Mapping Data with Google Sheets (on a Map!)

I have long wondered if student success is tied to where the student lives.  (Why?  Read in this post.)

With between 50 and 120 students at a time, sitting down with a map, charting out each student’s location and then linking their assessment results to that pin has seemed a bit arduous.  Google Maps has made finding the location a bit easier, but never could I figure out how to look up more than a single location at a time (and without having to manually input that, to boot).

After trying out Tableau for a EdX online course (the excellent Data, Analytics and Learning MOOC offered by UTArlingtonX–free and still informative three years after it closed) I was intrigued by its mapping promise.  Below is my journey, as I could not figure out how to get Tableau to do it.

Assessment Map Sheet

My original data table

To work, Tableau needed latitude and longitude data (it probably did it for me, but…)  I had street addresses, with each element in a different column (number, street, town, etc.).  Here is a sample data table.

I got an add-on from Awesome Table.  The program seems to do a whole lot, but I only wanted the latitude and longitude.  On this screenshot note two things.  First, that I was able to create a single address from multiple columns.  That’s what you see happening in the middle.

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pasted image 0 (1)Second, once I had that column it created my latitude and longitude.  You can see that column here (yes, it’s all blurry because I can’t figure out an efficient way to drop screenshots in WordPress, so blur).

Note that in the box on the right it offers you to create a map.  It will, indeed, drop pins on a map.  While I could figure out how to put my data in the pin, I could not figure out how to color code my pins.  That’s what I wanted–to have a range of colored pins so I could see the clusters effortlessly–and then click on individual pins for details.

Then I found Claire Miller, a data journalist who was looking to provide a map of clinics in Wales that still took NHS and those that did not.  You can find her informative blog here.  She tipped me off to Google Tables.  As Claire wrote in 2012, Google Tables was in beta and I hadn’t remember seeing it in years (I assumed it was folded into Google Sheets, because they always struck me as close, mainly because I don’t really know what Google Tables does).  Now called “Fusion Tables” I had to add it to my Drive.

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I’ll save you the boring steps of linking your spreadsheet and get to the map.  Table will open to Rows 1, so click on “Map of Latitude”.

Ironically, the “Location” choice (on the left) was set for latitude–and it didn’t work after all of that Awesome Table stuff!  When I chose “Full Address” from my Awesome Table merge a few steps ago it did.  Great.  Pins.

pasted image 0 (3)Here is the fun part.  Click on “Feature Styles” (left) and this box comes up.  Claire created a column in her spreadsheet with a command of what pin to place (middle tab) as her’s was a yes-no binary.  I used “Buckets” on the right for a range.  A second benefit is that as I update data I don’t have to update those commands–Buckets reads the new data.  As my scale was a 1-4, that became the range.  Be sure to choose the column you are taking data from (I forgot in doing it here and was flummoxed for a moment as it mapped zip codes).

pasted image 0 (4)Not done.  Click on “Change Info Window” (left) and this box of info will come up.  Here, you choose what data is useful to you or the user.  For example, I unchecked our state, town, zip and such because all of the students live in the same town.  All I really care about is name, specific street address and score.  (You can move the order of the codes manually if info order matters to you).

pasted image 0 (5)And here is the map.

With eight data points, it is not very exciting.  I chose small pins because I usually map a while grade level.  But, I click on that one pin and Nancy’s relevant data comes up.

This data is not very telling (it is random demo data), but the maps for my class are a bit more telling.

Again, you can read about what you might do with this here:  Read in this post.

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Why Mapping Data Matters

I am going to post on how to use Google Tables to map student data, but I wanted to explain why you might want to do it separately.  You, I am sure, can find a dozen uses for mapping data.  Here are a few of mine:

Knowing the Community: I do not live where I teach, and rarely leave the building (I go a few hundred meters to the market for lunch, and drive the main street on my way elsewhere).  Mapping out my students helps me understand where people live.  It seems like a small thing, but clicking about on clusters and rural areas helps me understand my community–the trailer parks, housing developments, rural farms and deep woods.  I can see divisions and lifestyles just from geography, as it blends with what they talk about in class.

Resources: It also helps me understand who has resources and who does not.  Some of our most needy students do not have easy access to the library, stores (for supplies) and rely on the late bus if they want to participate in anything after school (and I can see who will be on it for an hour because of how far away they live).  From this I know for whom basketball is a sacrifice, and who can stay after to finish up a project before zipping across the street to their home.

Clusters: It is common for adults to make assumptions about where people live.  It’s a social class bias.  As many teachers are middle class, from middle class backgrounds, they just don’t know.  The local trailer parks get a lot of abuse based on those biases.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell makes hay about studies showing community matters more than family in shaping children and their values (the more intellectual among you probably read the actual studies).  That doesn’t stop us from blaming the family for student results, but it also calls into question where students live–is the neighborhood a problem, and can the school counter-act that influence?

This is where my interest in maps started.  I cannot help but think this stems from my own biases, and I’m unsure how helpful this line of questioning is.

Focused Interventions: Ten years ago our old principal wanted to reach out to families and make the school a bigger part of the community.  We wound up having an ice cream social the day before school started.  cache_240_240_0_100_100_16777215_new-framework-cover-golden-lampGreat, except that Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty makes clear how adults who were unsuccessful in school are reluctant to come for such events (or parent conferences, etc.).  As non-threatening as it is, our ice cream social tends to be mostly middle and upper class parents of successful students.

In reading about the Civil Rights movement, I noticed how they organized where people lived.  They didn’t ask people to come, but went to them.  They used churches, meeting halls and the living rooms of trusted members of THAT community.  I wonder, for example, if tutoring and summer school might be off campus–in the heart of these low scoring clusters?  Perhaps the administrator might hold a parent group meeting somewhere other than the school?  Do those far flung places have churches or halls in which we can hold classes?  Perhaps rent an apartment or trailer for a summer month?  When you see that half of the students in need live with a kilometer from each other, but ten kilometers from the school, you have to wonder if the mountain needs to go to Mohammad.

Note: Know Your Students: Of course, knowing more about your students adds to this.  For example, one of my students lives with a grandmother who does not drive in a rural home–she relies on the bus a lot.  To keep her after school is a big thing.  But to keep her in for recess denies her the one chance she has to be social and make connections.  I try and find alternative times to support her.  This is very different from the girl who lives in the development with five other classmates, a short walk from school.  Awareness matters.  By combining this map with my personal knowledge I craft my responses to their needs.

Check out my post on mapping data here.

No Hats in School: The Data Supports It

Fifteen years ago, when I began at my current school, the rules were clear.  We had a dress code: Shorts and skirts could be no longer than your knuckles when arms hung by your side; tops had to have straps two fingers wide; no underwear could be showing.  And, of course, NO HATS.

Much of this has gone by the wayside.  The short shorts and skirt issues, plus ones around cleavage, were disproportionally enforced on girls with curves (the first graders had crazy short shorts, but their teachers wagged their fingers at my middle schoolers).  There was also some body shaming going on.  Our focus has shifted to clothing disrupting the learning process (profane or offensive, or really shiny) and being unable to participate in activities (dumb shoes).

Except for hats.

We have debated hats on a number of issues–many surrounding learning social norms and cultural currency.  The fact is that if you don’t wear a hat no one cares, but if you do some people will hold it against you.  Not everyone is convinced that it matters, and, as a result, enforcement is lax.  A rule that is not enforced is not worth having.  Still, I fight the battle.

But I am a person of data.  Is there, I wondered, a reason for banning hats that is supported with data?  When I thought about my own dislike of students wearing hats (against the rules) it came down to a gut reaction–students who wore hats (and were constantly flaunting the rule) always seemed to be in trouble in some other way.

Was this true or was it just an impression?

Method: After a year with a grade level, I broke students into several groups: Behavior problems, No behavior problems, and Recent behavior problems.  Then, I tagged those who generally wore hats (against the rules) and those who did not.  Here are the results:

hats pie graph

Behavior Issues; Wears Hat: 20.6%
Behavior Issues: Does Not Wear Hat: 17.5%
Recent Behavior Issues; Recently Began Wearing a Hat: 7.9%
No Behavior Issues; Wear Hat: 3.2%
No Behavior Issues; Does Not Wear Hat: 50.%

Conclusion: Not all students with behavior issues wear hats, but nearly all kids who wear hats have behavior issues.

Why?  I see the wearing of the hat as the canary in the coal mine.  If a kid cannot come in and follow that basic rule, why would we expect them to follow other rules?  Those with recent behavior issues are the most interesting because their wearing hats coincided with the change.  Perhaps the baseball season is a poor influence (ha, ha)?

Besides wearing hats being anachronistic, the argument I hear is that we have other battles to fight.  My response is that if a student will not adhere to this basic rule, why do we think they will respond to others?  It has been argued that, “if they get their work done, what does it matter?”  By that measure, students who get work done don’t have to follow any rules.  There are students who don’t even need to come to school and they’d be fine!  It is extreme (I’ve been told), but how many rules are arbitrary when measured with production?  Hats are arbitrary (beyond cultural norms), but they are also a useful nod to being part of a larger community.

Bonus: Paul Young is a music teacher who wrote a nice post on hats and music performance etiquette.  Here, he measures a hat-ratio.  Check out “The No Hat Rule” here.

And try your own experiment as I did.  Were the results the same?  I’m curious about classroom and schools that have no hat policy–do the results hold even when hat wearing breaks no rules?

Counterfactual Reasoning, Black Swans, and Common Planning Conundrums

There are many nuts-and-bolts topics discussed (which is probably why you are here) in the name of counterfactual thinking and black swans.  All interesting, but you may by here for only one, so scroll down to what interest you.  In order, the topics are: Introduction, Configuration, Schedule, Placement, Last Thoughts.  Enjoy.

Counterfactual Reasoning and Black Swan Planning

A few weeks ago I wrote about counterfactual reasoning–that it is easier to prove something doesn’t work than it is that is does work.  For example, it is hard to prove that coming to school leads to learning, but we know truants fall behind.  This is important to remember as we plan–we can’t confirm much about the future, but we can plan with that blind spot in mind.

The idea becomes important when looking at the surprises we seem to encounter after we do a lot of planning for the next year (placement, schedule, resource allocation, etc.).  The theory of this is the “black swan“; that unexpected events have a major effect on plans.  Because of this, the theory goes, we should plan with the unexpected in mind.  The other half of the theory is that it is difficult to know what to plan for.  In short, just be ready for something.

Note: Much of this is inspired by  Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  Much of this essay looks at the unexpected events that cause those disruptions every educator can relate to–nothing Earth shattering, but annoying nevertheless.

As educators, we tend to lock everything down–protocols, lessons, spaces, schedules, class lists–because we like to think we can predict everything.  For example, our school locked students into the three homerooms last June, but we did not take into account several unexpected developments.

The largest was we had asked students their World Language preference (French or Spanish).  Our students move through the school by classroom–Art, PE, Music and World Language.  During the summer we realized we could not honor most preferences because placement was based on a different criteria.  We punted.  But we also did not expect several students from one classroom to move away or that so many new families would move into our district.  We placed with insufficient information.  Then student preferences for WL created more turmoil, as parents demanded their kid get this or that language (they, of course, waiting for three weeks into September before doing so).  It also took a few weeks to figure out the WL/Tier II needs of new and leaving students.  Who knew?

As the old Yiddish proverb goes, “Man plans and God laughs.”

One of the mistakes people make is in trying to anticipate the black swan.  If we only anticipate more contingencies we think we can control it all.  No.  We certainly can straighten out many issues.  And we still have to make plans–schedules, room assignments, placement, etc.  How, though, can we plan while respecting the unknown?

Here are some examples of common issues facing schools.

Configuration

A few weeks ago I shared a configuration idea for our middle school.  For forever they have been multi-age, but they are contemplating going straight-grade “just for next year” because class sizes are getting too large and students are falling through the cracks.  There are several challenges facing the team, but the main one will be the influx or exodus of students.  I argue maintaining multi-age classrooms is the best safeguard against student numbers changing.

They are adding a fifth teacher to a four person team.  The Core is responsible for Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Science.  Currently, two teachers are licensed to teach STEM and two Humanities.  To alleviate class sizes they plan to hire a Science teacher.  In theory, this lowers the class average from 28 students to 23.  Of course, because the new teacher can only teach Science it does nothing to help the Humanities classes .  In theory, one of the STEM teachers will shift some of her load towards Math, but Math being taught straight-grade and other elements conspire against such neat divisions.

Using the our middle school’s straight-grade plan as an example, three teachers for the 7th and two for the 8th creates an automatic imbalance.  Of course, these can be mitigated (supports, aides, schedule).  But, should five students leave the 7th, or five join the 8th (or both), there is suddenly a difficult situation with no easy fix.  We can’t know if that scenario will play out, or be worse.  The plan, though, is crafted with little wiggle room should any black swan appear.

Using counterfactual thinking, instead create a multi-age made up of two teams.  Each team has a Science and Humanities teacher.  A single Math teacher instructs all students–a big load, but she is relieved of other duties and the two teams can focus on social-emotional middle school programming.

Imagine, now, five students leave the seventh–the release would be divided between two teams, offering a slight relief of two or three on each team.  In the case of the five joining the 8th, a much more devastating event, that burden would be shared and only result in two or three each.  In fact, if both scenarios play out, much of the effect is a wash.  Multi-age benefits can mitigate the other effects of population bubbles.  For example, each year teachers move (with their classrooms) and they need to relearn new curriculum and start new team protocols, etc.  Multi-age allows multi-dimensional flex.

But the question to ask is why that plan will not work?  I have shown the problems of straight grade (there are more, unwritten here), but that does not mean multi-age is better.  The black swan, counterfactual advice is to take each option and poke at it–with some of the more outlandish variables–until it reveals its flaws.  Then, put down other ideas, too, and poke them.  One area to look at is which “losses” are most tolerable and which would be devastating.  The plan with the most resiliency is probably your best bet.

Schedule

The difficulties of crafting a schedule are long and well known (we even know that we don’t know enough).  This is especially true in schools with many grades and diverse needs (we are a pre-K through 8).

I actually learned a lot recently on why crafting a schedule is so hard through an article on chaos theory (an article for later).  In short, such endeavors are dynamic and resetting course causes exponential problems down the path.   What we do know is that schedule craft works up to 80% of the elements are placed, but then conflicts trouble the last 20% of needs (that’s the dynamic nature of the process).  To fix it we begin to make compromises (which creates more conflict, exponentially).  Each year, someone (or many) is (are) unhappy.

Then, each year, we have a black swan surprise.  Last year, it was WL and everything that followed it.  Other grades had other emergencies.  Each fix seemed to bring more problems.  We live with it–we have no choice–but that 20% consumed a lot of resources and continues to create ripples (e.g., it is unclear if student preference for WL will be honored in 7th grade now that they have a year of one language under their belt.).

My solution is blocking out time instead of scheduling in time.  For example, one grade level figures four uninterrupted hours of seven school hours are needed for Core–90 minutes of Literacy, 60 minutes for Math, 60 for Science/Social Science and 30 for TA.  We demonstrate what’s important to an organization by the resources we put towards it (time, money) and four hours uninterrupted seems a reasonable commitment.  That leaves three hours for lunch, recess, Unified Arts (UA), band, mentor, counseling and any other non-Core activity.

How is a block resilient?  Let’s look at how our current system is not.  Predicting a seven hour day is hard; there are many variables.  It is also easy to be fooled by small numbers–three kids pulled out here, four there.  Currently, music lessons, mentor, speech and physical therapy, and other student needs are pulled from Core.  There are many reasons for this–part time employees and mentors have locked-in schedules, no one wants to deny a child their one Art class a week, and a few kids here or there are seen as non-disruptive.  But in my class of 20, one absence and three music lessons are 20% of the class.  Plus, recovery now becomes a negotiation not with two other Core teachers, but with three times that–pull from Art? PE? (And, because of the dynamics of the interwoven schedule, also lose 20% of their students and need recovery for them).  Again, here is the problem I am poking a hole in with our current schedule and how it was created.

By dividing the day into two blocks (4 hour, 3 hour) that do not overlap, students and teachers only have to negotiate within those blocks, with only those adults.  It is more likely I can flex with my Core teammate’s schedule because a) we have an aligned schedule, b) fewer pulls (classes) means fewer and smaller disruptions, c) fewer agents means less communication needed.  On Core, we can debate the virtues of Math vs. Science and time required to do it right, but with blocks we do not have to debate the death by a thousand cuts we currently face.  Four hours uninterrupted shows we value Literacy, Math, Science and Hive.  Three hours should be enough for others to negotiate what is best for students, among actors who have more in common (UA).  Or, to demonstrate that we want more for our students than the resources we have (or are willing) to give.  Again, this may be flawed.  Poke it.

Student Placement

Has there not been an issue with placement?  Do kids every come as advertised, stay friends (or enemies) with the kids from the previous year, or continue to need the same services?  Too often, we’ve even had to change the teacher assigned to the class (illness, pregnancy, number shifts).  For all the benefits we argue placement provides, those are the holes I poke in our locking kids in as we do.

Three years ago, the middle school wisely created two teams with a blank slate for placement.  First, Special Ed (SE) placed students on the two teams with a variety of rationales–service providers, friend/tormentor locations and the like.  This was open to debate/poking by the group, but we deferred to the experts.  Second, a small number of kids who do not receive services were separated or paired because of behavior or emotional needs.  Some kids need friendly peers, while others are a bit too friendly during class time.  All told, about 20% of placement was locked in like this.  That is an example of necessary planning with what is  known (at that time).  What’s important to note is what they did not do–lock in the remaining 80%.

Then, the sending teachers made two “balanced” teams.  More poking.  But the most important part was that no one was locked in until mid-September.  Each week the middle school would observe interactions, listen to students and families, and shift kids around.  Then, they locked in all kids, creating permanent teams and focused on creating identities for those teams and bonds within.

They waited because kids change–they move, they mature and their allegiances shift.  Because services did not have much flexibility (the nature of Spec Ed and part-timers), and some kids need reassurances (i.e., not being placed with a bully or knowing an adult face before the first day of school), those 20% never shifted.  But, as things shook out, a flexibility was built in for the other 80% so that movement was possible.  By the third week, the two teams were as solid as one is going to get.  It was a successful year.

Compare that flexibility with what happened when we locked in the grade last year that suffered at the hands of WL.  For what was gained (a faint sense of knowing their homeroom) much was lost.  While we should be aware of the anxiety we create with some unknowns, it can be fleeting compared to the year-long stress of a bad fit created by the black swan.  Again, the above might not survive a good poke, but our current spring lock-in is troublesome in the long term.

A Note About Counterfactual Poking

It is easy to spot flaws.  The question is a) if that flaw is true in any viable model, b) if that flaw has a major effect.

For example, one argument I have heard against postponing placement until a few weeks into the year is anxiety and parental concern.  Yet, when we locked in the placement of kids, one or two parents would inevitably call with concerns (or be more forceful about it).  Sometimes, that brought a dam break of other requests as parents micromanaged.  In short, parents and kids worry regardless.  The former is easily dealt with because the concerning elements are often soothed with more information, and solutions can be shared (including locking in needs).  The latter upends a carefully planned order, with results (according to chaos theory) that can prove exponential.

So, caution is necessary when weighing options.  People need to be objective that all plans have downsides–sometimes the same downsides–but some recover better.

Conclusion

The idea is that the we don’t know what we don’t know, but we still have to plan.  We want to poke holes in things early, and be honest about defects, before we choose the model that is best for students.

Counterfactual Questioning of Data and Needs

9780812973815I have been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable after reading a Wikipedia article about Stephen Bannon and his influences.  This was one, and it made the news clearer in many ways.

It also showed me a different way of using the data we are now getting almost too much of.  Here are a few interesting take-aways as how I might look at data new–and use it moving forward.

1. Look at the outliers.  When we focus on what works, or decide that it does not work, we often don’t really look at who falls short.  We look at the bulk–the middle kids–and evaluate the program based on them.  Then, we look at how we can “fix” the others to fit into the system which (we think) works.  Or blame them for their shortcomings.

It becomes about fitting a square peg into a round hole.

For some, we intervene with Tier II or even go EST (Educational Support Team), if they don’t already have IEPs or a 504.  For others, we explain it away (often with history–they’ve always done that–or other–family issues, anxiety, a bad day….) which is another version of blame-the-kid.  But if 20% of the group is not succeeding, how can we call a program a success?  (FYI, I’ve seen programs at 40% success declared working, because you have to understand…)  And if the response is that those 20% get something different, a) does that work, b) is that the best use of resources, and c) is that best for all kids?

One concern about any program outside of the normal program is measuring effectiveness of that intervention.  Often, if the intervention works–great work–but if it fails the child we find excuses with the child.  Honestly, once a kid falls to Tier II or Tier III they stay there.  (There is little incentive to change that, but that’s addressed later).  So the first step needs to be coupled with….

2. Tailor the group to the outliers.  While a program should not revolve around a single student, are there changes that would help other students as well?  For example, in the talks about anxiety our school did the presenters sold the idea that such interventions help other students.  True.  Compared to our childhood, we no longer time tests while we do allow movement breaks, reteach, and incorporate a dozen other techniques that began with outlier kids and are now mainstream.  But what is required is….

3. Thinking of needs outside the standard toolbox.  My students, for example, started the year talking about needing “hands on” learning (whatever that means).  Then, it was movement breaks.  Then, social time.  All of these were valid, but they did not really have an idea of what they needed.  Instead, our team read between the lines and gave them what they actually needed.  But even then, our responses were pretty standard (more projects, less seat work).  And, we are having a difficult time with a different outlier group (we are working on working independently, working with peers, time management and other, new issues).

Recently, we have looked at other needs.  We have a few kids questioning their identity (sexual orientation, interests, even their given name).  We have several kids with family issues–really worried about their family, illnesses, moving, relationships and the like.  We can see with after school groups that a desire for identity and connection exists.  A social survey with gave students showed a desire for help with peers and impulse control.  What to do with that?  We are currently looking beyond the wisely constructed groupings to regroup with needs, and soft-sell the focus bringing them together now.

But we aren’t counselors and this is not a therapy session.  Our goal is academics.  Plus, there are other needs and other solutions.  For example, in 2014 I found that what moved scores was participation in a competitive activity (AAU, Mini Metro, Far Post, ballet…).  There are a number of needs, many you don’t see because our students are faces in a specific location and a data point (go out to recess or the common spaces and see them differently).  So, we find that need by….

4. Ask counterfactual questions.  In a counterfactual assessment you prove what is wrong, because it is easier than proving what is right.  For example, I can’t prove that coming to school daily works, but I can easily show that students who are tardy and miss a lot do poorly.

So, what do we know does not work?  What stops learning.  Time is a general issue.  Interruptions are more pressing.  Homework does not really help those we want it to help.  But what the homework issue shows us is that time is needed–to read, for example.  When we do get kids to read at home, they get better at reading.  Now, we don’t know if that is due to attitude or practice or what.  But by putting SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) in the school we can focus on that.  For those who is does not work, why?  Seating (move them), book selection (look at level and keep trying new titles), fluency (Google Text to Speech)….  And as we take away what does not work we are left with reading.  But you need to ask….

5. Instead of asking what they need, ask what they don’t need and shed it.  Does a student who reads all of the time need SSR?  They might like it, or it may serve a calming function, but it does not add much to the academic purpose of SSR for them.  Found time.  They might, though, need that calming function–can it be given more effectively (offer meditation or counseling)?  Or, when their non-needs are whittled away, what’s left?  You can ask this of the student who gets instrument lessons outside of school (why do they still get school lessons?), the kid who plays Mini-Metro during the basketball unit (is relearning how to dribble worth their time?), and so on.  And we know who is lacking–we can tick it off the top of our head.  We have a list ready of what is not working.

A simple example is leadership.  We say we need it.  In our school, we have a group of intelligent athletes who think leadership is getting their way, instead of making their peers look better and rise up together.  They pick the team, have the ball, take the shot, and are ready with the excuse of why X didn’t get the ball (“They aren’t very good.”)  They are teachers waiting to be shown how.  If they teach X, that kid X will get the ball.  A simple pivot around the data sets that up–Kid A is measured on basketball skills and Kid B is measured on his teaching others.

6. And before you talk about time, think about how much time we spend accommodating, chasing down a few kids, and adapting work.  Differentiation is hard and time consuming and still we have failure–because we differentiate the wrong thing.  Use data to find the right thing, but cutting back everything that does not work.

Of course, this is still turning around in my head.  But it might cause you to think about things differently as you approach configuration, schedule and PBL in the next month in anticipate of the next school year.

9 Steps to Creating a Schedule for a Complex Organization: Part Two

Schools are not the only organizations with a host of constituents demanding varied needs be met, but they offer a great case study.  I have broken these steps into two distinct parts: Theoretical  and Building.  Both are essential to success over 180 days.
Warning: It is easy to skip steps, especially the theoretical.  This groundwork is essential for the building portion to work.  Otherwise, you’ve got a “Blind Men and the Elephant” scenario.  Check out Part One here.
Part Two: Building: The mistake here is to see this as blocks needing to be stacked.  It’s true, in a sense, but when that mental shift happens the schedule produced becomes a series of pounding square pegs into round holes; lots of edges feel the rub.  At the same time, the water metaphor no longer works because a rigid line is needed in order to truly understand what works and what only seems to work (but, in the details, things are lost).
5. Schedule Everything: The big things become clear, and often have minor compromises; nothing is harder to roll with than additional surprises.  Often, these surprises are more disruptive than the larger issues.  For example, the one grade level at our school had 4.5 hours a day with students, or 22.5 hours in a week.  Band and Chorus was scheduled for three 40 minute blocks, or 2 hours, for 2/3 of our students (the remaining 1/3 were left for the teachers to plan for).  That left 20.5 hours of instruction for all kids.  Seems reasonable, except instrument lessons pull an additional 4 hours, and those are small clumps of kids that come-and-go at odd, rotating times–very disruptive.  When you craft the schedule, and put in 6 plus hours of music, it paints a very different picture.
But the time culprits are many: Guidance, mentors, Tier II, Special Ed…..  Each needs to pencil in a projected time.  The guidance counselor, for example, knows a bunch of his caseload.  If a special 3-4th grade block was identified based on expected need and time outside of non-negotiable times, that service would have a solid place to start and flexibility moving into September.
6. Populate the Schedule: Without a dry run, the schedule is an estimate.  That leads to grey areas, but grey areas add up to black over the course of the process.  While you might not have placement, you do know how many kids get pulled for X, Y and Z and can make reasonable assumptions about where they go.  For several years, one grade level had two sections of World Language–one French and one Spanish.  Then, the population bumped up.  It was a surprise that there needed to be three WL classes, not two as there had been.  That meant one Spanish and two French, which drove the UA groups, that had been driven by the homerooms–see, dominoes.  With each grade picturing their day–if not walking through it–many of the unexpected bits come into play.  Account for every kid and location.
7. Dry Run the Schedule: Even if each grade level imagines the day instead of physically walking through it, that’s something.  Did you take into account transition time?  The time it takes to put on snowsuits and take them off is substantial, especially if UA proceeds and follows recess.  For example, one grade’s schedule has kids go from UA to recess, which works well, but when they need their Chromebooks for UA after recess they go to the room, undress, get Chromebooks and walk to UA–five to ten minutes lost in a 40 minutes class.  Run the schedule in winter and warmer months, or whatever demands change in your locale.
8. All Teachers Sign Off: Every year, groups are asked to look and report back on if it works.  Every year, most people do.  But some don’t.  A few yeas ago, no lunch was scheduled for UA in the frenzy of crafting something that works; adjusting for it made the schedule a kludge, but since it was June everyone just went with it.  These things were not caught until after the schedule was set.  Everyone was mad at the group all year for the compromises.  Pet Peeve: There is often a member of the staff that claims to be helpless, and the nurturing environment of a school bends over backwards to accommodate, even as that person is rigid in their not being proactive or bending in retrospect.  Ugh.  At least with a signature, there is no buck-passing and everyone is forced to take some ownership of their part in the process.
9. First Schedule Wins (Bad): We like to believe the process is open and cooperative, but in reality the first schedule that works for 3/4 of the school rules.  Even with compelling arguments against it, little more than tweaks occur.  For that reason, the first few rules above are essential.  They need to be concrete as possible, and drive planning.
One way to counter this is to present multiple, diverse schedules.  Presented with three very different ways of doing something, people will see the possibilities, even when the schedule just doesn’t work.  By then going and adapting the best of several, you not only get more good ideas, but everyone sees how what was chosen is not the first presented, but the best of otherwise flawed plans.  It is otherwise easy to find fault without being tasked with a solution.
Every group needs to feel empowered.  There are a few ways to do this.  For example, allow each group to have the power to veto at each step, but once a step is adopted they lose that power.  So, if 90 minutes of literacy is a non-negotiable and adopted, the schedule bends to that even if means other desires are compromised when the final schedule comes out.  Each group should also have the power to create an alternative schedule.  Whatever, but something needs to happen to counter the “First Schedule Wins” problem.

9 Steps to Creating a Schedule for a Complex Organization: Part One

Schools are not the only organizations with a host of constituents demanding varied needs be met, but they offer a great case study.  I have broken these steps into two distinct parts: Theoretical  and Building.  Both are essential to success over 180 days.
Warning: It is easy to skip steps, especially the theoretical.  This groundwork is essential for the building portion to work.  Otherwise, you’ve got a “Blind Men and the Elephant” scenario.  Still, you can check out Part 2 here.
Part One: Theoreticals: At this point of development, the schedule is like a river: Water is fluid, bends around anything and fills every crevice.  Much like time.  Here, you will begin to construct the vessel that contains it (beginning with Start and End times of the day) and identifying those impediments it needs to flow around.
1. Vision: The schedule is a physical manifestation of the vision.  For example, if you want certain people to collaborate they need the same preps.  Or, if starting the day with a Restorative Justice circle in homeroom is important, than the day cannot begin before 8:20, so teacher have at least 15 minutes to start the day right.  Make a list of the vision(s) in all respects and then figure what elements of the schedule facilitate that.
2. Recognize What’s Just Tradition: Much of the schedule is the remnants of old visions, initiatives and needs.  In keeping what worked this year, we often perpetuate other patterns that no longer drive the schedule.  For example, we had Art scheduled on a day that worked for the part-time Art teacher, who worked at other schools on other days–when her situation changed, no one thought of changing the day.  Spending time just messing with assumptions both helps question how things are done and opens up new possibilities.  Often, these are impediments to work around that people do not even realize they are accommodating for; removing them frees up possibilities.  Even those that are preferential may not be as non-negotiable as an issue that comes up later than is mission critical to members.
3. Plan for Two Years (at Least): The class sizes are clear–if the 3rd grade needs three teachers, the 4th grade will need it next year.  You should also account for what the 4th grade looks like the year after, too.  Which class sizes are close to a bust (so that three kids moving in in August requires an additional teacher, classroom and the like), or might not be sustainable (i.e., that teach could be moved to a grade that needs her more)?  Plan teams, room assignments and the like towards that.  Also, think how part time staff will be used over that time.  It may not seem directly related to the schedule, but a) planning two years makes you be realistic about next year, and b) most schedules go south because small, unexpected changes that happen before September 15.  Best be ready.
4. Define Non-negotiables: What are bedrock points, that no one can touch.  For example, at one point 60 minutes of Math and 90 minutes of Literacy a day were non-negotiable in the schedule.  For any grade level, I would advocate for 3 hours a day uninterrupted–no lessons, pull-outs or other distractions; we are guaranteed all of our kids for that period of time.  Class size might be another (Art can only hold 25 students physically in the room).
Part Two: Building: The mistake here is to see this as blocks needing to be stacked.  It’s true, in a sense, but when that mental shift happens the schedule produced becomes a series of pounding square pegs into round holes; lots of edges feel the rub.  At the same time, the water metaphor no longer works because a rigid line is needed in order to truly understand what works and what only seems to work (but, in the details, things are lost).