Educational Leadership, Vol.55, No.7, April 1988 Making Time for Valuable Work
Kenneth R. Freeston and Jonathan P. Costa, Sr.
We can lead, teach, and learn better when we define what has value within our educational organizations. A school governance team devotes an afternoon to the issue of wearing hats in school. A principal observes a lengthy debate on whether teachers should be required to enter grades electronically. A superintendent sits for two hours while the Board of Education defines district policy on the use of paraprofessionals for supervision of the lunchroom. These are everyday occurrences, right? Nothing to get outraged about. Outraged? In each of these "everyday occurrences," an educational leader invested precious time that did not serve the end value of learning. That's outrageous. Waste Not, Want Not We are in an era of unprecedented deliberation about the use of time in public schools. With the public focused on educational costs and high expectations for academic performance, the pressure on educational leaders has never been greater. This pressure has given rise to all manner of proposals for creating more time for school leadership: schedules that allow for meetings within the school day, longer school days, longer school years, and yearlong schooling. Education professionals have pursued these solutions as ways to create the additional time needed to address important educational issues. That might seem like a prudent strategy, but our research, observations, and practice over the past 10 years show that these efforts are essentially misdirected. The issue is not how, or even whether, to find more time—but rather, how to use the time we have more wisely. What Is Value? We can lead, teach, and learn better when we define value within our educational organizations and work to systematically increase the time we spend pursuing that value. In communicating this thesis, we need to arrive at a shared understanding of what value is. William E. Conway (Conway 1992) has spent the last 20 years helping corporate leaders around the world improve their abilities at creating quality through the thoughtful use of time. He defines value as a product or service the customer would be willing to pay for. It follows, then, that the work that went into the creation of this value is value-added work, or work resulting in a value greater than the work itself. Conversely, energies spent on things that the customer would not pay for—errors, rework, problems, redundancies—is waste work. Conway adds a third category, necessary work, which includes things that an organization must do to function, but that have no direct value to the customer. Conway found that, on average, companies spend a staggering 40 percent of their time doing waste work (until he intervenes). He noted that effective leaders in quality organizations do not allow waste to accumulate. They systematically teach their employees to eliminate waste and streamline necessary work in order to maximize the time spent on value-added work. Teaching Is for Learning What is value-added work for schools? When we began exploring this concept, we thought we had merely to transpose the idea of value into the context of schools. After struggling for a while on what we thought was Step 1, we realized we had skipped Step zero: to define what the primary goal of a school is. Business leaders have it easy when it comes to defining their primary goal. They sell stuff. With education, it may seem more ambiguous, but it is nonetheless certain: The goal of a school is to create learning. When we've defined Step zero, Step 1 becomes much clearer, and we can define the activities of educational personnel according to Conway's concept of value. These definitions for a school principal, for example, would look something like this: 1.Value-added work is work that leads directly to learning. §Researching on effective instructional practices §Observing and supporting classroom learning §Keeping professional dialogue focused on learning 2.Waste work is whatever does not contribute directly to learning because it is work that could have been avoided if it had been done properly the first time. §Correcting any mistakes of your own or others §Dealing with teacher, parent, or student complaints §Conducting a meeting without appropriate personnel present 3.Necessary work consists of tasks that keep the school running but have no direct impact on learning. §Signing purchase orders §Supervising bus duty §Ordering supplies With such a description as a basis, a principal can initiate systems to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and more fully align the work of the school with its primary goal. The value of teaching is equivalent to the learning it creates. To anyone who purports that teaching has intrinsic value, we say yes it does—to the extent that it creates learning. After all, from an educational consumer's point of view, if something is taught and not learned, does it really matter that it was taught? Marking Time Conway pioneered a survey process that is easily transferrable to the educational setting. Subjects carry around a small beeper-like device that emits a beep or vibration at random intervals, at a rate of two or three per hour. When they hear the signal, subjects record what they were doing at that moment on a tally sheet on which activities are coded as "value-added," "waste," or "necessary work." Honesty, amnesty, and trust are critical to the process. Activities must be tallied at the time of the signal, not a minute before or after. Any hint of false entries or punitive use of the results raises a cloud of suspicion about the credibility of the process. After some 5 to 7 weeks, when subjects have made about 800 entries, their patterns of time investment become clear. Educational leaders conducting the study for the first time typically find their value-added time to be around 10 to 20 percent, much to their horror. But they had to know about it before they could do anything about it. One superintendent found that he spent 54 percent of his working time in district meetings or in communication with members of the three boards of education he serves. When he included time spent driving around his district and reading mail (e-mail, snail mail, and fax transmissions), the figure greto an unbelievable 82 percent. Since that initial study, he has been able to streamline his activities and increase his value-added time by 20 percent. He now repeats his study every year to note trends. A group of educational leaders found that the value-added time of their school governance council meetings was 12 percent—meaning that of the 30 or so total hours they met during the course of the year, they spent fewer than five on issues related to student learning. What can a school council do to improve student learning in five hours a year? The revelation drove three of the leaders to adopt a system of strict pre-screening of issues. Now, items do not get on the council's agenda unless they are directly related to the creation of learning. The faculty meeting—in which school staff get together as a community—is often the dead zone of value-added work. We have tracked secondary schools with zero percent value-added time at these meetings. One suburban high school, upon realizing its lack of focus on learning, developed new ways to distribute necessary work and drive out waste by implementing problem-solving and group-facilitation strategies. What's Your VQ? In our work, we have developed a formula for determining the value quotient (VQ) of an educational leader or institution. Assuming that the proportion of necessary work is less than 40 percent (a higher percentage is indicative of inefficient systems), take the value-added time and divide it by the waste time. We find 1.0 to be a threshold; those with a VQ above the threshold are likely to feel a great sense of worth and pride in their work. On the other hand, those with a VQ consistently below 1.0 tend to be numb to innovation, suspicious of new ideas, dispassionate toward improvement, and not willing to find challenge in their work. A cycle of chronically low VQ is characteristic of burnout. As W. Edwards Deming demonstrates, the cycle has systemic causes (Deming 1986). Through data collection and analysis, educational leaders can quantify the waste in their system and work to eliminate it while creating more value-added time, in effect, raising their VQ. When educational leaders increase their VQ they see a VQ increase among staff as well, resulting in fewer grievances, and less absenteeism and resistance to academic initiatives. We purport that VQ, over time, is an excellent measure of an educational institution's ability to grow and sustain itself. In industry and research, the more workers see value in what they do, the more their motivation and performance increases. That applies to education, as well. Of course, just knowing what your VQ is does not mean improvements will happen automatically. Mike Schmoker (1996) demonstrates that improved performance in schools requires focus on the goal of learning. Without such a focus on work that has value, educational leaders can easily fall for several commonly held illusions regarding time: ·The tendency to simply want more time. ·The belief that increasing organization increases value. ·The notion that being busy necessarily means being productive. Even if they had 28 hours a day to work, if they've got a low VQ, that just means more time to deal with waste. This point is perhaps made best by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Fox in their ground-breaking management novel, The Goal. The central character, upon analyzing his own use of time, states: Alex, I have come to the conclusion that productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive. Do you follow me? (Goldratt and Fox 1992). Although waste can never be eliminated, we should work to reduce it as much as possible, always with urgency to create value. In a profession in which learning is equivalent with value, what leadership function is more important? References Conway, W.E. (1992). The Quality Secret: The Right Way to Manage. Nashua, N.H.: Conway Quality, Inc. Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study. Goldratt, E.M., and J. Fox. (1992). The Goal. 2nd ed. Great Barrington, Mass.: North River Press. Schmoker, M. (1996). Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.