Archive for February, 2014

It’s a year later….

The homework policy went into practice. Immediately issues kicked up. Did they consider the individual needs of students? Could they cookie cutter a set time for every student per grade? How could they monitor the assignment of homework? Who would supervise the policy?

Over time, the principal and her Shared Decision Making Team made some adjustments and in the end what the team could be sure of was that homework was in fact assigned more regularly than it had been in the past.

However the Team was shocked when the principal asked the “Is the Emperor wearing his clothes?” question:

“Can we somehow connect the perceived increase in homework to improved student learning?” she asked.

One thing the team could do together was squirm and squirm they did.

Then Bob said, “You mean that we have to evaluate whether the policy worked?”.

The principal wanted to say “Duh.” but restrained herself. Instead she said, “We went through a lot of trouble and a lot of fine tuning to get some sort of homework practice in place. Don’t we owe it to ourselves and to the children to find ways to decide whether what we did was worth it?”

Bob put his other foot in his mouth by saying “Well it’s not like the School Improvement Police will come after us if our plan didn’t work. Where does it say that we get raises if we succeed or pay cuts if we don’t?”


Hmm, Bob’s remarks are both fortunate and unfortunate.

They’re unfortunate in that he said them in the first place.

But they’re fortunate on a couple of counts. One is that this is a kind of mini case study and hopefully not a true story. That a professional or a member of any school improvement effort would be so callous about whether there were positive or negative results from their collective planning and decision making is frightening although I daresay that members of school improvement groups near and far might sometimes think like this.

The other fortunate development is that we can now parse this kind of thinking in terms of what this dysfunction, Inattention to Results, may suggest.

It can be argued that school leaders are sociologists who also happen to be educators. We are after all spending so much of our time dealing with groups of people in various combinations to create the self sustaining, proactive, learning organization. When the groups go sour, perhaps out of the mental model shown above, or out of any number of other group process failings, the organization, and by extension certainly, the children it serves, suffers.

Search your memory and try to recall what happens when an educational initiative, or choice, from textbook selection, to policy making, and everything in between, falters or fails, how often has someone asked “Why?” “What have we learned from this?” worst, “WHO is responsible for this?”

The subliminal message albeit the cries near and far of “accountability in schools” is that we aren’t really held that accountable for our results, and in doing so we can continue to muddle on through to perpetuate what “mostly” works for “most” students.

It occurs to me that in so many ways, Inattention to Results is the most perfidious of the five dysfunctions. To ignore, blow off, make excuses for what we do or don’t do is really unconscionable in systems thinking where the correct model has always been PDSA, Plan, Do, Study, Act.

PDSA speaks to a kind of research and set of activities that needs further exploration in our mutual exploration of Systems Thinking and that is the idea of action research. That will be the subject two blog entries from now but for now it involves the obligation of the school organization’s leadership to build in mental models and inquiry skills to establish dialogues and analyses about our school’s practices, the great ones, the good ones, and the not so good ones.

As we end this segment of systems thinking blogs about Team Learning aka, Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, let’s remind ourselves about Benjamin Franklin and his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, one could wonder where we would be right now if these dysfunctions dominated their thinking before they signed it!

There was a movie a few years back, “What About Bob” where Bill Murray drives Richard Dreyfus to distraction every time Dreyfus tries to get Murray out and away from Dreyfus’ vacation time. But so lovable is old Bob (Murray), that Dreyfus’ family becomes fond of him and wants to be sure that Bob is included in whatever they do lest Bob’s feelings be hurt.

Well what about Bob (from our last blog post, not Bill Murray)?  You know, the one who submarined the flimsy-consensus his shared decision making team had made about a homework policy by not really buying into what the group had agreed to.

Would you have wanted Bob to have signed the Declaration of Independence?

Let’s fast forward the script from the previous post where Bob made it clear in the faculty room that he had not really bought into the agreement about homework policy that the group had adopted.

Two weeks later. The scene is the principal’s faculty meeting. “As you may know your school’s Shared Decision Making Team, as a result of trying to pin down root causes for our students’ achievement, decided to put a homework policy in place.”

Before she could continue, teacher Ted raised his hand and interrupted. “Excuse me, I was just wondering how this group came to consensus and agreed to putting this in place.  I mean, did they consider all the yes-buts about a blanket homework policy?”

The principal turned to the Shared Decision Making Team Chair and said. ” Would you like to take this question?”

She nodded. Then said, “Ted you were a member of this team under the old principal. Thankfully our new principal has worked hard to invigorate and empower this process to improve our students’ achievement. Here is how we came to consensus. We looked at the data. We tried to establish what the root causes that may be driving our achievement concerns. The group agreed that students’ time on task seemed to be a problem what with pull outs, school activities, and other interruptions. We thought that one solution to this was to increase homework so that we could formalize and increase the amount of time that students spent practicing what they learned in school that day.”

Ted shook his head. “I can see what you are thinking yet I cannot agree that more homework would solve the root cause you centered on. There’s all kinds of research refuting the value of homework.”

The faculty began to stir. Questions and concerns came from round the room to the Chair. Finally Ted asked, “And the group, the team, they all agreed to this?”

The Chair looked at her faculty colleague members. “Well, the parent-members are not here obviously, but your four faculty members did.”

More murmurs rolled round the room. Ted pointedly looked at Bob. “Bob, I heard you were not altogether ok with this yet you agreed to it. What will you do when this policy falls on its face?”

The murmurs thickened. Bob, flushed, unwilling as a new teacher to differ with a veteran colleague. The Chair stirred too. Then she whispered to Nan, who was next to her, and also a member of the Shared Decision Making team, “How much does it really matter? If the policy doesn’t work it’s not like we lose our jobs, or get a pay cut.”

Get your arms around this. Lencioni’s description of Lack of Accountability is that the group avoids difficult issues and also is unwilling to hold each other’s behavior to task if it interferes with the effective operation of the team.

Two issues in one? Avoiding difficult issues? Such as? And such as?

Such as Bob’s cutting and running when challenged by his faculty colleague?

Such as the Chair’s avoiding her own responsibility to hold the group to what they had agreed to or at very least to committing to reexamining it?