Good school? It’s complex…

Success in SchoolI made the mistake of reading the July/August Metro article on the ‘Best Schools in Auckland’ while in transit. You know, something to read on the flight home… By the time my flight landed, I was completely exhausted and perplexed. I was left wondering why these sorts of articles are still being written. Isn’t it time we were more challenging in our thinking? Hasn’t this type of article had its day?

It is frustrating that we keep coming back to league tables, printed page after page with some small reference to other factors like values…like creativity…like leadership. To be fair the article did mention the limitations of its research and even quoted principals who think differently. But then, of course… it’s “on to the data.”

The data shows just a small snapshot of what schools are about, yet it must have taken the Metro team a significant amount of time and effort to collate, especially with the addition of teaching tenure, student-teacher ration and student movement. I wonder what their assumptions are about these factors?

The article describes how the data was collected and the authors acknowledged that they don’t have the data to look much deeper than academic performance. This is the low hanging fruit syndrome, where data is used because it is easy to collect rather than dealing with complexity. Or as Future of Work strategist and Forbes contributor Heather McGowan says:

We are myopically focused on proving learning, but that which can be proven is also that which is easy to automate.

As I read the article I was reminded of a story I first heard told by Stephen Covey many years ago. It went something like this:

There was a group of people clearing a path through the jungle. The workers were hacking away at the undergrowth, The managers were making schedules and encouraging the machete wielders to do their task well. Eventually the leader climbs up to the tallest tree, has  a good look around then hollers to the crew, “Wrong jungle!” The managers yell back, “Shut up, we’re making progress.”

It is easy to stay in the wrong jungle because it seems familiar. And it seems like progress is being made. But we need to move into a completely different jungle. The world has changed. New pathways need to be forged and new questions asked. It’s time to acknowledge we are collecting data in the wrong jungle.

The opportunity

I think there is a great opportunity to write a much better article for 2020. In the spirit of support, in wanting to make a bigger difference to what’s happening in our schools, I offer the following suggestion:

Why not get a group of smart people together for a conversation about how you might create a more challenging view of success for 2020. Metro is an Auckland-centric magazine so I have suggested the following people to begin the conversation. I haven’t asked them if they are interested by the way, I just would love to sit around a table with them myself!

I have selected these six as catalysts but I know lots of people who have an opinion and would like to be part of the conversation. Some of them will be reading this article and self identifying! And of course there are people beyond Auckland who also would like to contribute thoughts.

The challenge

How might we create a new definition of school success and celebrate it in Metro 2020?

I acknowledge it is complex. Maybe it is too hard to compare the rich diversity of school success. Maybe that is the message? Or perhaps that learner success and school success are not the same thing…

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5 comments on “Good school? It’s complex…
  1. Thanks for the thought-provoking post Cheryl.

    What about measuring how good schools are using the same tools and metrics that are used in business. As users of products and services we are frequently asked to provide feedback about our experience with different companies. These surveys always contain a ‘would you recommend us?’ type question which companies then use to come up with anNPS or a net promoter score. The NPS is a common tool for tracking the performance progress of a company and is a quantifiable key performance indicator for the CEO and executive team. NPS scores are a big deal.

    What if we asked the users of schools (i.e. the learners) to give data towards an NPS for each school? I think it would be valuable to collect NPS for learners currently in the school, those who have just graduated and those who have completed their first year out of school.

    Happy to be involved in future dialogues.

    Ngā mihi


  2. Hi Karen. Each of us can contribute by writing, giving feedback and influencing the change. When we invite ourselves to the table we can create elbow room to be heard.

  3. For secondary schools there are three area’s to gauge a success school. 1. Study schools pastoral system (what are the relationships like?). 2. Measure; students sense of belonging. 3. Look at the notion of value added, when students graduate, what type of people are they?
    4. Transformational and servant leadership models, how are they lived and modeled each day

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