Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Dangers of Efficiency

To work efficiently is to minimise waste - the wasting of time, the wasting of effort, the wasting of money, etc.
Operating efficiently is a vital component of successful workplaces, as it ensures that resources [financial, human, physical] are used in productive ways, with minimal waste and misuse. Errors, 'fat' and ineffectiveness are removed from processes and structures, in order to refine our work, consistently-implement 'best-practice', as well as ensure 'quality-control'...

Schools, like other organisations, value and aspire towards making productive use of their time and resources - after all, teachers are very busy and we all want to 'get the most out of' our students and the time we are investing in our work.
In schools, this view is related to the value we place on having ultimate consistency between classrooms and teachers, regarding the programs, approaches and schedules that we use. There is a lot of good research that identifies why it is important to have consistency of practice within schools, to eliminate the poor / less effective practice, remove examples of time / resource wastage, etc.

Is there a side effect of schools aspiring towards uniformity and efficiency of operations..?

The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be different from the present. It is not simply this acknowledgement of inevitable change that is significant, but the exponential rate of change that society is experiencing since the dawn of the Internet...

The way children learn, the way teachers work and the way schools operate, will also all change as a result of our changing society - the variation will be in how responsive schools and teachers are to the changing needs of our students. i.e. Are you going to:

  • ride the crest of the wave, or 
  • miss it, have to wait for the next one and fall behind..?

If we [within schools] are uniform in our approaches...

  • Yes, we are consistent
  • Yes, we are efficient, through refining and scaling of processes;
  • But we leave little room for experimenting, for trialing, for innovating... 
  • If we do the same things in the same way, we remove the ability to investigate new ways and ideas and reduce our capacity to adapt and respond to inevitable change.

How can schools structure to better-accommodate change..?

Instead of aiming for and valuing uniformity, we need to 'tinker' more... An efficiency-mindset seeks to remove all errors, but if we stigmatise errors and mistakes, we won't be trialing and experimenting with new ideas and initiatives, because an inevitable [essential?!?] aspect of trials and experiments is the errors and mistakes we make and the learning that comes from these errors.

Seeking perfection of output and ultimate efficiency of process makes sense on a factory floor, or even when the role of schools was to produce workers for such contexts...

But this is no longer the role of schools - we are now preparing students for a future that is far different and less-known than that for which schools have traditionally served.

In schools we need to structure for and value the trialing of new ideas and experimenting with new approaches. We need to acknowledge and accept that some of these will end up being inefficient [i.e. not particularly successful] uses of time and resources, but value the learning that occurs from 'finding out' and investigating, as well as the successful new ideas that we can spread and scale.

The time and resources we spend investigating and tinkering with new ideas, projects, strategies, etc. shouldn't be seen as inefficient, but rather an investment in our ability to adapt and respond to change and, ultimately, to be relevant to our students and the communities that we serve.  

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