Friday, September 30, 2011

School closures[2] - Some next steps

Why do government and communities need to consider the next steps in relation to school closures? Because our recent experience is only the first wave of on-coming resource-related challenges that face virtually all communities and government world-wide. The biggest, most consistent question facing us is: "How can the system change so that we can all do more and more with less and less??"

Ironically this is emerging at a time when we seem to have lost all touch with systems thinking and change management. It is more common for policy/decision makers to respond as if we are at the edge of chaos [*].

Admittedly, the nature of systems has changed, particularly since the arrival of the internet. Systems are now networks of often largely autonomous agents, They can no longer be treated as production lines with overlaying organisation trees that describe relative status, power and authority of those involved.

Clearly, at least 20 school communities are already better prepared for what is to come. These communities still have Facebook and a whole new set of knowledge, skills, experiences, networks and relationships. They have transformed their initial sense of being at the edge of chaos into something that could be very useful to all concerned is sustained and developed. There is a close link between innovation and being at the edge of chaos.

I cannot think of anything that the policy/decision makers (government and government departments) have to enable them to do what the school communities have done in 18 days!! The old reliable "golden rule" (Those who have the gold make the rules) is not as valid as it used to be.

But what might happen next? So many lessons to be still to be learned!! Here are some possibilities to consider.

School communities
1. Carry out a post-mortem on the last few weeks as soon as convenient
(a) What worked? And why? Be prepared more of the same next time it is needed!!
(b) What didn't? Try to find alternative/better ways to do next time!! It might even work next time!!
(c) What have we discovered about "us"? Attend to the things than need to be attended to in our school and our community!!
(d) What have we discovered about others? What worked for them? What did they learn? ... What are the implications for the future?
(e) What else might we do now? In the near future? Next time?

2. During the past few weeks you have greatly increased your knowledge of what your school really is, in the life and work of your community.
(a) Gather the data:
- Capture 30 to 50 most significant stories that were told. And continue to add to them. These stories might be about students, families, the community itself, education, the local economy, the way in which the school and its community support and nurture people...
- Begin gathering the demographics - be more informed so that you can respond quickly to those who want to do things TO you!! And work with those who want to do things WITH you
- Map the school district showing where families live (big map). It is not the distance between schools that matter. It is the distance for home to the possible next school.
- Involve the students in learning (and teaching others) about their community, its life and work...
- Educate everyone about the school and its community...
(b) Consider small next steps for the school, and other aspects of the community, for example,
- Update the history of school and the community
- Put the school and community on show to passers by
- Develop a shared voice with related schools and communities
- Enhance the presence of the school and its community: use signage, the web, events....
(c) Participate in wider networks
- ....

The Policy/Decision Makers
I am concerned that the decision makers (and their advisers) may be the last to learn and respond constructively. The world has changed. They may be in charge but this does not mean they are in control. Our children teach us this lesson everyday. The failure to close schools is more than a failure of process. It is a failure to understand what is happening and how the world works. Until they really learn the lessons they are unlikely to look around for the tools, processes and strategies to make sense of what is happening and work WITH those involved to make much better responses that will enable us all to navigate future challenges.

[*The sudden decision to finalise the closure 10% of Tasmania's schools within four weeks is a classic response made under is a chaotic situation. It didn't work because only the decision makers were in chaos at the time. The schools and their communities were far from chaos]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What do restorative practices actually restore?

Recently I have been pondering the question:
  • What is it that restorative practices actually restore?
Obviously there are lots of possible answers to this question. For example, a school that was using Martin Seligman's approach to Well-Being would use restorative practices to restore the 5 main elements (PERMA) that contribute to success and well-being, namely,
  1. Positive Emotions – experiencing joy and pleasure
    • While the outcomes of bad experiences are the opposites of joy or pleasure, it is important for people to ultimately feel more positive after dealing with the bad things that they have done, or have been done to them. 
    • Unfortunately, some traditional approaches leave people who have caused harm to others in the state of feeling bad (shamed) about what they have done as 'logical consequence'. However this is likely to result in on-going disengagement, resentment and other limiting factors.
    • Similarly, traditional approaches often fail to address the emotional needs of the person who has been harmed so that they continue to feel bad about what has been done to them
  2. Engagement (or flow) – being consciously involved in our activities
    • Managed disengagement (isolation, suspension...) is also often seen as a 'logical consequence' of doing the wrong thing but this reduces the likelihood of productive engagement
  3. Relationships – having enjoyable and supportive interactions with others
    • Damaged relationships are very often a result of wrong doing. Failing to restore damaged relationships is likely to result in a long term state of reduced success and wellbeing
  4. Meaning – creating a purposeful narrative about our lives; being engaged with or serving something larger than ourselves
    • Having been harmed, or having caused harm to others, changes our personal narratives for the worse. Experiencing restoration of positive emotions, engagement, relationships... helps to restore constructive meaning in our lives.
  5. Accomplishments – completing our goals and following our core values.
    • Those who have been harmed, or caused harm, are likely to experience a sense of failure. If unresolved this is likely to reduce a person's subsequent capacity to achieve and act in ways that better match their own core values.
Clearly restorative practices provide rich ways of restoring each of the five elements of Well-Being.

What is your school's answer to this important question?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The need for co-evolution of schools

Schools are complex adaptive systems. And the elements (agents) of complex adaptive systems, their interactions, and the system itself all co-evolve. We often experience this as 'everything is connected'.

But this is a big challenge in all attempts to improve education. Failure to understand the implications leads to the failure of most initiatives. Can you think of a recent large scale initiative that was a great success? Did the initiative focus on enabling one aspect of the 'system' (e.g., pedagogy) while constraining other aspects (e.g., structure, or assessment, or...)? Most do and as a result they impede co-evolution.

So many large scale professional learning and school improvement initiatives fail because they attempt to change some agents (staff) but not others (families, students) while keeping the system (especially structures and rules) unchanged. The latter is really preventing co-evolution. And change is emergent - it is not something that is the inevitable linear result of a specific initiative.  Change occurs over time.

For example, Tasmania Tomorrow tried to improve the system by imposing structural and organisational change on the system but did not allow sufficient time for the agents (particularly staff and employers) to co-evolve.

In response to resent attempts to close 10% of Tasmanian schools Professor David Adams outlined the need to attend co-evolution of schools and their communities (more...)

The current low-level use of ICT by most teachers and students is another example despite schools having had computers for more than 30 years and numerous major school improvement and professional learning initiatives. My PhD research showed that the schools that were doing best with ICT were clearly co-evolving with it.  Staff, students and the community were doing new and higher order things in new and better ways.

BigPicture makes a very interesting case study because to provides the philosophical and systemic requirements for nurturing emergence by addressing and enabling the co-evolution of staff, students, families... as well as the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment...

The people involved in BigPicture all have profound stories about the experience & challenges of co-evolving with BigPicture. At the leadership level, most of the challenges involved in implementing BigPicture are really about supporting and enabling co-evolution.