Thursday, March 28, 2013

Supporting Students - What is involved

It is easy to under estimate what is involved in schools managing support for their most mobile and highest needs students.

Effective school support requires clarity and transparency about the planning and management of the support provided, including,
  • a good understanding of the student's story
  • the current (and long term) goals for the individual student
  • the actions and arrangements actually being implemented (who is doing what, when...)
  • ongoing (daily) monitoring of the effectiveness of these actions and arrangements
  • the sharing of key information and responsibility by the key stakeholders
  • ongoing (daily, weekly...) refinement of this support, which means...
  • the information involved needs to be readily available and easily accessible according to each stakeholders' responsibilities
Dealing with this amount of information at a school/system level this means having an integrated device that enables the storage of key data and communication between stakeholder. But no device is foolproof. It effectiveness depends on the actual practices of those who use it.

Such devices exist (e.g., my Support Planner used by some 50 schools in Tasmania and NSW). This device has enabled many of them to plan and manage their support for students, as above, in a very collaborative and transparent way with numerous stakeholders including other agencies and external support providers.  But supporting students is not a simple matter.

Other schools have been less successful for a number of reasons...
  • It is easy for a school to get stuck at the stage of simply recording data on problematic behaviour
    • problematic behaviour often requires urgent attention
    • schools may be more reactive rather than proactive
    • the data can provide some validation for the schools' responses (including suspensions)
    • problematic behaviour tends to (unconsciously) underline the student as the problem
    • the data may mask the fact that problematic behaviour is key indicator of a need for support
  • Some schools fail to recognise that having a plan is not the same as providing support
  • Many schools fail to appreciate that goals need to be explicit, achievable, and known and agreed by key stakeholders (ideally including the student)
  • Actual goals (if they exist) are often about what is not wanted (e.g., problematic behaviour), and the real actions are about containment rather than substantial supportive intervention
  • Comprehensive multi-page individual learning plans (ILPs) rapidly lose their effectiveness
    • in my experience, most have a 'half-life' of perhaps two weeks;
    • they are difficult to share, and are often unknown key stakeholders especially in relation to highly mobile student
    • ILPs tend to be monitored and reviewed less frequently than intended (if at all) - schools are busy places and getting stakeholder together is usually difficult
    • they are often skewed to educational needs a
    • their 'professional' appearance can distract from the significance of simple everyday things
  • It takes time and thoughtful effort to integrate the use of any device into the actual day-to-day practices of a school and its staff
  • Schools receive little or no recognition and return for their efforts with many of their highest needs students (especially if those students who are highly mobile)
  • There are so many other matters competing for the school's attention at this time
It takes time, effort and commitment to address these issues. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Serious incidents can be distracting

Don't be distracted by the serious school incidents
Restorative Practices can be vital in responding to serious incidents in schools. The outcomes that are often achieved by using restorative practices can be life-changing for those involved - relationships to self and others are restored, the harm repaired to some extent and the sense of identity, belonging and community greatly enhanced for key participants and those who care about them. The flow-on effects include improved attention to the core purposes of schools (teaching and learning) and less waste of precious school resources (time, effort...). Such achievements are often quite spectacular. Even when all this is achieved could we still be missing something?
Restoration needs to be undertaken as early as possible.
Serious incidents rarely happen without some prior factors being in place. Students, staff & family members who seriously harm others have often been previously harmed themselves through abuse, neglect and/or trauma. This prior harm may well have happened elsewhere and a long time ago and have no real connection with the school. Still such harm can underpin serious school incidents.
For this reason schools need to be restorative for all students all the time.
Serious incidents are urgent and important . But what about the unresolved harm from elsewhere that is being carried by students and staff?
The everyday use of affective statements, a wide range of circles, and asking the restorative questions are essential and powerful practices that can gently (and indirectly) reduce the harm done elsewhere at earlier times.
Even without explicitly addressing the earlier harm, the circles and questions can restore  a student's (or staff member's) sense of identity and belonging, and give key insights that reduce the likelihood of the student being involved in a serious school incident in the future.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Restorative Schools - Accreditation

I have been wondering if there are any systems /schemes that give formal accreditation to schools in relation to restorative practices?

Such an arrangment could be very useful in helping schools develop and sustain their restorative practices. 

I am confident that, properly managed, formal accreditation would...
  • give a clear and consistent developmental pathway for schools to become increasingly restorative
  • provide clear milestones that would enable schools to demonstrate progress (improvement and achievement)
  • articulate the links between restorative practices and the key purposes and functions of schools (teaching, learning, community building....)
  • provide an ongoing cycle for re-accreditation and further development of the school
  • enable ongoing self evaluation and reporting by the school
  • prompt the school to commit (and recommit) to the school-wide use of Restorative Practices
  • prompt the school to acquire and deploy resources ($, time, effort....) as required
  • add to the school's identity
    • locally in ways that add to the school's standing in the community
    • more widely as a member of a national/international network of schools and other organisations building community and serving those in need
  • support the school's sustained use and development of Restorative Practices in the face of competing demands and emerging "alternatives"
  • improve the success and well-being of all staff, students (and those who care for them)
  • improve the school's overall effectiveness in all aspects of its life and work
  • significantly build the restorative community locally, nationally and world-wide
  • ...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Everyday tasks - multiple outcomes

Yesterday I outlined why I believe multi-tasking is often counter productive.

One email respondent rightly pointed out that 'multitasking does not actually exist, unless one task is so easy that you do it automatically (breathing, driving on the highway, eating, etc...)'.

Still it is worthwhile for individuals to consider the disruptive effects of having several tasks on the go at the same time. Deferring the start of a task may not delay it (tasks B and C in yesterday's example).

For schools and other organisations multi-tasking is certainly possible - numerous tasks can be undertaken simultaneously by the school. In fact this is one of the main reasons for organising any organisation: to undertake several task at the same time.

In order to be more efficient and effective the school needs to minimise the disruptive effects of multi-tasking,  especially the disruptive effects of development. This can be achieved by minimising Change while maximising Improvement.

The alternative to multi-tasking is Multiple Outcomes

One way to do this is embed ongoing development into the everyday tasks being undertaken. This means achieving multiple outcomes from each task:
  • complete each task well
  • complete the task at the first attempt
  • improve the process
    • make it easier
    • reduce the likelihood of errors/oversights (and rework)
    • stop doing unnecessary steps
    • get the timing right
    • get the right people doing each step
    • find other useful applications for the process
    • ...
  • learn from doing
  • capture the learning (e.g., document major processes - example)
  • embed the above into the school's culture (e.g., job description)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The inefficiency of multitasking

Multitasking has an undeserved reputation as a good thing.

In fact, multitasking simply results in delays, disruptions and inefficiencies.

Does it matter whether you do one after the other (mono-tasking) or you multi-task and do a bit of each one each day?

While things are not usually this simple it is enlightening to see the difference:

Suppose you have three tasks (A, B and C) that each take three days to do (a total of nine days work).

Multitasking will result in all three tasks being finished on the ninth day.

By mono-tasking two of the three tasks get completed sooner!!!

  • A will be finished on the third day - giving six additional days benefit
  • B on the sixth day - giving three additional days benefit
  • C on the ninth day. 
And completing tasks earlier means less chance of disruption and displacement.

In practical terms there are other factors that come into play which may or may not be significant. There are many more changeovers between tasks undertaken with a multitasking approach. Sometimes such changes consume additional time and effort.

On the other hand, one may not have the opportunity to use a full mono-tasking approach. But it is wise to maximise the use of mono-tasking wherever possible.

One way to achieve a higher proportion of mono-tasking is to delay starting some of the tasks. In the above example of mono-tasking  B is not started until Day 4 but is finished at the end of Day 6 - three days earlier than the multi-tasking result.

Worth thinking about, even if it is contrary to common wisdom.