Select the correct degree of direction (part 3 in a series)

It is essential to determine the level of support your staff require.

In part 1 of this series, we examined how a leader or teacher might determine the degree of direction or support they might provide to a member of staff or student. We theorised that in our experience:

The amount of direction a school leader provides to a member of staff is directly proportional to their ability to do their job or from a teacher to a pupil on their ability to manage their learning. 

To illustrate the range of roles that might apply to this statement, we explained them as you would find them in a sequence, from directing to support. We then reviewed issues that would determine where along the sequence the varying degrees of the two might apply. We concluded by identifying that cultural, personal preference and circumstantial issues all played their part in their selection.

In the second post in the series, we described how this took place in practice, using a case study from the Swedish School system.  The evidence presented by our colleague Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of Successful Schools Sweden revealed that the Swedish approach to direction and support of seeking consensus rather than directing meant that in the area of teaching and learning, there was potential for system-wide improvement.

In this and the following post, we introduce the Olevi Professional Progression, which can be used by school leaders and teachers to assist them in determining the degree of direction and support they would select in a given situation.  The Olevi Professional Progression has emerged from our actions and represents our learning at this point in time. It is not therefore presented as an approach set in stone but rather as a work in progress.

The underlying principles of an effective knowledge-managed organisation

We present below the underlying principles of an effective knowledge-managed organisation. These shape the roles that school staff play.  All these roles are linked to the level of their performance. See slide below.

Principle 1

In an effective knowledge organisation such as a school, you are only deemed to know something when you have effectively shared your knowledge with another, who has applied it at the same level.

This idea was first introduced in our work with London Challenge, where we quickly realised that outstanding knowledge when locked within individuals was good for them but of little use to the City’s school system as a whole.  However, if we could unlock and effectively share it with those who needed it, we would take the first steps in making effective use of the wisdom of the outstanding teachers and leaders in our City and thus drive up standards across all schools.

Principle 2

A school should first make maximum use of its own knowledge before it seeks outside knowledge. 

This principle is derived from our use in practice of the upwards convergence approach to school improvement.

In nearly every school which has been considered as underperforming that our team has  worked with, there have always been teachers or leaders who possessed the knowledge to improve the situation. However, they have been few in number, often isolated and without the skills or opportunity to share their knowledge with their colleagues.  Fixing this first means that staff see how the situation can be resolved from their own resources; this has an instant effect on staff morale.  It also means that by establishing the conditions for this to take place, the four capitals, they start building the route to a successful future on effective knowledge management foundations.

Principle 3

Access to new knowledge should be strictly controlled so that it is clear what impact it will have on performance and how it fits with the overall learning culture of the school.  Those who have responsibility for gathering it also have responsibility for effectively sharing it with those who also need it. 

One of the reflective tools we have used to evaluate the state of a school’s knowledge management is to ask who goes out of the school to collect knowledge and what impact that has had on performance. In some schools, this is left entirely to the staff with little monitoring going on. We have written in the past that the result of this unstructured approach is a lot of external links with a variety of impacts on student outcomes. However, taken as a whole instead of the desired upwards convergence in their students’ performance, they achieve a similar aggregated performance year on year with an increasing disparity between staff. What we could refer to as level divergence. If this school is in a system that is achieving upwards convergence, this statistical performance will, when compared to other schools, be seen as downwards divergence, which is not the best situation to be in for the students or staff.

In the Western Quebec School Board, which has established an effective knowledge-managed organisation for more than ten years, at the beginning of the school year the priorities for development and the approach to be used for the Board and the schools within it, are aligned. It is then a prerequisite that for any staff visit they consider how the knowledge they are accessing will impact on these priorities and later, after they have implemented it, the outcome of this. Through this disciplined approach, the Board has achieved upwards convergence for more than a decade.

Principle 4

Schools need to constantly audit their knowledge requirements and seek to fill any gaps that may emerge

It goes without saying that the bedrock of an effective knowledge-managed organisation such as a school is its knowledge capital.  It needs to know what knowledge it requires and if it owns it. Then if it does, it needs to ensure that it is captured in a way that it can be shared with others.  If not it needs to know how and where to find it.

In large schools, often responsibility is established around knowledge areas. For example the English, mathematics and science departments in secondary schools work to a set syllabus with limited overlaps. Further still within these areas, there might well be further delegation of responsibility for a specific area of knowledge.  The school needs to ensure that this is mapped and gaps filled. Often these knowledge areas are associated with individuals and so their development and the succession planning for when they leave needs to be in place.

Principle 5

Identifying and providing access to role models who represent what we are trying to achieve amongst our staff is as important as it is amongst our students. 

Any student at a school will quickly be able to see students acting as role models. For school staff, seeing their colleagues as role models is a different story. This is because due to the amount of time they spend teaching, preparing and assessing the outcomes, access to role models can be problematic.  However, seeing the school’s espoused theory of what outstanding teaching or leadership looks like and often more importantly feels like is an essential building block in assisting staff to improve their performance. We accept that for some staff it might be a negative experience but for the majority it can be inspirational and serves to make the implicit, explicit. It also underpins the development of a collaborative learning community.

Principle 6

All learning activity, whether internal or external, should be open, trustworthy and collaborative to shape the culture of the organisation.

The final principle ensures that we are building the moral capital that is the foundation on which an effective collaborative organisation grows.

With these principles in mind, we modified the standards approach to direction and support where the ratio of the two was determined solely by the performance of the teacher or school leader.  The resulting framework we refer to as the Olevi Professional Progression Framework. This framework is presented in the next post in this series.

Take care and stay safe



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