Fed up with the system? Make a new one!
Ever sat at work and wondered why you are doing something? Do you ever get the feeling that there could be a better way of getting to the ‘product’ of your work quicker? Why aren’t you doing Y instead of X?
I had that feeling for the majority of the time that I was teaching, and now working with senior teachers and leaders I can see the same things happening all over the country. Schools, in my experience of working in them, are funny machines (more on why machines…another time). I see them as being made up of various systems. Staffing systems, teaching systems, learning and assessment systems etc. You can break them down (not theoretically, actually) into blocks of processes — steps in a system. The problem is that most systems that exist in a school are usually the product of another system not working properly…
Let me try to explain. Lets take an ‘Assessment’ system — a way for teachers to measure the learning of students, and/or the progress they are making in a subject / course. Course content is delivered, then a test of some kind is taken, the student ranked / marked against expected standards, then the data is collated, analysed, and validated (quality assured / checked if you will). Within each of these ‘sub systems’ are a series of processes, steps or tasks. In the majority of cases these systems, sub systems and processes are rarely documented. Most of the time they are handed down to staff through mini training courses, or a vague staff hand book, ‘we do it this way…’ stylee.
This leaves staff open to interpret or deviate (often for good reason) away from the ‘standard’ steps. Often there are better ways to do X or Y, which are done in isolation, where teachers find a better way only to be told, ‘it’s been done like this for years…’ and the system isnt altered.
This inevitably leads to holes in the system, in the assessement case this could be that teachers duplicate tests. One teacher delivering a similar test to another rather than being able to share one test. Or perhaps deadlines being missed because one part of the process is missing, think a printer down senario. These holes end up being ‘patched’ and not in an app update kind of way, a way that fixes the problem temporarily but inevitably adds to the complexity of the system overall.
It leads to a series of patches, overlaying covers which mask the real issue — the lack of adaptability or flexibiliy for a system, a series of systems, a school, to change.
My Product Design brain really gets aggitated at the thought that something cant or wont be improved. For years I taught my students that there will always be a problem that needs solving, that everything in life goes through itterations. From evolution, a recipe, a vacuum cleaner, even a GCSE Packaging project, all ideas and products can be improved in some way…if they cant, you’re not looking hard enough.
Similarly, change in deisng teams is done as transparently as possible between members. If a designer is responsible for the case of a product, and the engineer doesnt inform them of a size change of a part, the overall system doesnt work. Communication and transparency are required for a team to work effectively to evaluate and change systems they are working in/on.
Schools are no different. If someone finds a really awesome way of collecting in work for assessment, and it improves the ‘system’, why shouldn’t it be shared and included in the next version of the system. Ideally the change is documented, like a revision history / version control and shared with all teachers — benefitting the whole school, and evolving the system.
This idea isn’t new, in fact version control and iteration documents have been around in other walks of life for years. Allowing all staff within a school to have responsibliy for making empowering changes like this is such a great thing.
There are a range of methods for doing this, the simplest is to reverse engineer the system — looking at the product/outcome, then working backwards documenting each stage. It takes a while, and you will need the brain space and time to do it, but breaking apart a system like this will allow you to get right to the heart of why the system is needed (or perhaps not!)
The best way to start is either with stickie notes, or a spreadsheet / vertical list and add each subsystem, and process as you go. This method will give you the flexbility to insert steps and rearrange as you go!
Give it a go! Ill be writing about how I do this with leadership teams over the next few months. I would be interested on your feedback, and ideas for how you modify working practises in your school, business or life! Let me know below!#education #system #change