Vanity Metrics

Vanity Metrics

These days, especially in the la la land of tech startups, there's endless talk of metrics. How many users do you have? For how long have you been in business? How many Facebook fans and Twitter followers do you have? How many daily likes do you get on Instagram?

These endless vanity metrics are amazing at providing a shallow and somewhat pointless insight into how well your business is doing. At the end of the day however, net profit and growth are what will keep you eating smashed avocado, sipping lattes and dressing in daggy jeans and t-shirts for years to come.

Schools unfortunately are no different. They make a huge deal about vanity metrics, in particular the academic results of those leaving Yr 12. There's even whole businesses that have sprung up from ‘consultants’ who help schools analyse these ‘results’ and provide advice on how to improve them. Perhaps I could offer you some snake oil at the same time…

Whilst I'm not saying academic results aren't an important gauge for a school, the obsession over them as being the most important metric, is ridiculously unhealthy and another hangover from the 19th century that just won't go away.

Despite all the academic focus of schools, only a third of school leavers will ever darken the door of a university. So now the majority of students have spent 13 years in school learning academic subjects they’ll never ever use. No wonder 40% of our students are disengaged!

I've previously sat through a couple of exam result analysis. They seem to be the highlight of the year for the principal (or not depending on the numbers). As with political opinion polls, schools will put a spin on their figures no matter what the case, but again this is mostly hot air and a key vanity metric for all involved, because it's not able to accurately reflect or gauge what happens after school and if a student will be successful.

The reality is that this single academic metric fails to consider the complexity of modern education and young adults. To thrive in our rapidly changing world, students need more from their 13 years at school than an academic number. If educators make this number out to be the single most important thing in their entire schooling, educators are unnaturally increasing the pressure on students in those final years.

If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, you’ll find that many of them never even finished school. Therefore, such metrics are purely for vanity, if education is truly about creating individuals who can succeed in life.

The bottom line is that education is about developing young men and women to be balanced, functional and proactive members of society. Through this, they can be enormously successful in everything they do. As a result, schools should broaden the scope of their metrics to cover not just exam results, but successful further training, employment, community service and even post school happiness.

You could even delve into the dangerously taboo topic of successful relationships. How many school leavers end up married and stay married? How many end up in divorce? Whilst many would say this is none of a school’s business, I argue strongly that it is! After 13 years of education through the most formative years of people lives, if you haven't had some impact on their social and emotional well-being and subsequent moral outlook on life, then there's something seriously wrong with the system.

There's so much more that can and should be explored to provide a real picture of the education a child will get at any given school.

Ultimately as teachers, we want to know if our efforts teaching young men and women have had a profound and lasting impact. Has what we’ve done at school actually made a difference socially and emotionally in their lives? Have we equipped them with the skills and a sense of social responsibility and enabled them to thrive in the real world? Or have we just been babysitting and spoon-feeding them to perform in an exam that most of them will never ever need?

I'd be horrified if it were the latter. Teachers have such an amazing impact on their students’ lives. However, until we start measuring far broader results than the vanity metrics of the year 12 exams, we will never truly understand the impact current teaching practices have, nor how we can make it even better to meet the challenges that the future of education holds.

Whilst you can keep your vanity metrics, always be careful to see them for what they are. To really gauge the success of your school this year, start tracking a much broader set of results from employability to happiness. Through this, you can start to really assess the lasting impact you're making in your students’ lives.

Policing The Lunch Box

Policing The Lunchbox - Risk Management

I recently read an article about a teacher writing a letter home to a parent telling them not to bring chocolate cake to school. In terms of earth shattering issues, this is rather low on the scale of importance in the world today, however, still worth a mention.
As a teacher, you see all sorts of weird and wonderful things that kids bring to school for lunch. You smell the amazing aroma of exotic spices and foods from all over the world in soups, pastas, noodles, wraps, burritos and even sandwiches. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
My question to the parents is, why didn't you send enough for me too? Some of the lunches I see are amazing and I just wish someone would pack that for me. In comparison, the classic cheese and salami sandwich doesn't seem to cut it anymore.
Whilst I'm a very strong believer that parents should stay out of trying to tell teachers how to teach, with one important exception to the rule, schools should stay out of kids’ lunch boxes.
For some reason, many schools have decided that telling parents what they can and can't give their kids for lunch will solve countless ‘dietary’, ‘allergy’ and ‘lifestyle’ problems. Much of this has been born out of two different concerns. The first one is the increasingly prevalent nut allergies, the second, childhood obesity.
For the first concern, I completely agree with very black and white rules. Any school's stance on maintaining a nut free campus is a great idea. The number of kids today who have a potentially fatal allergy to nuts is alarming and keeping the campus nut free is a smart way of reducing this risk and protecting the community from what can be a confronting and horrendous ordeal.
If someone has an anaphylactic reaction, untreated, their airways close up and they can be dead within minutes. Even if it's treated with an epi-pen, they must get to hospital as fast as possible and there's still no guarantee of recovery.  
Now anything which can kill someone in minutes needs to be taken seriously and parents should respect this decision on banning nuts. You're not going to put a brown snake in your kid’s bag which could bite someone and have the exact same result of a fast and painful death, so don't give your kids nuts to take to school.
On the other hand, in some schools, this concern has gone way too far and slowly but surely other foods have been added to a pointless list of contraband, driven by a misguided notion that if you ban lollies, chocolates and cakes, you will miraculously solve the societal problem of childhood obesity. It just doesn't work that way. Unlike an anaphylactic reaction, being fat won't kill you in 5-10 mins and the reality is most kids will burn off their cake fuelled calories, as they run around the playground.
At the end of the day, unless the school wants to provide lunch for everyone themselves, then they need to trust parents to make informed choices about what they're feeding their own children. If the concern is really about healthy eating, then the solution isn’t telling parents what they can and can't give their kids for lunch, because as soon as you tell people they can't have something or do something, it just makes them want to do it more.
If teachers have time to write letters home about the evils of chocolate cake or otherwise to tell parents not to let their kids have this food or that food for lunch, then they seriously have too much time on their hands and need something better to do. There's a reasonable and rational argument for nut free schools, but ultimately, schools need to balance this sort of real risk with a bit of common sense, so they don't start overreaching and trying to exercise control to the point of stupidity. 

The Idiot Blindspot


One of the biggest problems in any outdoor program is the blindness of experts. They’re generally people who are experts in their specific field or activity and become over-confident and blind to situations in which risk can be quite dangerous to themselves and others. However, I’m not going to be covering that right now. Instead I’d like to coin the term, ‘The Idiot Blindspot!’ What happens when inexperienced and incompetent people think they know what they’re doing when they truly don’t?
The idiot blindspot is a dangerous place in which to be operating, as there’s actually no consideration of risk at all. It’s merely given lip service and no real implementation of any considerations about risk are thought about nor are there any systems in place to manage risks. These are the people you want to avoid like they plague. They are your classic copy and paste crew who think that a risk management document is what risk management is about and once you have that document (copied and pasted from someone else), that whatever you do after that is ok.
The ‘whatever you do after that is ok’ approach can be a strange and nerve wracking experience for someone who is able to read situations. Sadly, if unaddressed, the idiots involved tend to end up in front of coroners having caused life-shattering damage to those they should have been protecting. They will then make excuses for their behaviour and lack of judgment.
I’ve experienced a few idiots over the years and despite going to great lengths to explain the reasons why we should or should not do something, they would invariably not see reason. In fact, they would get quite defensive and hostile at the suggestion that what they were considering was perhaps not that well thought out.
Unfortunately, I can think of a number of occasions that this has happened. One was a rafting exercise where the activity was being conducted in a tidal creek, which had a sucky mud base and was murky to the point that you couldn’t see 10cm below the surface. What better way to run a raft building exercise than to have students testing their make-shift crafts in this environment with no life jackets on. But wait, there’s more! Not only were there no personal flotation devices being used, the activity spontaneously changed into students wrestling with each other on the makeshift rafts attempting to throw each other off into the murky water. For someone with at least half a brain, you could reasonably foresee problems with this activity. Sadly, the idiots running it could not.
“Why didn’t you stop the activity?” I hear you shouting in disbelief!!! Well, I wasn’t actually there. The idiots had filmed all of this and could be heard encouraging the wrestling on the dodgy rafts. I already had my doubts about these members of staff, and now here we were seeing their stupidity in full-flight. Operating your risk management based upon pure luck is not something that should ever be done. Nor is letting an idiot run an activity such as this, with no regard for even the most basic notions of student safety. The difficulty in this situation was that the person running the activity was my boss, which only added to the dangerous nature of the organisation’s idiot blindspot.
On a number of different occasions, I’ve found myself in a bizarre arguments over weather warnings, equipment usage and group dynamics, all of which materially impact on safety. However, there’s a difference between a robust discussion with experienced and knowledgable colleagues versus complete idiots, especially when the complete idiots think they’re amazing and know what they’re doing. No advice is better than any advice from someone who knows nothing about risk management. A very dangerous mix, which if left unaddressed has the potential to put you in front of the coroner. Sadly, it’s usually the death of an innocent child that the coroner is investigating and not the idiot whose lack of judgment and understanding led to the accident.
If your organisation has people like this in it, get rid of them as fast as possible. They’re not going to benefit from any sort of professional development or training, as they completely lack the understanding and ability to understand risk and how to be situationally aware. It’s often not until an activity or expedition is in motion that risks (which were copied and pasted on that dusty document) become apparent. Being able to read situations is critical to good risk management and ensuring that all your activities and programs run well and are beneficial to everyone involved.
Before you let any staff loose on programs with any level of risk, then they’re well trained and are mentored along the way. It does take time and experience to develop situational awareness. However, once you’ve detected the idiots, you know they have to go. You don’t need the idiots. They contribute nothing other than red flags and an immense danger to you and everyone around you and the faster you can understand their blindness to risk and take them out of the mix, the better off your organisation will be.