One of my colleagues (let’s call him Dave) is in the (un)enviable position of parenting a teenager. This seems to always be a challenge for both parents and teens alike. Recently, Dave was mentioning to me his frustration in managing his daughter’s curfew. On a Friday night in the not too distant past, she had arrived home nearly thirty minutes after the required time. According to Dave, the conversation after that went something like:
Dave, “Why weren’t you home on time?”
Daughter, “But Dad, I did everything I could to get home on time! An hour before I had to be home I started saying good-bye to everyone. Then I left on time and made sure I took the longer way home, because it was dark out and the short way doesn’t have street lights. You told me it was unsafe for a young person to drive on that road at night in case the car broke down, so I did what you said and stayed safe. And, then I remembered I should fill up the car with gas so I stopped to do that. I was working really hard to get everything done right, Dad.”
Dave, “But you’re still home late. You’re grounded next weekend”
Daughter, “But look at all the good stuff I did!” (tears and bedroom door slamming)
Dave knows of my work in Policy Governance. As the conversation progressed – both of us sharing parenting stories – he began to make a connection to what he’s heard me say about monitoring before. He said, “My daughter’s rationale sounds an awful lot like what you say some monitoring reports look like – wing flapping. ‘Here’s all the stuff I’m busy with!’”
Dave’s right. Many monitoring reports contain plenty of information about what the staff has been doing. School Districts report on how many Individual Learning Plans staff have created, or what new curriculum has been implemented. Health Care Institutions report on volume of patients seen, or new measures to reduce hospital acquired infections. The list goes on and on.
The problem with these measurements is that they don’t report on an actual achievement of an outcome (for Ends policies) or avoidance of an unacceptable condition (Executive Limitations policies). A new curriculum does not mean that students have actually learned. New measures to address hospital acquired infections does not tell anyone if the rate of infection has actually decreased. Saying ‘good-bye’ early enough does not mean anyone arrives home at a specified time.
When writing (or assessing) monitoring reports, make sure the interpretation contains an actual, measurable condition that will demonstrate compliance with the wording of the policy. If the policy was, “The daughter shall not arrive home later than 11:00pm”, a reasonable interpretation would be, “Compliance will be achieved when a parent makes visual contact of the daughter inside the house anytime up to and including 11:00pm” OR “Compliance will be achieved when a review of the home security video system shows that the time stamp when the daughter entered the house is 11:00pm or earlier”.
The above, of course, are silly examples. However, the principles can be consistently applied to real monitoring reports. Schools should have clear conditions of student outcomes when monitoring their Ends policies. If the Ends policy for the school is a literacy outcome, then the interpretation should include some measurement of student achievement on a particular reading, writing or comprehension test – not activities of the staff. If health care systems have Ends related to a reduction of infections in the community, then there should be a measure of infection rates in the community included in the interpretation – not plans for how the staff will tackle the problem.
Your board exists to ensure that certain outcomes are achieved for specified beneficiaries. You also are responsible to demonstrate to your ownership that unacceptable situations are avoided. Neither of these can be accomplished without monitoring an actual, measurable outcome. Keep away from counting wing-flaps!