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 School Improvement:  Fundamental Notions
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Schools, like all enterprises, are fundamentally human activity systems. The following diagram represents the ways in which the elements of a activity system are related:


model of a human activity system

  • Who:     people in the system
  • What:   do tasks & produce outputs 
  • Why:    to achieve outcomes & purposes 
  • How:    using processes & resources  (ways & means)
  • When:  as determined by opportunities, needs and the availability of resources


Outputs (good, bad or indifferent) are a result the processes: they may be arrangements, specific skills or knowledge or actual products like documents such as plans. We can usually measure or assess these outputs.

Outcomes are the changes in the circumstances, experiences, opportunities and quality of life of the people.  They arise as a result of the interaction between the available outputs and other outcomes and the circumstances including purposes, expectations... 


In this sense outcomes are achieved by bringing together many outputs in particular contexts. Some outputs may have existed for so long that we don't realise that they are outputs. Outcomes develop and/or they are achieved. They are best evaluated by the recipients.


So outputs and outcomes are different but can be understood to exist on a spectrum. As we attempt to achieve higher order outcomes we tend to deal with lower order outcomes as if they were outputs. For example, as an outcome of a whole host of development processes a young child may be able to write the word 'cat'. As the child matures and attempts to achieve higher order learning being able to write the word 'cat' becomes less significant and can be treated as an output from previous learning.

Using these fundamental notions

Whatever your situation in the scheme of things you are a manager and a leader, at least some of the time. Insights into your situation are essential if you are to be successful. The following questions (and possible answers) are offered for your consideration to assist you in analysing your system


1.  What do you attend to, as a manager and leader?     

Answer:  Matching ...

  • purposes to activities
  • people, tasks, resources to processes,
  • processes to outputs
  • outputs to outcomes
  • outcomes to purposes.

2.  What are the connections between people, tasks resources, processes, outputs, outcomes and purposes?

Answer:  In processes, people use resources to carry out tasks in order to produce outputs that contribute to outcomes which will achieve their purposes.

3.  What does success mean ?

Answer:  That the agreed purposes are achieved.

 4.  Who agrees the purposes?

Answer:  The people in the system agree the purposes.

5.  What is the role of tasks?

AnswerTasks should contribute to achieving the purposes.


6.  What are resources and what is the role of resources?

Answer:  Resources include (in alphabetical order)

  • authority
  • commitments
  • energy
  • equipment
  • facilities
  • information
  • knowledge
  • money
  • opportunities
  • policies
  • processes
  • relationships
  • services
  • skills
  • support
  • systems
  • time
  • tools
  • ...

  that are to be used efficiently and effectively to complete tasks.


7.  What are the roles of people?

AnswerPeople to work together towards completing tasks, producing outcomes & achieving the purposes.


8.  What do we need to know to be able to be effective as leaders and managers in any situation?


  • What are the purposes?
  • What tasks are necessary to achieve the purposes
  • Who will do what, when and how (the processes) to complete the tasks
  • What resources will be needed to undertake the tasks


9.  What set of core strategies might be useful ?


  • Understand the system:  its purposes, tasks and processes
  • Understand the needs of the people in the system
  • Work WITH the people in the system
  • Stabilise the system with sound governance
  • Continuously improve the system to ensure the purposes are achieved well
  • Start by making it easier, ie,  improve processes to
    • Reduce the resources required
    • Redeploy the resources released
    • Increase the likelihood of tasks being successful first time
    • *Apply the achievements of the system to the system
  • Apply Deming's 14 imperatives
  • Beware the obstacles and 'diseases' that might impede your progress

10. What does this imply for change management?


  • Change management involves key questions
  • Change management involves applying a change strategy to manage changes in all aspects of the above
  • * The potential to apply the outputs of the system to the system is a somewhat 'unique' aspect of educational systems