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Goal Setting is Often an Act of Desperation: Part 4

In Their Own Words

Release Date: 04/30/2024

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More Episodes

Can a 4th grade class decide on an operational definition of "joy in learning"? In part 4 of this series, educator John Dues and host Andrew Stotz discuss a real-world example of applying Deming in a classroom. This episode covers the first part of the story, with more to come in future episodes!

0:00:02.3 Andrew Stotz: My name is Andrew Stotz, and I'll be your host as we continue our journey into the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Today, I'm continuing my discussion with John Dues, who is part of the new generation of educators striving to apply Dr. Deming's principles to unleash student joy in learning. This is episode four about goal setting through a Deming lens. John, take it away.

 

0:00:22.6 John Dues: Good to be back, Andrew. Yeah, we've been talking about organizational goal setting last few episodes. A couple episodes ago, we talked about those four conditions that organizations should understand prior to setting a goal. Then we sort of introduced this idea of trying to stay away from arbitrary and capricious education goals. And then we got into these 10 lessons for data analysis. And so what I thought we could do now is we've got that foundation in place is that we could take a look at an applied example in real classrooms of those 10 key lessons in action to kind of bring those alive. And I ran this project a few years ago with a teacher named Jessica Cutler. She's a fourth grade science teacher in our network. And she was going through something we call a Continual Improvement Fellowship. So we do this sort of internal fellowship where people can learn that sort of way of thinking, the tools, techniques, the theories related to the science of improvement. And then they actually take that right away and apply it to a problem in their classroom or their department or their school, depending on who it is.

 

0:01:55.0 JD: And so what Jessica was doing, what her project ended up being was she was trying to improve the joy in learning in her fourth grade science class. So it's interesting to see how that sort of project evolved. So I thought we could revisit each of the 10 lessons and how that lesson was applied in Jessica's improvement project. And we'll maybe get through three or four of the lessons today. And then over the course of the next few episodes, kind of get to all 10 lessons and think through how they were... How that went in her improvement project.

 

0:02:08.1 AS: Sounds like a good plan, practical application.

 

0:02:12.0 JD: Yeah. I mean, it was interesting too, because she didn't initially sort of consider joy as a possibility. She was thinking like, I'm gonna work on improving test scores or something like that was sort of her initial brainstorm. And then sort of pivoted to this when we kind of talked through what was possible from the Deming philosophy type of standpoint. So it's interesting to see how things evolve. But just to kind of revisit, so we talked through these 10 lessons. Lesson one was "data has no meaning apart from their context." So we talked about these questions that are important, like who collected the data? How was it collected? When was it collected? Where was the data collected? What are the values themselves represent? What's that operational definition for the concept under measurement? Have there been any changes to that operational definition as the project unfolds? And so even with a project with a teacher and her students, all of those questions are relevant. They're still important just because you're dealing with students that doesn't mean anything changes on that front. So it was important for her to sort of think through all of those things as she thought through the start of her project.

 

0:03:28.9 JD: And what her and her students came up with after they sort of decided that they were gonna focus on joy, they focused on this problem statement. And they were like, well, what do we want science class to look like? 'Cause that was sort of their starting point. And what her and her students...Oh sorry go ahead.

 

0:03:45.9 AS: One thing you started off talking about her, now you're talking about her students. So she got her students involved in this process. Is that what you're saying?

 

0:03:56.2 JD: Yeah. So they were working together from the very outset even...

 

0:04:02.0 AS: As opposed to a teacher talking through this with a principal or something in a faculty room and then thinking of how do I... Okay.

 

0:04:09.2 JD: Yep. That's right. Yeah. And so what they came up with is the sort of desired future state of science classes. "We are able to stay focused through science, enjoy science class and remain engaged." And so to give some context, what was happening is that she taught science and social studies and it was sort of like a back-to-back class period. And they would do science second. And so by the time they were doing science, sometimes the students were getting off task, disengaged. They weren't as engaged as either the students wanted to be or the teacher wanted them to be in that second lesson. So they, they came up with that as the thing they were gonna focus on. And then because they were gonna focus on joy in learning, they had to define what that meant. So what did joy in learning mean to that fourth grade science class? And what they came up with as a definition, which I really like, is "we wanna have fun learning, finding things we like to learn and have fun completing classwork and activities." So they came up with this operational definition. And keep in mind, these are fourth graders and Jessica's having these conversations like, what's the operational definition? That's not probably typical language you're gonna use with fourth graders. But if you walk them through these things, they actually pick up on it pretty quickly.

 

0:05:26.1 JD: It's actually pretty cool to see.

 

0:05:28.1 AS: And to them, a more simpler word sounds like was fun.

 

0:05:35.0 JD: Yeah, right. They wanted that to be a part of the science learning process. So basically, once they had the operational definition, they had to think through, well, how are we going to measure that concept that we've defined? And what they did was they just developed a simple survey. Jessica did it in Google Forms. just had, really just had two questions. The first question was, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy science class today? And then there was a second open-ended question that said, what made you enjoy or not enjoy class today? So it was fresh in the kids' minds. So basically, at the end, each kid has a Chromebook in Jessica's science class. She would just sort of share the link to the survey, and the kids would complete that as the closing activity for the lesson. So she would get two things out of it. So 1 to 10, just a real quick sort of numerical quantified value, how much the kids enjoyed science class that day. And then, because it had just happened, the students could say what they did and didn't like about the lesson. Oh, we haven't used computers in a few days. Or it'd be nice if I had a video to help bring this concept alive. Or there's a few words that you use that I don't know the definitions to. Could you add those definitions to the glossary? So just things like that, simple things like that.

 

0:06:55.9 JD: Right away. And then what Jessica could then do is take that information and actually adjust her lessons as she planned maybe for the next week, she could make those adjustments based on this feedback she was getting from the students. So that's sort of the application of lesson number one. So what are we measuring? How are we gonna measure it? When are we collecting this data? That type of thing. Lesson two, if you remember back from when we covered the lessons was "we don't manage or control the data. The data is the voice of the process," right?

 

0:07:28.9 JD: So we talked about this ideas that while we don't control the data, we do manage the system and the processes from which the data come, right? So, and this is really key conception of the system's view. You, you say you're going to improve this particular classroom. So that's the system. So you're not necessarily controlling the data. You're not controlling how the kids are evaluating, the numbers that they're putting one through 10 to assess joy in learning, but what the teacher and then the students, because of this project do have control over are the learning processes that are happening throughout science class, right? And so back to your point about you switch from talking about Jessica, the teacher to the students. And then you said "we" that's also a key conception of taking this approach, right?

 

0:08:24.4 JD: So what I think Deming would say is that when you're going to improve an organization, you have to sort of combine sort of three critical pieces. One thing is you need someone from the outside, from outside the system that has Profound Knowledge. And then that person or persons has to be collaborating with the people working in the system. So those are the students, they're working in the science class system. And, then you that third group or that third person is the manager or managers have that have the authority to work on the system. So in this case, Jessica has the authority to change what's happening in her science class.

 

0:09:10.2 JD: The students are the workers working in that science system. And then that third part is that person that has the sort of understanding of the System of Profound Knowledge and it's sort of bringing all of these parts together that really is how you begin to transition sort of conventional classrooms to those guided by the Deming quality learning principles, right?

 

0:09:33.1 JD: So in in the case of Jessica's project, that person that was, that had a System of Profound Knowledge lens was me. So I was sort of acting as an, the outsider, 'cause I'm outside of the science system. But I have this understanding of the System of Profound Knowledge. And I'm working with Jessica as she's working with her students, to sort of bring that lens to the projects.

 

0:10:00.4 AS: And what's the point of doing all that if she doesn't have the ability to make the changes necessary to test, if you're gonna if we change this, it's gonna result in something why go and do all this if you're just stuck in a system that you simply cannot change because of government regulation or whatever, maybe.

 

0:10:17.5 JD: Right. Yeah. So it's bringing all those pieces together. But what I found thinking about the three parts of a team that's working toward organizational improvement, what I've found in the past is, in my experience, whether it's a school improvement team or a district based improvement team, most of them are devoid of at least one parts of one of those components, usually two of those components, 'cause usually students aren't involved.

 

0:10:45.9 JD: And then in most school systems, there's no one with this outside knowledge, the System of Profound Knowledge lens, right. And I think it's what we're really doing is the students can identify the waste, the inefficiency, the things that aren't going well from their perspective, but we don't often ask them. Or if we do, we do it in a way where it's an end of year survey or an end of semester survey, but this is collecting that feedback in real time and then acting on it. We're not planning to do something next year with this feedback, we're actually planning to do something the next day, or maybe the next week, to adjust the science lessons.

 

0:11:24.8 AS: And it's one of those two things that come into my mind, what, how do you handle the idea that what's causing the impact on joy in learning could be that the student had a bad night, the night before. And I guess by doing many samples that starts to kind of wash out. And then the other question is since the students know that the teacher could likely make an adjustment, is there any possibility that they could be gaming or playing the system.

 

0:11:57.1 JD: Well, that's interesting, because I think, well on the first point. I think pretty quickly, my experience with this and David Langford I know you've talked to has echoed this sentiment is you know, he was working with high school students, this is an elementary project but either way. You may get some students that don't take this seriously. At first. And you may get some kind of crazy answers crazy brainstorms or crazy survey submissions, although I don't think Jessica got much of that.

 

0:12:30.2 JD: But in other projects I've gotten some stuff at the outset that was a little bit off the wall. But like David said to me when I first started this and then it's been my experience since is that kids, once they realize that you're actually gonna act on the feedback, as long as the feedback is in good faith. They actually start to take it seriously, pretty, pretty quickly. And so I think pretty quickly, those sort of types of worries go by the wayside. Now, I will say I did say that the...

 

0:13:01.1 JD: One of the components that has to be on this improvement team is the person that has the authority to change the system. So at the end of the day, even though we're gathering this input, Jessica's really the person as the teacher of that classroom that has the authority to make the changes to the system based on her judgment or, her professional judgment as a science teacher of what should happen. And so the students certainly offer feedback and inform that process, but ultimately it's Jessica that's gonna determine the changes to the system.

 

0:13:34.0 AS: I hear David in my ears saying, you know what, Andrew? You don't trust the students? They probably have a more honest, view of what's going on than most adults do. So yes, I hear the voice of David Langford.

 

0:13:49.2 JD: Yeah. Well, and interestingly, and we'll get into this towards the end, not today, but when we get to some of the other lessons, interestingly, not to give away the story, but, one of the things that was getting kids off track was a lot of noise during class, kids making noises. And they actually came up with this system where they were kind of penalizing each other. This was their own idea. And so, kids know exactly what's going on in class. And so it was interesting to see how they came up with some ideas to rectify that. But yeah, so it was really just bringing together, these three groups or, the group of students and then Jessica and then myself. It's that combination that's really where the power for improvement lies. And again, I, that type of partnership is just not typical in school improvement situations.

 

0:14:45.7 JD: So that's lesson two, applied. Lesson number three is "plot the dots for any data that incurs in time order." Right? So we've talked about this a lot. The idea behind the primary point of "plot the dots" is that plotting data over time helps us understand variation, and that in turn leads us to take more appropriate action. I think that what we decided to do with Jessica's project is, start plotting the points on a run chart and connect those points with a line, and then it becomes pretty intuitive as we're looking at that data, what joy in learning looks like in this science class. And then once we have enough data, we can turn that run part chart into a process behavior chart and actually add the limits.

 

0:15:40.2 JD: So, like I said, Jessica, once her and the class determined that what they were going to improve was join in learning, and they defined that concept operationally and created the survey, right away they started gathering this survey data as a part of the project, and usually they would gather the data maybe, two or three times a week across the course of this particular improvement project. So maybe I'll share my screen just so you can see what that initial run chart looked like. So, you have this run chart, and I left this in the spreadsheet so you could see the actual data. So as she began administering these surveys, she would send me the data and then I would create it the run chart for her, start plotting that data so that both of us could sort of see the variation in that survey data over time. And then she could actually take this, she would put this run chart on a slide, and every week or so she would actually show the students what the data looked like.

 

0:16:49.7 AS: And just to be clear, we've got a chart for those that are listening, we've got a chart that has a blue line and it's going up and down kind of around the level of about 79. So they've got points that are based, that are days. Some days are below that 79 some days are above. But also I'm assuming that those points are the output of all the surveys. So the average answer on that day from the survey as different from the average or median of all the day's output, correct?

 

0:17:31.1 JD: Yeah, that's right. So this is, the run chart from Jessica's class that's displaying the survey results. And what they're measuring is joy in science class as assessed by the students.

 

0:17:44.3 AS: On the first day, the students basically said, 75% of the respondents said that they had joy in science.

 

0:17:51.9 JD: That's right. So in this particular school year, which was two years ago, so we had done some of the project planning before kids went on winter break, and then when they came back from winter break, they were ready to start administering the survey. And we started plotting the dots, charting the data over time. So the X axis for those who are listening are the dates.

 

0:18:16.2 JD: The, Y axis is the joy in learning, percent of kids that the rating of the kids from one to 10. And then I just turn it into a percent. And so you have the green line, the central line running through is the median. We're using the median 'cause that's fairly typical for a run chart because typically run charts don't have as much data as a process behavior chart. And so, outliers can have a greater impact. So we're using the median to sort of control for that. Although this data's fairly tight. So on day one, like you said on January 4th of this school year 75, the kids sort of rated the joy in learning of that particular lesson as a 75% of 100. And then you sort of see it bounce around.

 

0:19:04.7 JD: That median of 79. And so what I'm showing is the data from the first 10 surveys that Jessica administered at the end of class. So over the course of 20 days from January 4th through January 24th, she administered that this survey 10 different times. So about two to three times a week. And so we see a high of about 83% joy in learning and a low of 67% joy in learning. And you have about half the points above the median, about half the points below the median. So even though it's only 10 data points, Jessica and her class, and then myself, we were starting to learn about what did joy in learning, joy in science class actually look like? Now that we have this definition and we're measuring it with these surveys and then plotting these data points. So again, she's actually putting this up on, on the, up on the screen so kids can actually see this. And what she said was after the 5th or 6th survey, and she's plotted this and put this up on a screen a few times, the kids are actually getting excited. And they're wanting to see their data. They're wanting to see what the results look like for each survey as she started plotting this.

 

0:20:30.6 AS: It's funny because I, when I was a loading supervisor at Pepsi, I started putting up the percent correct for each of the loaders in the warehouse. And I didn't make any comment or anything, I just put it up there. And yeah, people are interested when they start seeing numbers, they start thinking, they start asking questions.

 

0:20:54.3 JD: Yeah, and you can see too at a school, in a fourth grade science classroom, you can see all types of lessons, you can sort of build up this reading graphs, calculating percentages, using when do you use line graphs for some other type of graph?

 

0:21:10.2 AS: And why use median versus mean? Because a small amount of data could be distorted if you have a huge outlier.

 

0:21:18.8 JD: Yep, all kinds of practical lessons. So this brings us to sort of the last lesson for this particular episode. I think lesson four is two or three data points are not a trend, right? So, we've said that you should start plotting the dots as soon as you've decided to collect some type of data that occurs over time. And really when people ask me what type of data can you put on a run chart or a process behavior chart, there's almost any data that you're interested in improving in schools unfolds over time, almost all of it. Whether that's a daily cadence, a weekly cadence, monthly, quarterly, yearly, whatever it is, right? But the problem is the vast majority of data that we look at as educators and really probably most people, it's typically two or maybe three data points. But that doesn't tell you anything about how the data is varying naturally. So when we start thinking about this particular data, we start learning quite a bit. For one, as a teacher, I would have no idea how my kids would evaluate their joy in my classroom.

 

0:22:29.9 JD: And so I think if I was Jessica, I'd be pretty happy off of that, that the sort of average or the median rating is close to 80%, basically the rating each lesson has an eight out of 10. Right. I think a second thing is let's say we were a school district and we did systematically give our kids some type of survey that assess their satisfaction with the school. Right. Maybe they do it twice a year or annually. Right. And so after at the end of the year, you have two data points, but you don't really have any idea for what to do with that data. You have no idea if you collected three or four or five data points, what that would look like. And here she is in just 20 calendar days and a couple of school weeks. She's got 10 data points to work with already. So she's building that baseline of data. So I think what this is to me is just a very different approach to school improvement.

 

0:23:39.4 JD: And the tools are relatively simple. The ideas are relatively simple. But I think overall this really, the takeaway I want for folks is that this project really illustrates a very different approach to school improvement, guided by these sound sort of Deming principles for how to use data, to how to understand variation, to how to include the people working in the system, right?. We've talked about these arbitrary targets throughout this series, and you could see that when Jessica and her class would go to maybe set a goal for joy after collecting some of this data, that goal would be tied to something real. It's tied to actual data from the classroom. And you can sort of avoid goal setting as an act of desperation when you take this type of approach.

 

0:24:38.4 AS: Joy in the joy of bringing joy in science.

 

0:24:44.2 JD: Yeah, it's really all about this process, right? It's the kids getting into this process, that's the psychological part. They're involved in their educational process. And so that is completely different than what's happening in the typical classroom, I think, in the United States.

 

0:25:00.5 AS: You can imagine somebody not wanting to do this because they're afraid of what they're going to see.

 

0:25:07.0 JD: Certainly [laughter]

 

0:25:08.3 AS: Yeah.

 

0:25:08.7 JD: Certainly. Yeah. Hopefully they would be open to sort of collecting the data and being reflective as a professional. But I could see, maybe that's not, tha's not always the case. And another question, I kind of shared this project with some folks, in different settings, and one of the questions I typically get is, well, what about the science test scores? Like, this is great if kids have joy, I guess is kind of the reaction. But what... How does that impact the academics?

 

0:25:44.0 JD: And my response is, well if kids don't find joy in their learning and they're not engaged, what kind of results are you gonna get? [laughter] To me this is sort of like a part of the process that leads to academic outcomes, when you enjoy the things that you're doing, when you feel like you have some control over a process, maybe not the full control, but when you have some control, when you have input into something that you're doing all day long, you're gonna have more investment because, you know, because you're seeing that your input has meaning. That's really that psychological component.

 

0:26:18.2 AS: It's obvious, but maybe not proven.

 

0:26:21.9 JD: Yeah, I think so. I think so.

 

0:26:28.4 AS: Okay.

 

[SILENCE]

 

0:26:30.9 JD: Yeah. I think that's a pretty good spot to wrap up this opener with the... We covered those first four lessons and started to look at how this project unfolded in, Jessica's classroom. And I think, next we can kind of see as she gathered more data, what this looked like over time. And then as she sort of had that baseline in place, then the next thing we'll look at is: what did she do as a change idea or an intervention to try to make these rates go higher in her classroom?

 

0:27:08.4 AS: That's interesting. I mean, in my wrap up of this, I think how lucky, is Jessica to have someone from the outside? I think a lot of teachers and a lot of people in business, they don't really have anybody to go to. And the company's not providing that type of stuff or the school is not providing that. And so you just kind of make it up as you go along. And I think that's, that's one of the things, 'cause I'm, I think like probably other listeners and viewers who are, listening to this, they're thinking, I wonder if John could help me do that in my area? The idea of, we all know there's places that we could improve that we may not be. And if a school system can provide that, wow, that's a big... That's exciting.

 

0:27:56.6 JD: Yeah. I'd be happy to. And it was like a, it was definitely a mutual effort. Jessica put a lot of work into sort of, 'cause she has gone through that fellowship, she had to sort of learn all of these tools and then actually, turn around and put them into practice in her classroom. And she found ways to do this in a way where, she could still do the things she was required to do, like delivering the lessons that she was required to deliver and those types of things. But then she found ways to sort of incorporate what she learned in the fellowship to make her classroom better. Seeing that, seeing her openness to feedback that really made this like a, I think a, mutually beneficial experience. And I think the kids enjoyed it too.

 

0:28:39.2 AS: And the purpose of this series too is, the idea of how can you do this at home and how can you start doing it in your own school, in your own classroom, in your own life? And so I think I'm looking forward to the next session where we're gonna go deeper into... I've already got, a series of questions and things that I'm wondering, and then I saw some tabs in your, in your worksheet that I thought, okay, there's gonna be some more interesting stuff. So I think we're all gonna see you in that next section.

 

0:29:09.9 AS: And on behalf of everyone at the Deming Institute, I want to thank you again for this discussion and, taking the time to go through these steps with us. And for listeners, remember to go to deming.org to continue your journey. You can find John's book Win-Win, W Edwards Deming, the System of Profound Knowledge and the Science of Improving Schools on amazon.com. This is your host, Andrew Stotz. And I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Deming, and it's particularly apropos, people are entitled to joy in work.