Thursday, June 20, 2013

New tools for an old issue . . .

This morning we had a meeting with TEA, Teaching and Learning staff, elementary teachers, and principals to continue looking at the teacher stress caused by having more content than can be covered in a student day.  From my experience, if I were to graph the stress over time it might look like the graph below.

The graph is based upon feedback to TEA leadership over time and assumptions that many of us have made from our experiences.  The committee was formed because of the perception that much of the stress level for many, if not most of our elementary teachers, is a result of the many expectations placed upon them, especially those that are curriculum related. From my experience, I believe that the stress level is high and that we have over time attempted to address this issue by forming teams of teachers to review current reality and make recommendations for changes to align expectations with the available time.  Forming the committees resulted in a very brief and small change to teacher stress levels that did not sustain, but our efforts have not resulted in reduced levels of stress leading to my perception of the graph over time.   Other factors such as introducing new and revised curriculum units would also result in some change, but again the stress level would remain or grow higher.  I would be interested in how others would graph stress over time.

So, what makes this effort any different than those we have implemented in the past?  We are using system tools to process the issue in a new way. The tools are designed to focus on creating a common understanding of our current reality and the structures and mental models in place that create these results.  Once we reach this point, we can then begin to identify new preferred mental models and structures with the potential to change the results that lead to high stress and that will sustain over time.  The process takes time and perseverance as these conversations are not the norm and they require not only balancing advocacy with inquiry, but reflection and the capacity to truly suspend assumptions that drive our mental models and ladders of inference.

The figure below, developed by a local systems thinking consultant, captures the process.  The model gives the perception of a linear process, unfortunately in reality with an issue of this complexity it will be anything but linear.  We have already begun to experience this in our work.
Using these tools I believe will lead us to new structures with the potential to change our results.  This is the mental mode that I bring to the work.  It will take time and commitment on the part of all committee members as we experience a process that will not feel efficient because the structures (product) will not emerge without significant conversation, reflection, and engagement than we normally give to an issue.  Another mental model that I hold is the belief that if we don't use these tools whatever modified or new structures we put in place will not significantly sustain change that reduces the stress felt by elementary teachers.  Our graph would be similar one, two, three, or more years into the future without changing our practice to include these tools.

 I'll share more of my thinking on the need for using these tools in a later post.

1 comment:

Scott Mitchell said...

I think that committee has been good but frustrating for me. I have had to learn a lot through this process and still am not completely convinced I have gotten there. My biggest problem is that I am not a big process person, I am a problem solver and product person. The whole time through these meetings, my mind keeps floating back to, let's create a product, let's make the list of things we are expected to do, let's get this thing done. This needs to be a growth area for me and is really one of my weaknesses. I see a problem and want to solve it (my wife would agree). I think this level of systems thinking is great and I really need to buy into it more because I know that just bandaiding these concerns only helps for a small period of time.

I think in the end that new structures will be in place which will be good for our system.