Author Archives: workedgechaos2015

Aside – I’ll take my £2.3 million now, Mr Hinds

“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.”

Frederick Winslow Taylor

HOW MUCH???

So the government is employing consultants costing £2.3 million pounds to help schools cut costs. The faux-outrage over this is understandable at first glance, the irony of spending money with the aim of saving money is not lost on some. However, I don’t think this is a ridiculous idea.

To get a measure of how much this actually costs schools, let’s take a common cost to schools, work out some potential waste costs and then extrapolate that wildly across all schools. Bear with me here, and this is only for secondaries, but you’ll get the point. All data is from the most recent DFE statistics.

Let’s look at photocopying.

  • It’s far from outlandish to suggest on average, a student is provided with at least 1 A4 sheet of freshly printed material per lesson.
  • The average secondary school has 948 students;
  • Working on a waste of 1% per lesson (which I reckon is low, but is absolutely feasible – just think of the people who print 30 copies when they only need 28) that means that per period, about 9 sheets of A4 paper get wasted;
  • A standard school week is between 25 and 30 periods – let’s go for 25, so that means 225 sheets of A4 paper get wasted per week: that IS low – but let’s keep on with the numbers;
  • Accounting for double sided, colour print, colour paper, I think it’s safe to go with an average cost of about £0.04 a sheet, equating to £9.00 a week wasted.
  • Approximate length of a school year is 40 weeks, so we’re looking about £360 in wasted photocopying a year, a significantly low estimate for those of us who are boring enough to know about the things.
  • Now, there’s about 3500 secondary schools, by my calculations that means savings of £1.26 million. Adjusting for primaries, independents and special schools and you’re looking at £2.6 million.

This is just photocopying. Hell, get more staff to print two to a page at least. But this deflects from my point – the cost of these consultants is absolute peanuts. I’m more angry about Crossrail not being ready until next Autumn and I don’t even live in London*.

Speculate to accumulate

The word efficiency seems to instil a sense of dread in public service circles, but the fact is that, as the above example demonstrates, we can be our own worst enemy, and it takes external sources to make that clear.

Also, in any business or industry it is far from out of the question to invest costs in projects to change how operations function. Otherwise you’re relying on those who operate in the status quo, who can’t see the wood for the trees. This is not an advocacy for consultancy – far from it – but just as teachers have learned to bypass the educational gatekeepers and learn from each other (e.g. cognitive load, classroom management, resource sharing, etc), then maybe we can do the same and help each other to deal with costs too.

Hang on…

“But shouldn’t the government invest properly in education in order to solve the financial issues that schools face?”, I hear you all cry…

We can only hope. But then it’s the hope that kills you, as they say.

* – and why would I? It’s busy, loud, and smells.

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Aside: Twitter, I hardly knew ye

“Distracted from distraction by distraction” 

T.S. Eliot

For the past six months I’ve had a Twitter ‘sabbatical’. In no particular order, here’s why I was so involved with Twitter:

  1. Fear of missing out. I liked to be ahead of the game in terms of knowing what the latest edu-trend was, and how it would give an edge in terms of student performance;
  2. Being part of a ‘thing’. I felt I was a conduit for key educational trends and had a responsibility to share them with my fellow teachers (yes, yes, I know), something particularly important outside of London and the other big cities;
  3. It’s easy to get into a good educational debate. I’m not what you’d call a keyboard warrior, but I do like discourse and Twitter is a quick and simple way of doing so.
  4. I started to get a ‘profile’. I have been lucky to present at MathsConf, ResearchEd and be interviewed by Craig Barton, and it’s pretty much down to my sharing of ideas via Twitter (and I like to think a modicum of professional success), and I’ll be honest, it’s quite an ego-trip.

Now let’s rebut each of the above, one at time, as a result of my 6 months ‘off’ (inverted commas for a reason, I’ll get to that).

  1. Fear of missing out. I’ve missed out on nothing. Thanks to keeping up with what Tom Sherrington, Schools Week, Craig Barton and others have curated via their platforms, I’ve still been able to have an eye on what’s coming up on the rails.
  2. Being part of a ‘thing’. There’s nothing wrong with paying it forward, but being narcissistic enough to believe you’re at the forefront of an educational vanguard simply for reading a few tweets is problematic.
  3. It’s easy to get into a good educational debate. I still get into educational debates. The difference is that they’re face to face, and the social nuance and contextual understanding is better grasped as a result.
  4. I started to get a ‘profile’. Again, more ego stroking. I began to invest a lot of personal time into the whole conference thing, outside of what is a very busy professional life. Yes my ego was getting stroked, but I get more enjoyment from quality time with my family.

So, as a result?

  1. I’m no longer trying to get a drink from the informational fire hydrant that is Twitter. I still post a bit, and I do have a look from time to time (hence the inverted commas above), but I take a lot more care, and it’s less of a crutch.
  2. I’ve unfollowed a significant number of people because the informational flow was too much. My following list is more people who contribute, rather than simply retweet or post inspirational quotes.
  3. I’m less anxious about ‘not knowing’. I do believe that knowledge is power, but some knowledge is more powerful than others, and there are people better able to find that knowledge than I have the time to.
  4. I can act on ideas better. I don’t flit between concepts any more, and I’m less prone to dropping projects before they’ve got off the ground. I think my creativity is better.
  5. My ego is addressed in more meaningful ways – family, working hard and playing hard.

Will I jump back feet first into the Twitter pool? No. Will I continue in staying on the wagon regards social media? We’ll see. Either way, I’ll tell you this, I haven’t missed it.

 

Post 9: Tackling Shallow Work #2

If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game.

Cal Newport

This post is a part of a series on how Deep Work can be employed as philosophy of effective leadership in schools. Cal Newport’s book of the same name is the source of the ideas elaborated here.

In my previous post, I identified, at a school leadership level, how automation and reduction can be applied to shallow work.

There is also another dimension to this. Are there examples of shallow work that are necessary? Absolutely, and for good reason.

Fail to prepare…

One of the most significant lessons I learned during my time at Dixons Trinity Academy was the importance of routines for students. However (and this took some time to truly embed in my brain) it’s not as simple as just sticking to the routine lesson in, lesson out. If you want a routine to work, you need to be absolutely explicit of what you expect of students for them to be fully successful in meeting that routine. Let me explain.

During the last two weeks at Horizon we have a ‘rollover’, where Y6 moves up to Y7, Y7 to Y8, etc. The reasons for this are numerous, and the benefits equally so. I have a new group that have significant individual needs and I’m not afraid to say that this will be a challenge for me, but one that I’m relishing.

Anyway, through conversation with key staff and their previous teachers, I learned that in the main, this group want and need familiarity and routine. However, as I say, the lesson I’ve learned is that making this happen is not a switch you can just flick.

So, for the past two weeks, I’ve been explicitly demonstrating and getting students to follow everything I want them to do in terms of routine – entering the classroom, five minutes of reading at the start, how to do the connect activity, even to the point of preventing students showing me anything on whiteboards until the on-screen timer beeps to indicate their time is up!

In fact, early on, I’d say that in an hour’s worth of lesson, 50% of that was dedicated to developing these routines. The relatively low cognitive impact of these activities certainly fits into Newport’s definition of shallow work, but, there’s a rider to all of this – and I’m sure you can see where this is going.

By lesson 4 or 5, the level of explicit instruction on the routines was cut significantly, because the routines were beginning to embed. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but the fact that during the 5 minute reading phase and the connect phase of the learning you could hear a pin drop in my classroom meant that something profound had happened: the initial effort of properly executing the shallow work of implementing routines meant that over time, the capacity for deep work in the classroom (you know, actual teaching and learning), was greatly increased.

The lever

Actually, it’s not as easy as saying shallow work was necessary to enable deep work. In fact it’s slightly more subtle than that. The necessary shallow work was actually thought about (a deep work process) before execution. It’s not as simple as ‘do some shallow work and deep work will come later’. It’s like a lever. We all know that a lever allows us to shift greater loads with proportionately lower effort; however, an understanding of why that works that allows us to use a lever optimally. A crowbar is a great lever, but would you use it to open a paint can? For example, do we need to explain to Y11 students how and when to turn to a new page in their books? Perhaps we do!

There is an ideal type of shallow work – initial effort that lowers the need for future effort. However, this initial effort needs careful planning in itself. In my next post, I’ll explore this latter point further.

Post 8: Tackling Shallow Work #1

…[The reality is] that deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, that in the absence of clear goals for your job, the visible busyness that surrounds shallow work becomes self-preserving…

Cal Newport

This post is a part of a series on how Deep Work can be employed as philosophy of effective leadership in schools. Cal Newport’s book of the same name is the source of the ideas elaborated here.

In my previous post, I identified that to tackle the problem of shallow work in schools, we have to identify ‘hornets’ (as defined by Joe Kirby and Tim Brighouse) and tackle them through one of three ways:

  • Reduction – if the hornet is necessary but can be redesigned, or over time could be something than can be elimnated;
  • Automation – if the hornet is necessary but can be taken out of the hands of staff without negatively impacting the school;
  • Elimination – if the hornet is, in actuality, unnecessary.

Choices, choices

In my new role, I’ve been tasked with the responsibility of coordinating the choices process for GCSE options. Students choosing GCSE options can be a lengthy and drawn out process; from providing the information, the choices evenings for parents, getting the forms out to students, giving students and parents time to discuss and finalise choices, students remembering to bring forms in to school, chasing up students who’ve not submitted/lost/want to change their forms…

It can be a wasteful process:

  • Firstly the forms themselves: hundreds of bits of paper, that are often incorrectly completed, needing replacing, etc.
  • The time it takes to complete the form, if mistakes are made or changes required.
  • The time it takes to process the forms: take the form, input the data from the form into some form of spreadsheet/database/MIS, check the validity of the data.

In other words, this was a whole ton of shallow work – “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks”. Hence reduction, automation or elimination of said processes would be beneficial. So, I thought about doing it differently.

  • I wanted to maximise the time students had to think about their options. Discuss them with parents, form tutors, subject leaders and make a better set of choices as a result. This is where the value lies.
  • I wanted to minimise processing of the data. We’re a school of 2000 students. We have Y8 and Y9 making choices this year. That’s 800 students’ worth of data to process. Let’s say that takes 2 minutes a time to input into the aforementioned spreadsheet/database/MIS, then that’s nearly 27 hours of inputting to take place, or about 3 working days. That’s a significant amount of time. It will also need processing again when the timetabling of options takes place.

How could I make this happen? Automation. We have use of the Frog VLE system, and our Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning had set up a form on the VLE for choosing workshop sessions for an upcoming INSET. This was the model I was looking for. All students have access to the VLE at home or at school, and as such I could set up a form on the VLE for students to input their options. What did this mean?

  • All paperwork eliminated. Distributing, explaining how to complete, and taking in 800 forms takes time. No paperwork, no time lost to logistics.
  • Problems with submission reduced. It takes seconds to complete the form. The VLE form can’t be lost, either. This also reduces the amount of chasing of forms (how many are laid dormant in students’ bags, bedroom drawers, etc).
  • The data is valid, instantly. By controlling what students can choose, it solves the problem of validating what students have chosen.
  • Processing time regained. Data submitted via the form is recorded instantly. The dataset is then exported directly from the VLE in a form that can be imported into the MIS. That’s 3 working days reclaimed.

What does this mean? As the processing time – the shallow work – is reduced, the choosing time – the deep work – can be increased. More time to promote subjects, more time for discussing choices, more time for finalising options… you get the picture. Not only is this shifting the work from shallow to deep, it’s also a lean approach. Quality improves, waste is reduced, costs are cut and time is saved.

In my next post I’ll explore the idea that in schools we have quite a lot of necessary shallow work, but we should look to reduce it…

Post 7: Shallow Work

This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy (there’s something oddly compelling in responding to a question; even if the topic is unimportant).

Cal Newport

This post is a part of a series on how Deep Work can be employed as philosophy of effective leadership in schools. Cal Newport’s book of the same name is the source of the ideas elaborated here.

In my previous post, I defined the difference between Deep Work and Shallow Work. As a reminder, Cal Newport defines Shallow Work as:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

In his blog post, Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload, Joe Kirby borrows the term Hornet from Sir Tim Brighouse to categorise high-effort, low impact ideas. Kirby defines a series of these:

  • No graded or high-stakes observations
  • No performance-related pay or divisive bonuses
  • No appraisal targets based on pupil data
  • No individual lesson plans at all
  • No expectation of all-singing, all-dancing lessons
  • No starters, plenaries, group work, attention grabbers, whizzy/jazzy nonsense
  • No cardsorts, discovery activities or flashy interactive whiteboards
  • No writing, sharing or copying learning objectives or outcomes
  • No extensive photocopying of worksheets
  • No shoe-horning of IT into lessons
  • No mini-plenaries or checks on progress within a lesson
  • No labour-intensive homework collection, marking or chasing up
  • No unnecessary manual data input or entry
  • No unnecessary paperwork
  • No labour-intensive written ‘dialogue’ marking
  • No time-wasting, temporary display
  • No split timetabling
  • No long-winded written reports to parents

N.B. I’ve underlined what Newport would define as Shallow Work. Note the amount of resources and time expended on these examples!

Now, Kirby had an advantage in being able to make these calls because the school he is employed by, Michaela Community School was in its infancy and did not have GCSE results to focus attention on – instead, they could experiment with what made a difference in workload without negatively impacting on students’ learning. Making these calls in established schools with long embedded hornets is a big challenge. The reason for this stems from the negative impact ‘big call’, step changes can have in a school. As I outlined in Post -1:

small actions via the controller stage place low stress on the process and create feedback that is easier to determine and measure

In addition to this, there can also be self-generated inertia due to understandable vested interests and the fear of moving into the unknown. No-one wants the consequences of a negative OFSTED inspection or a poor set of GCSE results. Rapid change is rarely good.

Rather than deciding not to do a whole tranche of hornets in one go, instead the goal here is to pick one or two, confirm why they’re hornets, and define what actions can take place:

  • Reduction – if the hornet is necessary but can be redesigned, or over time could be something than can be elimnated;
  • Automation – if the hornet is necessary but can be taken out of the hands of staff without negatively impacting the school;
  • Elimination – if the hornet is, in actuality, unnecessary.

We have a responsibility to the people we lead to ensure that they are dedicating their cognitive resources to what truly matters in a school: what will improve the life chances of students in our care. By tackling Shallow Work first, we can create greater potential in order to make that happen.

In the next post, I’ll give an example of how Shallow Work can be converted into something more useful. Stay tuned in.

Post 6: Deep Work: Introduction

The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Cal Newport, Deep Work

This post is a part of a series on how Deep Work can be employed as philosophy of effective leadership in schools. Cal Newport’s book of the same name is the source of the ideas elaborated here.

Deep Work, as Newport defines it, is:

The ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed, are two core abilities for thriving in today’s economy.

In contrast, Shallow Work, in Newport’s definition, is:

Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Does the latter sound familiar?

School is a sea of distraction. In lesson, out of lesson, in meetings, e-mails, interrupted conversations, social media updates, etc, etc, etc… So much of what negatively impacts on effective school leadership, teaching and learning and pastoral care is due to addressing what you might call admin, red tape, whatever. This is shallow work. I don’t think I need to go through specific examples, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Shallow Work isn’t Lean – it’s non-renewable action, and thus a sunk cost and wasteful.

Deep Work, however, is something very different. As we’ve seen from the definition above, Deep Work is literally thinking hard to find a solution to a challenging problem and delivering it with quality. There are amazingly challenging problems in education right now. The disadvantaged gap. SEND. Motivation. Low-level disruption. Parent support. Social mobility. You get the picture. Now, there is a great deal of research on how to tackle these problems, but the connection between the research and action on the ground is only now starting to gain real traction after much talk of evidence-based practice in recent discourse: Hendrick and McPherson‘s book What Does This Look Like In The Classroom? is a case in point. But is this enough? I’m not sure, I believe that so many problems that schools face in actuality are contextual, and I have seen first hand how evidence can be misinterpreted to address a contextualised need. This is not to dismiss the cause of evidence-based practice, far from it (and What Does This Look Like In The Classroom? is a fantastic book). No, the challenge here is to frame in, and then apply, the evidence in the context of the school one is in, without losing efficacy. Generalities are not enough. I lose count of the number of general, non-contextual initiatives that are externally imposed on schools in the name of ‘school improvement’ only to founder, wasting time and resources and thus being far from Lean.

As this series progresses I will focus first on the problem of Shallow Work in schools, and suggest how we can limit time wasted in this area, and thus make Lean both departmental and senior leadership systems. From there, I’ll focus on Deep Work, and how it can be employed in a fashion that takes advantage of Lean processes.

 

Post 5: Status update

It’s not enough to be up to date, you have to be up to tomorrow.

David Ben-Gurion

Yes, I wrote a post last week! But I’ve made some changes. One is that I’ve dumped the Twitter account for The Lean Department. It was superfluous and you can just follow things on @workedgechaos – a process of consolidation that was necessary.

Second is that the focus of the next few posts on The Lean Department will be interpreting Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and how this can be employed as an overall philosophy for working effectively as a leader in school. From there I’ll then elaborate on the systems, methods and tools that help one operate in a lean fashion as part of a Deep Work strategy.

Keepin’ keepin’ on…