On flow charts
They're neat. Education is messy.
I really love flowcharts. But I am so terrible at visualising inputs, outputs and interactions. Maybe that’s because at the same time as trying to visualise all of these interactive elements, the messiness I can see in front of me becomes impossible to tame. I think this is the ultimate problem with co-determinist models. We see these little flowcharts and diagrams everywhere and for a few seconds, they give me hope. But in the end, it’s a bit like Hattie’s meta-analysis, where everything that comes with a student from outside the classroom is cropped to sit outside the frame.
Co-determinist approaches like those of Hoy and Miskel (1978) have contributed to our understanding of organisations by providing a conceptual model, but it’s hard to substantiate whether interventions in such systems have any real impact on outcomes. You could even conjecture that an oversimplified model could have a negative impact on policy decisions, informed by a reductive view of a system as a series of inputs, outputs and feedback loops. Here’s a neat little one from AITSL that doesn’t quite capture the chaos of my work as a middle leader.
To demonstrate the deficiencies of Hoy and Miskel’s model1, I offer two contrasting metaphors: the first is the myth of education organisations as Rube Goldberg machines, where if we pull a series of levers, outputs/outcomes will be triggered in a linear way, with the implementation of policy leading neatly to its desired aim. The second metaphor is borrowed from Scott Eacott (who borrowed from Emirbayer and Heraclitus), with Eacott paraphrasing, “No man steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.”2
Take for example Sarah Mitchell’s plans for ‘disrupting’ the education system Here I have chosen to focus on the political system and power relations aspects of the environmental model offered by Hoy and Miskel (1978). I have tabulated the intended outputs, inputs and unintended ripples to illustrate how the illusion of linearity and levers can have unforeseen consequences for education organisations.
As Eacott states, “These outcomes are not static and attributed to a specific site or individual, they are relational and in constant flux.” The evident underestimation of this flux suggests that a co-determinist model is not practically or conceptually sufficient to influence outcomes.
Hoy, W. K., & Miskel, C. G. (1978). Educational administration: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Random House.