Saturday, February 5, 2011

Understanding Social Settings--Points of Intervention

Get ready for a major theoretical-meta-view from 30,000 feet-post. Bare with me, okay? (This may or may not be me using my blog to study for my qualifying exam.)

Your organization may have areas of improvement; in fact, I'm sure it does. To get to the root of it, think about the social processes, resources, and organization of resources... Vague, I know. Let's clarify:

  VivianTseng and Edward Seidman (A Systems Framework for Understanding Social Settings [2007]) address three points of intervention: (1) social processes, (2) resources, and (3) organization of resources.  Social processes are two-fold: (a) one-on-one relationships with teachers and peers, and (b) social networks.  These social processes aggregate to the norms, expectations, school climate, and the larger school narrative.  Resources can be financial, human, (e.g., social capital, knowledge and abilities), physical (spacing, structures, design), and temporal (e.g., length of school day and year).  Finally, the organization of resources, which is so often neglected, considers the way in which resources are arranged and allocated.  If the best teachers are allocated toward the highest performing students and schools, how does this affect the achievement of the system as a whole?  Similarly, if mental health resources are devoted only to ten percent of the population, how does this influence the system as a whole?  Beyond academic knowledge, what social processes and capital do students of lower academic tracks miss out on?  How does the physical organization of a classroom or cafeteria influence the social interactions throughout the school day? 

Again, think about your organization. We begin to see how every aspect of design influences these three aspects of social settings.

As education reformers, policy-makers, and administrators construct and reconstruct school settings, they are--intentionally or inadvertently--influencing the social processes, resources, and organization of resources.  For example, hiring more teachers (more teachers = more resources) is effective so long as it influences the organization of those resources (i.e., smaller ratios of students to teachers, more knowledge, skills, and ability) and the social processes (i.e., more warm, responsive, and productive interactions among teachers and students) change accordingly. Hiring teachers promotes achievement only as long as it influences social interactions among teachers and students.  I would ask how qualified (qualified is not synonymous with credentialed--a larger discussion for another post) the teachers are.  How will teachers organize their time with lower ratios?  How will students interactions actually change?

As a point of reflection, I encourage you to rethink the organization(s) that you are involved.  No matter where your role lies in the vertical arrangement, considerations of these three facets may help to promote your intended outcomes (in my case-- psychosocial and academic development). 

Whew! meta-stuff I know, but if everyone gets involved in the conceptualization of their environment, I think we're all better off.  Now you're thinking like a social psychologist.

1 comment:

Susan said...

As a principal, I tried to strategically think about how I used 5 basic resources: space, people, technology, time, and money to increase student achievement. This frame of reference is less eloquent than your description. However, what is missing in my frame of reference are the interactive processes between all of these. Processes and human interaction or relationships are like the tendons/liagments that hold the basic structures (bones) together. All of these components are critical factors to consider in change, growth, and continuous improvements in organizations. Your commentary is also an interesting way of looking at the roadblocks which keep organizations from accomplishing their vision, mission, and goals.