Tony Gurr

Why can’t educators just learn to speak “QUALITY” already? (Part Two)

In Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 15/03/2011 at 7:55 am

In a number of my posts, I have talked about the culture of “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak” (the Turkish translation for “borrowing, ripping off, and faking-it-till-you-make-it”) that characterises so much of how we “do business” in so many sectors and areas of human activity today.

The “field” of Quality (Q), Quality Assurance (QA) and Institutional Effectiveness (IE) is perhaps more guilty of this than most – and this is perhaps why so many educators equate Q, QA and IE with “nonsense”.

In Part One of this series on Q, QA and IE in education, I wrapped up by saying:

When thinking about quality QA or IE – the key maxim is “fitness-for-purpose”. 

The principles are equally simple:

Quality is not just about the “tools” and it is not just about simply having a “QA system” and stacks of documentation

Quality is a means, not an end:

  • Quality is about improvement
  • Quality is about a transformational mindset or culture
  • Quality is an on-going process of building and sustaining relationships

One “blogger” (and consultant), Clint Steele, made an astute observation in commenting on that post:

I think what you have come across here is a group of people who are thinkers and well educated (the teachers) coming up against an industry that has a lot of fads with fancy names. When you look deeper you see that a lot of these fancy names are just a marketing tool to differentiate themselves for others.

Quality needs a stronger focus on what is to be achieved and not just the methods. Sadly, many quality experts don’t even know why their methods work. I think quality consultants need to do much more than learn to speak learning!

Clint is giving a very real example of how the culture of “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak” is harming so much of what we want to do with improvement across education.

Marketing an institution because you have documented activities that show you have run a SWOT Analysis, QFD, FMEA and drawn up SIPOC flow chart (that include interrelationship diagraphs) and “duped” an overworked accreditation team – means nothing if your students are still not engaged (and enjoying learning) and your faculty are demoralised (and bitching in the smokers’ corner about how nothing ever changes)!

This culture of “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak” also detracts from what Q, QA or IE are all about:

  • Quality is a journey
  • Quality Assurance is a shared value
  • Institutional Effectiveness is a collective responsibility

And, all three are about improving what we do with what we know and what we learn.

This is the essence of having a living educational mission, a lived educational philosophy and of “walking-our-talk” about learning in our schools, college and universities.

Quality is not something we “do” every three years just to get the attention of an accreditation board – we live it, every day.

 

The Antidote?

Peter Block tells us that cultures like that of the “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak” variety are the result of the fact that our world is “answer-orientated”. I would take this further, we also live in a world that is addicted to the notions of the “quick-fix” or “magic bullets”.

Despite a wealth of theory and research that has clearly demonstrated the power of adopting a “questioning insight” and questioning processes for use at the individual, group and organisational level, our first response to a “challenge” is to search for answers, best practices and solutions.

Indeed, when we do ask questions, it is usually to obtain more information, more solutions and more “best practices” – and then try to “out-do” the competition to get “another 15 minutes”.

Far from recognising that it is questions that drive the thinking and learning process and that this learning is the thing that can lead us to consider different ways of “doing business” or “next practice”, we are taught not to open Pandora’s Box and to avoid challenging conversations or experiences.

Boshyk takes this further and suggests that it is often the case that people are “paid not to ask questions”. This results from, as Goldberg first noted, from the “conditioned hunt” for answers which “represents a desperate attachment to knowing, and a simultaneous avoidance of any anxiety associated with not knowing, or even appearing not to know”.

Block maintains that our answer-orientated world has become obsessed with the question “What works?” and fails to recognise that any important change can only take place through an “inward journey” centred on meaningful learning conversations around “What matters”.

He begins with a concern about modern life that many of us “feel” all too much – more and more of us are doing more and more about things that mean less and less!

Sound like something you might hear from teachers co-opted onto a “quality” team?

This is a direct consequence of our answer-orientated world and obsession with one form of question that Block describes as “how to pragmatism”. Block notes that most individuals, groups and organisations approach challenges through the question:

  • How do I do this?

When we ask how to do something, suggests Block, the very question expresses our bias for what is practical, concrete, and immediately useful, often at the expense of “what matters”. The very question itself becomes a defence against action. Furthermore, the question is also frequently used as a “tool” by those who want to “keep their heads down and stick to the rules” – rather than “acting on what matters”.

The question, maintains Block, is further reinforced by the family of other “how-questions” that inevitably follow in its wake:

  • How are other people doing it successfully?
  • How much does this cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • How do you get those people to change?

Block’s ideas are extremely attractive at a common sense level but they raise the question of “what are the right questions”?

Block proposes that meaningful change or transformation can never come from collecting lists of best practices; it comes from asking profound questions that “entail paradox, questions that recognize that every answer creates its own set of problems”.

So what are these questions? Block offers a range of suggestions that include:

  • Whom are we here to serve?
  • What do we want to create together?
  • How will the world be different tomorrow as a result of what we do today?

As alternatives to the family of other “how-questions”, he suggests:

  • What refusal have we been postponing?
  • What is the price we are willing to pay?
  • What commitment are we willing to make?
  • What is our contribution to the problem we are concerned with?

 

So, how could we draw on his insights to look deeper at the challenges we face in education?

Educators (and politicians more so in recent years) have been asking questions about our schools and universities for years. Questions like;

  • What “works” in other educational systems?
  • How do we motivate and get students to learn better?
  • How do we improve student performance levels?

These questions have led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of pages of recommendations, policy initiatives and project briefs – as well as a very healthy increase in the number of “educational tourists” flying to Finland, Singapore and now (thanks to PISA) to Shanghai!

If we look closer at such questions and the answers recommended, we start to “sense” how we have imported the quick-fix mentality of Block’s “how to pragmatism” into our schools and universities.

A review of the strategic planning tools and quality improvement agendas of most schools and universities reveals an absence of questions that might provoke deeper thought and real change.

We find far too few questions like:

  • What are we here to do for our learners?
  • What really “matters” in an education system?
  • What stops students from learning in our schools and education system?
  • What is wrong with the way we are currently “doing business” in education?

We still find educational stakeholders asking the “weaker” or “less stimulating” questions like:

  • What should we teach?
  • What is “good” teaching?
  • How should we improve the quality of teaching?

 

In short, rather than the instrumental questions of the culture of “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak”, such as:

  • How can we differentiate ourselves from other schools and universities?

We need to be asking questions like:

  • What does it take for a learner to flourish in the complex realities of the 21st century?
  • What can we do to expand and improve the learning of all our students and staff?
  • What can we do to dramatically increase the ability of our schools and our teachers to learn and keep on learning?

  • How do we know this?

 

This is Quality.

This is Quality Assurance.

This is Institutional Effectiveness!

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