Tuesday, 15 May 2018

What matters can't always be measured

The say that what you measure doesn't always matter, and what matters can't always be measured. I've been thinking a lot about that idea with reference to our school vision to be 'A centre of creative excellence'. This is a big bold idea, in part inspired by what Scottish educator Ewan MacIntosh calls a BHAG (A Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

So big is it (as it should be) that we broke it down into bite sized chunks (our strategic goals) which are currently:

1. To provide future focussed individualised learning
2. To create and sustain an inclusive learning community
3. To foster inspirational, risk taking and enterprising leadership in all members of our learning community

We felt that these were three key things that would need to happen if we were to progress on ur journey to being that centre of creative excellence. Each of these is then broken down into two annual goals:

Annual Goal 1: Embed the culturally responsive pedagogy ‘Learn Create Share’ to develop future focussed individualised learners.
Annual Goal 2: Assist every student to develop an appropriate individualised educational pathway

Annual Goal 3: To enhance staff and student wellbeing
Annual Goal 4: Increase community engagement

Annual Goal 5: Promote student leadership and followership capabilities
Annual Goal 6: Promote a growth mindset amongst students and staff

We have developed a series of measure for some of these things, but some are quite hard to measure. That doesn't mean that they don't matter though, and I have been quite taken by what I see as I move around our kura talking with staff and students.

Strategic Goal 3 is a great example. What does increased risk taking look like in a school? When I arrived at the school in 2016 I was told that students mostly didn't like to perform on the stage, or more generally in front of their peers. Having highlighted the need for all of us to take risks if we are to become more creative, what does this look like now? Every assembly has student performances. At the end of term 1 this year almost every year 8 and year 9 student was on stage performing. That looks to me like a culture shift amongst students. Putting yourself out there in front of people feels like a huge risk. What if they don't like me? What of they make fun of me? I could equally feel that way every time I speak in an assembly, or write a blog post. These fears are natural. What matters is being prepared to give it a go. And our students are increasingly developing the resilience necessary to do this.

And let's remember, taking risks by definition means there is a chance that we will fail. But that's OKAY as long as we try to make sure we don't make the same mistakes twice.

Similarly I try to encourage staff to take risks in their work. And again I emphasise that failing there is OKAY too. If we don't try new things, and experience failure every now and then, how are we to grow?

A number of staff have recently attended a couple of conferences, one in Christchurch, and one in Auckland. They all expressed the view, having listened to a wide range of presentations, that as a kura we are well ahead of many others in our development of better ways to cause learning (which after all is our prime purpose). This is affirming feedback for our staff who themselves are an outstanding group of professionals. 

Similarly I recently  attended a major conference in Melbourne. In the past I have sat in awe of our Australian and international colleagues. This time I felt that we had pushed our own practices, our own school cultures and pedagogies, well ahead of many of our colleagues.

Many of these things can't be measured, and that's my point. But focussing on what can be measured is often counter productive. Focussing on processes, or in our case on building strong relationships for learning, on good pedagogy (Learn, Create, Share), on encouraging responsible risk taking, on being culturally responsive in every aspect of our kura, these are the things that make a difference.

And does it make a difference? Yes. 

How do I know? When I look at assessment outcomes, I see NCEA results that continue to improve across all groups of learners (and yes I mean ALL). This is no chimera. This is real tangible stuff. Take your eye off results and focus on process. 

We focus on the things we can control. We expect the best of students and ourselves. Most importantly though we are focussing on things we can't easily measure. The results can look after themselves.


  1. I love reading your blog posts Robin, keep sharing your thoughts and taking risks! Although, I don't think what you are saying is risky at all! I agree not all things can be measured in quantitative terms, but this does not mean they are not important, and if you get the processes right, the results will look after themselves. Pleased to hear you and your staff also recognise the wonderful things happening pedagogically at HHS as you continue developing a centre of creative excellence!!

  2. Hi Robin you are giving us a thinking stick again. Firstly I can commend you on the time given to and community focus on developing strategic goals. This can only be owned internally and not bought in by a programme. The measurement is sometimes a tricky thing often qualitative reflections from students can provide us a special type of measurement. One that brings insight and understanding of what is motivating, attitude changing etc. It is great to go somewhere and reinforce belief in what we are doing even better to watch young people show confidence and take risks in putting themselves out there. Reminds me of a reflection I think of Yong Zhao who was saying that this century will see the enfranchisement of young people much as many Women were enfranchised last century. I can see this happening too.

  3. I agree with your statement that this stuff does make a real difference for our students.
    It is great to see more focus and energy being spent on Learn, Create, Share, because we know that it is a pedagogy that works.
    I also really appreciate the sharing of goals - this helps us to understand where you are going.
    As always, I enjoy reading your thoughts!
    - Kelsey

  4. Kia ora Robin,
    I really like your focus on progress. I agree we need to take our eyes off achievement and see how far we have come. Celebrate! The reflection that you are ahead of colleagues in other places makes me think it will be a ongoing challenge to keep taking risks and moving forward.