gump was right: "Sh-t happens!!"
  • Certain people may be in charge at various levels, but it is not possible for them to be in control
  • Hierarchical systems tend to protect senior officers from the inconvenience of knowing about the current reality
  • Knowledge, not plans and policies, make people responsible (and knowledge can help make people, response-able)
  • People want to do a good job (unless they are totally discouraged)
  • We need to reduce the need for counter-measures (re-work) and move directly towards solutions by nurturing the emergence of what is desirable more...
  • We need much less change but much more improvement
  • Organisations (including schools) are constructed in the everyday conversations of those involved.
  • Such situations require a set of agreed and easily retained rules of engagement/interaction (everyone's job description*), e.g.,

    • Know what is happening
    • Work with others to improve what is happening
    • Do your work in a way that makes it easier for the next person to do well
  • When making changes/improvements always start by making things easier. 
  • As a result of the above, everyone will do more and to do it better!!
That is, ongoing improvement of schools, schooling and education can be achieved quickly and economically  
[*This 'job description' was used at RPS for the last several years of my time there and was clearly proven to work. In a school of 670 students, I taught 0.4 FTE, the APs taught 0.8 and everyone else taught full-time.  That is, 97% of all the available teacher time was spent working directly with students.]

Monday, July 5, 2010

Understanding Social Emotional Learning

I have been mulling over how to understand the social emotional learning component of School-wide Positive Behaviour Support.  The following is a summary of my current thinking
For me, at this time, I see SEL as
  • a major component of a school's taught, shared and lived curriculum
  • complementing the academic curriculum
  • enabling teaching, learning and belonging by and for all.
From listening to schools in the Network, and monitoring a lot of what is on the net, it seems to me that their are probably three SEL dimensions:
  • School expectations/rules/agreements - These key school aspects are described and articulated in various ways. They are intended to guide everyone's ongoing actions and interactions but and detailed meanings change from context-to-context, from setting-to-setting. To understand, appreciate, accept and support the school's requirements involves substantial social emotional learning:  the expectations have to be met, the rules observed and/or the agreements kept.  The  capacity to do so involves social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy.
  • Social skills - The ability to use verbal and non-verbal communication skills that enable successful interactions between members of the (school) community. That is to meet one's own needs in acceptable ways and to support the needs of others.  For example, Teachers frequently use 
    • Attentive listening (from Tribes....)
    • Active Supervision (SWPBS...)
    • Restorative Inquiry (Restorative Practices...)
    • Affective Statements (Tribes, RP...)
    • Showing appreciation (Tribes, RP...)
    • ...
  • Habits of Mind - Patterns of thinking and acting in one's own best interests and leading to ongoing success. For example, You Can Do It!!proposes several 'habits of mind, including..."
  • Emotional Literacy - 
    • Identifying, relating and communicating one's (emotional) responses to experience, and
    • Understanding and appreciating those of others.
2. Implications arising
It seems to me that there are some major implications from the above:

Firstly, emotional literacy underpins success including the successful use of social skills and the development of useful habits of mind.

Secondly, the key elements of most structured SEL programs include elements from each of the above SEL dimensions.  Consider Tribes as simple example. The Tribes elements are
  • Attentive Listening = habit of mind + social skill + emotional literacy
  • Showing appreciation / No put-downs = social skill + emotional literacy
  • Right to pass = emotional literacy + social skill
  • Mutual respect = emotional literacy + social skill
  • [Focus on task = habit of mind  + emotional literacy]

Thirdly, social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy are not subject to the law of physics: they are not universals in a determined sense. They are emergent, cultural and situated. This may mean that your school can simply choose its own preferred approach, and if done well, the school will make a profound contribution to the life and work of those involved, both now and in the future.
Fourthly, and keeping this last point in mind, consider your school's key expectations, e.g., "Be Safe, Be Fair and Be a Learner"

3. Discussion Starters
  • What are the required social skills that will enable all staff and students to meet these expectations?
  • What are the associated habits of mind that will make meeting the school's expectations natural and easy for staff and students?  
  • What emotional literacy is required of staff and students in order for them to understand, appreciate and achieve the school's expectations.
  • What educational strategies does your school currently have in place to develop the social skills, habits of mind and emotional literacy required?
  • What needs are not currently being addressed? That is, what are the gaps in the schools continuum of support in these areas, and how do you know (data)?
  • Possible next steps?