Re-viewing Reviews

– Priyanka Varma is the Research Lead at Adhyayan. She recently visited Salesian schools in the Trichy, Madurai, Virudunagar and Tanjore districts of Tamil Nadu as a first time intern assessor. She writes about her first brush with the AQS and self-review for the Adhyayan blog.

In the age of cacophonic terms such as inspection, audits, monitoring, assessments, and evaluation, typically used to guage efficiency, effectiveness and establish accountability– the term ‘self review’ sounds melodious to the ears. A self review allows individuals and organisation to understand themselves and their work as opposed to external evaluations which typically makes one feel they are on a trial with little space for reflection. Course correction if at all, then may seem directed externally and not developed internally thus making change unsustainable.

In order to make change sustainable, embedding the practice of self review in the daily functioning of schools has been the focus Adhyayan.Adhyayan aims to create ‘A good school for each child’ and has adopted the exercise of ‘self review’ as a way to start talking about what a ‘good’ school looks like in 6 key performing areas (KPA).

The main focus of the self-review is for schools to arrive at an understanding of what ‘good’ looks like by first identifying where they stand currently. The 5 day review process includes training the School Self Review and Evaluation (SSRE) team, who conduct the self review over 2 days, validating the self review conducted by the School External Review and Evaluation (SERE) team followed by conducting a dialogue on quality and finally planning for action. One of the main tasks of the school team is to collect ‘evidence’ (the corridor has one dustbin, 4 containers scattered and stains on the wall) as opposed to ‘suppositions’ (the corridor was terribly dirty) in order to arrive at 162 judgment statements in KPAs against which it ranks itself. Consistency and continuity of practice in terms of space and time are the two main criteria against which ranking is done.

While the SSRE team must be represented by members from the school management, teachers, non-teaching staff, students, alumni, parents, community members totalling 12-15 members, the SERE team comprises 2-3 members and is normally led by an educationist along with Adhyayan members.

The spirit consciously adopted by the process and especially by the SERE team in its eventual discussion on quality with the SSRE team is to help the school identify areas that it is doing well in and areas that the school can do better in. Areas that may need immediate attention are also highlighted. Starting from where we can and are able to, is always good place to begin thus the process consciously creates such an environment where the school is able to receive and accept external validation amicably with the objective of wanting to improve rather than being left with a feeling of being disapproved.

What works well with such an approach are the following factors.

All Stakeholders represented
The process is designed to ensure all stakeholders of a school are represented. As a result in many cases it is for the first time the diverse stakeholders are actually sitting together to have a shared discussion. The process of looking at something together and discovering issues brings light to the idea and strength of ‘real participation’. One of the requirements, that the process of arriving at judgement must be one that is a deliberative and a collective one – further enriches the interaction amongst the stakeholders.

Agency of the self is induced to come forward
Each person is required to reflect on , act upon and justify the evidence s/he collect. Hence the perceptions of each individual is brought to the fore with reason and allowed to be subjected to questions and debate. The resultant experience – every individual feels involved and views of each person are taken on board. It also reveals to each stakeholder what and how they are thinking automatically allowing for clarifications and readjustments if required.

What good looks like – to you and to me
The process of ‘evidence’ collection brings to fore the range of differences and similarities in the understanding of what ‘good’ looks like. This then creates an exhaustive list of practice that one ‘thinks’ one is doing and what one ‘can’ do to continuously improve the school – all drawn from members within one school.

Quality Dialogue and Action Planning
An essential part of the review process is the dialogue that is held between the SSRE and SERE team. The dialogue begins with a discussion on areas that both teams agree the school is doing well in, areas they could improve on and areas that need attention. Adopting this model of discussion creates an environment desiring change since the school is able to celebrate areas they are doing well in and also focus on what they can do better or needs attention. The discussion on what ‘good’ looks like in each KPA also forces a much needed attention on what ‘quality’ education does and must mean for all children.

Discussion on action planning day is once again a strategic day to ensure that the school does ‘something’ about its findings and not end the process with just scores or results. It helps to close the 5 day process by picking one statement/s in any one KPA that the school wishes to work on and helps them make a plan together thus ensuring will and commitment of the school in taking up a desired change.

Validated by Educationists
One of the reasons that schools may accept such a review is that because it is led and conducted by educationist themselves. It is strategic to the process and hence works because the school realises the feedback comes from people who ‘know’ and ‘understand’ schools and are their ‘own’.
And in the process the review ….

Creates resources – human and practices
The process has so far involved principals and administrators to assess schools thus invariably increasing their own capacity and understanding –leading to running their own schools better. A chance to review other schools also helps in widening exposure by visiting other schools in different parts of the country which a principal/teacher may not typically receive. The process also captures the various practices schools are adopting to get better and sharing these practices helps schools learn from each other easily.

Thus the idea of improving and strengthening schools through a self review allows schools a chance to re-look, re-imagine and re-think the aims, objectives of the school and the practices it adopts. A consistent and continuous practice of self review will eventually embed the practice and allow the school to become a ‘good’ school.