16 December, 2009

Checking perceptions of justice

Insights into how we really dispense justice can be powerful and essential contributions to aching change. I suspect that many staff would be surprised at the what they actually practice.

Staff perceptions
One way to bring these out would be to
1. Get several staff members to tell a story of a recent difficult situation and how it was dealt with, then
2. Get them to rate it (putting dots on a triangle) in terms of
  • retribution,
  • deterrence and
  • restoration
I would see such an exercise as being important in the implementation of Restorative Practices in any school.

Student Perceptions
And there is another 'triangle' that could also be useful... in this one students might rate staff  in terms of whether they are

  • controlling (assertive/aggressive)
  • helpful (altruistic)
  • just focused on the facts  (analytical)
Same technique: get each student to
1. Tell the story of a recent experience then
2. Rate what the staff did (put dots on a triangle) in terms of in terms of the these three possible responses

The Role of the School in Restorative Practices

Restorative Practices involve a major response from the school itself (over and above the staff response). Staff need PL (knowledge, skills and understanding) but, that is just the beginning...
RP involves a change of culture which requires
  • engagement of senior staff in the everyday life and work of the school, especially
  • engagement of senior staff in the everyday conversations
  • and a change in governance 

Associated changes in school governance need to be made and communicated ...
  • the school accepts responsibility for the use of RP (staff act on behalf of the school)
  • the school enables staff to use RP - time, provides structures, process, support, back-up, recovery strategies and assistance (it need to be OK to fail, at least in the short-term),
  • the school monitors the use, costs and contributions of RP (especially to capture the learning and experiences...)
  • the school genuinely lives the values required at all levels
  • the school understands RP as an investment (not just a solution), which means,
  • the school accepts that it is OK to lose time now in order to save time later on

10 December, 2009

Consequences and our notions of justice

I came across an interesting study the other day. The study collected stories involving justice issues - what happened and how things were handled.

The study then asked the contributors to tag their stories in terms of the extent to which they were about
1. Retribution (on behalf of the victim???)
2. Deterrence of the offender and others from repeating the offence
3. Restoration of the offender

Lots of food for thought here I think.

I suspect a lot of the use of 'logical' consequences in schools is
  - about retribution
  - justified as a deterrent
  - with an implied 'logical' outcome of 'restoration' of the offender 

Of course, our responses are shaped by
  - the significance of what happened, and 
  - the offender's response.

And, what we believe others would expect of us is also very powerful. I continue to be amazed at how little awareness many people (not just teachers) have regarding the natural consequences of doing the wrong thing. It is common for the natural consequences to be underestimated or simply disregarded.

Doing the wrong thing is very bad for the offender (Glasser was strong on this).

IMHO, one of the most common reasons kids continue to be difficult after doing the wrong thing is that
  - they are embarrassed  - the know they have done the wrong thing and wish they hadn't, and 
  - they feel disempowered - it can't be undone, and they don't know how to fix it up.

So to save face they get into denial, blaming, justifying.... It is a very painful to lose face - something I never required of a student. Maybe Restorative Practices is as much about restoring the offender's face as it is about restoring relationships.

After all, face is very much the key element in all relationships.

28 October, 2009

Nudge - don't shove!!

A recent posting on the FASTForward blog commented on the Emergent behavior and unintended consequences in social systems.

While the author described emergent behaviours as 'unintended consequences that make you happy', this definition was actually created tongue in cheek. Of course not all emergent things are desirable. So, what to do?
Possible implications include the following
  • Focus on what is (the future being unpredictable)
  • Make small (reversible or containable) steps in the preferred direction (the outcomes of large steps being unpredictable and irreversible)
  • Move to a complexity theory approach and learn to work with emergence, that is,
  • Apply action learning (insightful questions) to the present in order to move forward
As the shampoo ad says, "it won't happen overnight but it will happen".

20 October, 2009

More on emergence in schools

If we are going to help shape the future then we will need some understanding of why things happen (cause and effect). Such understanding will helps us to appreciate our limitations and to make wise choices about the methods we adopt.
Because organisations have conscious entities (people) it is possible to nurture emergence by acting in the organisations environment. For example, at a macro-level, international conventions on arms, trade and human rights are all examples of efforts by the international community (as an environment) to shape the emergence of certain behaviours by, and within, countries Properly understood government and school system policies and plans make similar attempts to prompt and nurture the emergence of certain changes in schools. Plans and policies are generally thought to cause the desired changes and are assumed to do so. However significant changes in schools are emergent and the plans and policies are something less than causal.
Attractors and Boundaries
The behaviour of entities in complex adaptive systems is largely is response to attractors and boundaries existing within the system. If the plans and policies are linked with meaningful attractors and boundaries then the intended changes may well occur. However, social systems are particularly fraught, because individuals, and/or groups, may or may not respond to, or even acknowledge the intended attractors and boundaries. The 'overloaded curriculum' may be understood as too many attractors and too few boundaries.
For the above reasons, leaders working in the field of complexity suggest modest "try, learn and respond" approaches to organisational, rather like a form of ongoing action learning.
For example, "Pick something small and try it. If it works, extend it. If it doesn't, learn from it. ", David Gurteen, Twitter, Aug. 28 2009. Similarly when working in the complex domain, Snowden recommends undertaking a few small-scale trial initiatives. If the outcomes are desirable then support and extend them. If the outcomes are undesirable then undermine the initiative, and try something different. He also advocates a 'safe-fail' approach rather than a 'fail-safe' approach. In the former, it is OK for the any initiative fail without serious damage to the organisation, hence the use of small scale trials. The latter approach is only suitable for systems where the outcomes can be accurately predicted, e.g., bridge building and other engineering tasks.
Nurturing emergence should not be confused with the more familiar "design, develop and then implement the system it" approach that is form of engineering. Such approaches work well when cause and effect are known and consistent over place and time. Consider the variability in the use of ICT in teaching and learning. This suggests that any cause and effect relationships between ICT and teaching and learning are not consistent over place and time. Rather, the relationships, say, between ICT, teaching and learning emerge locally. A basic principle of complex adaptive systems is that small differences in the starting conditions (and every school is different) can result in very large differences in the outcomes.
As mentioned previously, while developments may be understandable in retrospect they were not predictable at the time of their instigation.
Thus, professional development may really be an exercise in nurturing emergence. Thus, if Rob Paterson at Fast Forward the Blog is correct, then perhaps we might achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved by using this new approach.
[Note: Emergence is also likely to be a more accurate explanation of our previous successes, and failures. One uncomfortable implication is that our heroic leadership in our major successes may not have been as pivotal as we have believed. Everyday leadership may be less about expertise, insight and heroic actions and more about creating conditions that promote and nurture emergence. Of course changing those starting conditions may require insight, strength and courage at times.]

Requirements for emergence - the right starting conditions

1. Some kind of Container - an environment that is optimal for the emergence in question.
  • The environment contain meaningful attractors and useful boundaries such as suitable purposes, curriculum and pedagogy
  • The ways and means for activity are available, e.g., reliable and effective infrastructure & technical support
  • Governance promotes, supports and acknowledges the desired emergent practices
  • A community of practice contains, enables and/or develops the working knowledge, matching and sustainable practices, and promotes interaction (see 2. below)
(a) Many teachers work largely in isolation from their colleagues for the greater part of the day. Implications?
(b) The available technology is changing continually and rapidly and is thus disrupting the match between the technology and its use, and making demands on the infrastructure and technical support

2. A lot of Optimal Contact Points - emergence is all about patterns
  • A community of practice with an ongoing conversation/discourse sharing knowledge, insights and experience (including stories)
  • A collaborative culture that increases the number of optimal contact points for members of the group (class, staff, school, community, profession, school system....)
  • Regular, and frequent interactions (especially in the form of ongoing conversations).
Note: For many high performing practitioners the majority of their optimal contact points are outside their own school.
3. A few Rules that both shape the pattern (e.g., of ICT use in teaching and learning) and also keep it coherent
  • It can be difficult for many teachers to develop and adopt a set of coherent practices in the context of continual change without a consistent and agreed and endorsed framework.
  • A few simple rules focusing, endorsing and promoting action and collaboration enable confident, coherent and sustainable interaction even in a changing environment.
  • For example, Riverside Primary's 'job description' that applied to everyone (staff, students, visitors) proved useful in improving all aspects of the school
    • Know what is happening
    • Work with others to improve what is happening
    • Make it easier for the next person to do well (achieve success and well-being)

Note: The traditional approach to curriculum has been to provide teachers with little detail and much choice, or, a great deal of detail and little choice. Few, if any, curriculum writers have attempted to identify and articulate a few simple rules that are likely to prove effective in enabling staff and students to work together to achieve success in their teaching and learning endeavours


  • Baring some dramatic or catastrophic event, we can usually envision the immediate future with some clarity and confidence
  • Envisaging the longer term future is problematic - the probability of significant unforeseen/unforeseeable changes in the external environment increases rapidly as our timelines extend.
  • Changes (even small ones) of staff, policies, leadership, resource provision, technologies... may have a profound impact.
    • For many schools/school systems, a change of Principal may be as profound as the combined effected of the global financial crisis.
    • And who would have predicted that a global financial crisis would result in major physical development costing $14bn in thousands of Australian schools?
    • Similarly, "Why I don't believe in 5 yr plans:5 yrs ago, YouTube/Twitter didn't exist, & Facebook was for college kids", johnniemoore, Twitter 18 Oct 2009. And consider the emergence of devices, services and practices associated with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Professional development in relation to teaching and learning is more about nurturing emergence through understanding, attending to, and bringing together
    • the factors involved in teaching and learning (especially governance and collaboration)
    • well developed matching pedagogies
    • action learning in a range of forms
    • the nature and mediation of activity
    • communities of practice
    • an understandings of cause and effect in its various forms
    • knowing what is happening (particularly as the starting point) in order to improve it

13 October, 2009

Nurturing emergence for a better school

Schools cannot be managed as machines. Rather schools are complex entities and are therefore largely emergent. For example, over time, particular values, purposes, ways of interacting and practices transform: some emerge while others diminish. Continuity and change are concurrent. These changes are, at least in part, responses (adaptions) to changes in the school's environment. Of course, at any point in time, certain aspects of schools may be treated as simple or complicated and managed using approaches that approximate engineering.
However the complex nature of any school means that development and improvement is really about promoting and nurturing emergence of desirable aspects and constraining other aspects.
But to have Emergence we need 3 elements:
1.Emergence requires some kind of container - an environment that is optimal for the emergence in question. This can be physical and energetic such as the physical and the social environment needed for a baby to be set on her way to reach her potential. For better or worse a school (together with its community and the school system) can be such an environment.
2. Emergence require a lot of optimal contact points. Emergence is all about patterns. To have patterns you need many points of connection. A Human with too small a social world cannot reach her potential. 3 birds cannot make a flock. A few breezes don’t make a hurricane. A few stars do not make a galaxy. No flow in water and you cannot have a vortex. When man had no complex language, he could not communicate widely enough to make much technical progress. He could not create patterns. A father might show his son how to carve a hand axe but an emergent breakthrough like a throwing stick or a bow and arrow would be beyond them. For without complex language enabling abstractions and enabling a large circle of participants the creation of patterns abstract thinking and design cannot happen. For then, if it could not be seen and copied it could not happen. Most schools can meet this requirement, provided the majority of members (staff, students, families...) of the school see themselves as belonging and participating.
3. Emergence requires a few rules that both shape the patterns of interaction and also keep it coherent. As we learn more about complexity, we are astounded by how few the rules are and how often they are so simple. With computers it is easy to model bird flocking now. But, to get the pattern, we also need the process of iteration and we need a computer to do the math. But to model, we need to know the rules.
In the meantime, one school (Riverside Primary School) adopted three simple interactive rules for all of its members: staff, students, families, community members and visitors:
  • Know what is happening around you
  • Work with others to improve what is happening
  • Make it easier for the next person to do well
And it worked well... click here for more information
Acknowledgement to Rob Paterson at the Fast Forward the Blog

30 September, 2009

Student retention - not a simple matter

"There is a simple solution to every question - and it is usually wrong" And this certainly applies to the issue of student retention.
In the school context, retention is about constructive engagement in learning and involvement in the life and work of the school community.
Schools begin working on retention well before students start school through 0-4 programs such a
  • parent-Child Groups,
  • pre-Kinder sessions,
  • early intervention
  • ...
And retention means different things for different people. For different students it can be about
  • getting to school
  • being in class
  • staying in class
  • managing well in the playground
  • initiating assistance when the going gets tough
  • coping with the everyday ups and downs as they occur in the life and work of the school
  • support for the student
  • support for the family
  • support for the school
  • support for the community
  • ...
So for different students, retention can be a matter of
  • readiness to participate, e.g., 'At school, on time, ready for work'
  • moment-by-moment participation in the school: getting through
    • a lesson
    • a break
    • a day, a week, a term, a year, K-12, a course
    • a transition (making it to high school, post year 10, university, employment, community and society...)
  • engagement - being there is not enough
  • attendance - sufficient continuity to ensure success and well-being
  • enrolment - being in the right place in the system
  • ...
After students begin school there are numerous efforts to retain students according to their needs through
  • Monitoring and supporting attendance
  • Provision of quality teaching and curriculum*
  • Feeding and clothing students
  • Transport arrangements
  • Family support programs and services
  • Other family focused initiatives
  • The provision of programs to meet special needs
  • Teacher aide support for special needs
  • Playground support
  • Linking to other agencies and support programs
  • Course counselling and selection services
  • Alternative (out of school) programs and support
  • Social skills and intra-personal skills programs
  • ...

31 August, 2009

Robustness or Resilience (PBS for example)?

In developing school-wide systems, it may be important to be explicit about whether you are aiming to make the school's behaviour management systems
  • robust - unlikely to fail in any of its parts so that problematic behaviour is prevented from occurring
  • resilient - able to recover quickly and easily from failures (life's ups and downs), even the big ones
Follow the link to a posting on this issue from my favourite blogger (Dave Snowden).
Sometimes, when you are introducing PBS, staff may unwittingly assume that the intention is to make the school's behaviour management robust so that behaviour problems will disappear. Of course, this is unlikely to happen and some staff will then naturally think that "PBS doesn't work".
It is more realistic to aim for school-wide systems that are resilient. This will achieve three major outcomes:
  • school-wide systems will cope better with the ups and downs involved
  • recovery by the school, staff and students will be easier and faster, e.g., restorative practices, and, as a result,
  • behaviour problems will reduce (even if they don't disappear altogether)
And this reminds me of the three measure of progress in relation to a problematic student behaviour:
  1. Are the incidents getting fewer, that is,further apart? - "Yes" indicates the students behaviour is more 'robust' and that the student has more resilience
  2. Is the recovery time getting shorter? "Yes" indicates the student has improved resilience
  3. Are the the incidents getting less severe? "Yes" indicates improvements in both robustness of behaviour and personal resilience)
Problematic behaviour tends to improve in the above order. A "Yes" answer to any of the above questions indicates progress , even if, the last thing that improves is the actual incidents themselves. When a serious incident occurs it does not always mean that "We are back to square one!!!" or "All our work has been in vain!!"
It may be useful to get any staff and the student involved to answer these questions for themselves. In this way you are helping them to building resilience.

18 August, 2009

What is not negotiable in a school?

Are there any things that are not negotiable in a school?
For me, there are three things that are not negotiable,
  • No harm to self, others or property (aka care, safety,...)
  • No disruption to work or safe play (consideration, learning...)
  • No offense to other members of the school community* (courtesy, respect, friendship....)
(* Includes neighbours and visitors)
In fact, these are the three school rules. These rules are derived directly from the rules that apply in our society - the school does not invent these. And they related directly to the two key outcomes
  • success
  • well-being
There are several supportive ways in which we interact with students. The main ways include
  • coaching
  • negotiating
  • mediating
  • befriending
  • advocating
  • ...
In fact when it comes to the not negotiable three school rules, the bottom line is that at times we will just need to be assertive. Of course there are children who, based on their other life experiences, expect all things to be negotiable. And others who dismiss all support other than befriending... And yet others who simply don't understand. But these things don't change the rules.
It is best to achieve as much s possible on the basis of our working relationships with students (coach, friend, mediator...). However, when our working relationships break down, we may need to be assertive and our right to do so comes from our role: Principal, Class Teacher, Duty Teacher, Teacher Aide...
Making the role explicit while being assertive can help reduce the student's confusion.