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 School Improvement:  Improvement
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Improvement has two measures: cost and value. It is common for 'managers' to see improvement in terms of reduced costs and for 'professionals' to see improvement in terms of increased value, ie

 

Improvement means

  • reduced financial costs for bureaucrats & politicians, and 
  • reduced operating costs  easier -> better -> less rework, intervention, supervision
  • reduced losses (knowledge, skills, identity, arrangements... retained)
  • better value (quality & quantity of outcomes) for the professionals & recipients.

It would is easy to assume these are mutually exclusive.  However, given the prevailing models of schooling, this assumption is patently false!! Quality (based on the work of Deming et al) provides a proven framework for resolving this apparent contradiction.

 

Implications

  • With 'fixed incomes' schools need to achieve cost savings in order to make needed improvements elsewhere
  • Unless a process is working perfectly at no effort it will be possible to make it easier and better
  • People want to do a good job so they will reinvest much of any resources they have available
  • Change is disruptive and competes with what is already happening
  • For all all the above reasons it is wise to make things easier first and to minimise changes to (new) processes

 

For schools (and many other organizations that operate on relatively fixed costs) the top priority in any change and improvement process must be to make it easier for people to do well and have fun. Making it easier reduces costs (particularly time and effort) and releases resources for further improvement in the same or other processes so that increased value will be achieved. Thus improvement means any contribution to 

  • making it easier for the right tasks (actions) to be done well
  • by the right people at the right time  (early may be better than late but on-time is best of all)
  • and that the doing will be fun

 

Very significant reductions in direct and indirect costs and increases in value can be achieved by making things easier first with almost no sense of change. 

Learning from problems and failures in order to make things easier & better next time is a key (see cost of quality). Reducing variation in the way things are done (attention to processes) and making it easier for people to know what is happening are two simple ways of getting big improvement with little change.

 

Warning !!! Being helpful is quite often the opposite to improvement. Tampering adds to the variation by changing the process itself which can be fatal to the outcomes.

 

Improvement is achieved through attention to existing processes (cf Change)

 


  (Graph) Improvement: cost and productivity over time

Implications

  1. Minimise the cultural tendency to Change 

  2. Apply Deming's Imperatives

  3. Avoid Deming's Obstacles

  4. Do not contract any of Deming's Deadly Diseases

  5. Assign responsibility for the process to a real team

  6. Be clear about the purposes of the process: establish criteria

  7. Establish the capacity of the process to deliver the the outcomes required

  8. Change the process (who does what, when) only if necessary

  9. Monitor the process in action

  10. Carry out post mortems and learn from them - prevent future failures

  11. Continue to improve the process through PDSA 

  12. Go to 1

The scales used on the graphs are more spectacular than is usually valid: although we, at RPS, have achieved gains of this order. 

Example 1. At RPS we have almost eliminated litter on the Oval (down by approx 98%) and playground duty is no effort. We reduced the work for the Groundsman. We now have several fewer bins to empty & maintain,
The strategy was more improvement than change. What is the difference? We involved the children; we made it easy for them to do what needed to be done. We didn't require them to do anything new. Just a small adjustment to where they can have food clearly indicated by 'yellow lines'. Change to something new comes from outside. Improvement involves the people in the system. It is easy to forget the children. In end of year reviews the children reported that they valued the improvement (including the yellow lines).

 

Example 2. We prepare for midyear reporting in a matter of minutes each year. The process is well specified. It is updated for the following year as soon as each year's midyear reporting is completed. Because of our culture, staff and families closely monitor the process in action. and so the post mortems are comprehensive and well supported. Indeed the process includes a comprehensive post mortem agenda. The tools (including data gathering devices, report forms, student communication books, ... ) all aim to make the tasks easier so that reporting is less disruptive to the school's main purposes, viz, teaching and learning.

 

Example 3. Early in each teaching/reporting period the school provides each teacher with their class lists which have the reporting criteria  across the top, in report order. This makes the collection of data easier: teachers don't have to create their own sheets. The only difference is who produces these sheets. The big improvements are 

  • the many hours saved by the teachers it would all the teachers to produce their own sheets
  • less errors since they are made only once
  • the ease with which additional record sheets can be acquire (just ask or click and print)
  • More confident teachers: they know they have the correct criteria..
  • the sheets are available earlier than most teachers would have prepared them
  • all teachers have the same information and working arrangements thus all are equally responsible, less errors and fewer oversights and excuses (information makes people responsible)
  • it is easy to translate the final data to the reports because of the order of items
  • this support makes it explicit that the school holds the teacher's work with children to be more important than creating record sheets