Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Don't look weird

Here [http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7343.html] is a fascinating article that flies in the face of what a lot of workplaces [including schools] are trying to move towards - high accountability, high transparency, as well as high standardisation and control.
The article outlined some research, which found that - in a lot of situations - regular observations of workers can actually inhibit their productivity and effectiveness. This is quite counter-intuitive - less observation, control and accountability = better quality results and productivity?!?
The theory behind why this might be the case is that the workers being observed and checked upon would refrain from any form of innovation or practice of efficiencies learned through doing the work day in, day out. Instead, they would revert to doing the work 'by the book', even if their own experience and knowledge from doing this work had found that some chapters of the book were dated and had lost relevance... So, instead of performing their role the best way they knew from their experience and daily practice, or actively trialing and practising some new ideas and methods, when they were being observed it was "a show being put on for an audience"...
In other words, they were doing what they were 'supposed' to be doing, rather than doing what they knew to work best, or actively trying to improve their practice by tinkering with a new idea or way.

The researchers put this obedience down to the anxiety and stress involved in having to justify new ideas and ways. The workers in these situations had found that it was more valuable to wait until the tinkering, experimenting, etc. had demonstrated success, before going to "explain them to management", when these new ideas would be more fully-developed and better-placed to be shared and spread...

This article was not specifically about school contexts, but does it apply a little bit..? Do teachers sometimes shelve their willingness to tinker with a new idea or strategy, to avoid making any perceived mistakes or to give themselves the best opportunity of showing what an observer wants to see..?
Thinking broader, do schools and school leaders, when visited by 'higher-ups', avoid exposing distinguished visitors to any colouring outside of the lines..?

Not everything needs to look good all of the time. Not everything needs to be a perfect extraction from the manual... It might actually be a problem if this is always the case - where then would the tinkering, trialing and innovating be happening..?


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