[This blog appeared in the StriveTogether Portal on August 30, 2017]
Guest blogger Deborah Good, Director of Data and Research for Mission: Graduate, shares her experience using Stakeholder Experience Mapping and Failure Mode Effect Analysis at the school level to better understand the key drivers causing students' chronic absence.
Chronic absenteeism is a significant and complicated challenge that faces many schools in the Albuquerque area, where Mission: Graduate is located. Efforts to reduce absenteeism are a focus of our partnership as we endeavor to improve students’ chances of success, and increase high school graduation rates.
We have partnered closely with the principal and attendance team at Bernalillo High School, a school with roughly 1,000 students that draws from rural areas north of Albuquerque. BHSis a unique school community as almost half of its students are Native American and another 40 percent are Hispanic. Diving into chronic absence data has helped the attendance team understand patterns. A student survey, focus group, interviews, and staff discussions helped the team identify key drivers to attendance and absenteeism. Through this process, the team saw that school climate and school attendance processes were areas they hoped to improve.
The BHS attendance team wanted to take a closer look at school climate and attendance processes, and where they might need some work. Do students and families feel welcome at BHS? Are families clear on the school’s attendance policies? How well are internal processes working to engage with families when students miss too much school? What is the experience of teachers and staff in relation to the school’s attendance processes?
The human experience of systems and processes matters. Kate Hanisan, a design thinking consultant who worked with Mission: Graduate and four other partnerships in StriveTogether’s K-12 Impact and Improvement Network (IIN), said the best designed products and systems take into account how people experience them. In one of her presentations, Kate quoted Dr. Prabhjot Singh of the Earth Institute: “We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”
With this in mind, Mission: Graduate supported BHS in an effort to explore the experiences of students, families, and staff to better pinpoint the opportunities for change in their climate and attendance systems. Here’s what we did:
- Conducted an on-site observation. A research assistant and I spent a day at BHS, observing the school and interviewing key staff. We completed the School Environment and Attendance Tool, developed by Attendance Works and met one-on-one with school administrators, attendance staff, and security officers.
- Created process maps with key staff. In each interview, we helped the staff member create a process map outlining what happens when a student is absent or tardy, and what happens when a student’s absences start to add up. We asked them for their perspectives on what is working well, and where the process is challenging or breaking down.
- Developed a “mash up” visual that described student, family, and staff experiences, as well as pointed out failures in the existing process. Based on notes from the day and the staff process maps, which I laid out like carpeting all over my office floor, I created a visual that integrated pieces of the Stakeholder Experience Map and Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) tools we learned about through the IIN. A Stakeholder Experience Map visualizes the experiences of people in a system, and then identifies pain points. The FMEA outlines a process and then identifies potential interventions and failures along the way.
- Shared with principal and attendance team. I presented the mash-up visual to the principal and the attendance team at BHS. They said it matched their understandings and experiences, and made a few additions. A smaller task force is now in the process of systematically addressing the challenges named in the visual.
While the final impact of this process is still to be determined, these initial steps have generated helpful conversations among school leadership and helped staff isolate the pain points that could be addressed by technical and adaptive solutions. We plan to interview staff again this school year to determine where there have been improvements, and where there is still need for change.