Thunks | simple questions that prompt a new view

Thunks… beguiling questions about everyday things that stop you in your tracks and suggest new ways to look at the world… earthrise

Earthrise: “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realise just what you have back there on Earth.” (Jim Lovell)

Thunks have the ability to change our view, our thinking, our behaviours, our habits and the way we lead and teach; just like seeing earth from space changes perspective and forces us to reflect. The following is a herd of thunks designed to add ideas and viewpoints that stop and force reflection…prompting improvement in our leadership and teaching…

All teaching and leadership blogs are here


Thunk #3 | What if… motivation needs to be ignited?

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“Beneath every big talent lies an ignition story – the famously potent moment when a young person falls helplessly in love with their future passion.” Dan Coyle

We all have them; the moments in our past that have shaped the present and will influence the future. It may be a teacher, a sportsperson, a hero, a film, a piece of work, art, riding a bike, running, a poem, essay, a realisation, a chance encounter. It can be like a lightning bolt that ignites something deep inside that motivates a lifetime of passion for something; it causes the heart to flutter and captures the imagination.

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

It is probably true that there are moments in our lives that create core memories that have disproportionate influence on who we are, what we do and who we become. The Disney Pixar film Inside Out is a great tale that revolves around those forming experiences that shape each of us.

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In the film each memory that Riley has is diligently stored in the short and long term memory, occasionally forgotten and removed (hoovered in the movie). There are however key core memories – it is these that shape Riley’s personality islands…those few things that define who  she is, what is important to her and what she is passionate about. The mind replays the key igniting memories that reinforce this passion and drives the intrinsic motivation for deep practice.

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“Talent begins with brief powerful encounters that spark motivation (ignition) by linking your identity to a high performing person or group (or self image). This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them (or do that, or achieve that)” Dan Coyle

The emerging thunk is that these moments are a lot like falling in love — we can’t force it, but we can increase the odds slightly by doing a few basic things. As teachers and leaders how do we create the conditions and the opportunities that are more likely to provoke these lightning bolt moments for children and our peers?

These moments are: (from Dan Coyle)

  1. Serendipitous. Happen by chance, and thus contain an inherent sense of noticing and discovery.
  2. They are joyful. Crazily, obsessively, privately joyful. As if a new, secret world is being opened.
  3. The discovery is followed directly by action. Not to just admire, but to act, do and practise.

One key lever in education is subject knowledge or rather subject passion from teachers who inspire. Teachers have huge influence – and with that opportunity comes great responsibility:

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The language we use is also extremely powerful. It is language that can create ignition points and perhaps more importantly can confirm and propagate these sparks into passions that drive the motivation to shape and enhance young peoples lives…

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“Tread carefully on the dreams of children; they are fragile”

So, create moments of joy, inspiring facts, details and experiences that ignite a passion, perhaps not seen or witnessed early but for ever changing the individual. After all…

“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

It just might be that supporting children to achieve the best work they have ever done ignites the sort of motivation that creates a personality island and the deep passion to engage in the practice that enriches a lifetime.

How do we create core memories, lightning bolts, ignition moments or at least the conditions for them to happen more often?

How do we use language to support children’s dreams and passions?

We may not create olympic medalists, chess grandmasters or a world-class composers, but the fun is in the journey, in having a passion, an interest and generating the kind of joy that sparks an interest – Teachers have no idea the influence they have on others.

Go create ignition opportunities and sparks that will enrich and empower young people to be passionately interested about stuff… and reinforce these passions with your language.

you have the privilege of sparking remarkable futures.

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August 2015


Thunk #2 | What if… Mission + Campaigning = Momentum?

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Michael Hayman and Nick Giles identify: Mission: “A driving desire to change things, a higher purpose that drives (improvement).” (best expressed in 5 words) Campaigning: “Turning the mission into a powerful reality, the activist mentality.” Momentum: “The measure of success moving and growing faster than the competition.” Are you a campaigner, an activist, a disruptor? …on a mission to secure the momentum you require to change the piece of the world that you want to improve? This is a refreshing view of change (particularly the link to activism) and what it takes to move to action and secure the level of change that will make the difference. But what does it take to be an activist/campaigner? Hayman and Giles identify:

  1. Drive (or refusal to give in): Do you have the drive to keep going when it is easier to stop or when people tell you it will not work? Remember that there is a default movement against change and an inherent fear of new/different. Set your mission with care – it needs to be simply expressed and the focus of your drive.
  2. Self improvement: Do you build in enough time to reflect and learn? Treat experience and opportunity as stepping stones forward as part of the ups and downs of a campaign.
  3. Communication: Without communication there is no campaign. Reinforce the mission and the purpose often – drive the mission daily…this is the flywheel. If it is not simple and compelling there will be no followers.
  4. Disruption: To achieve change you need to disrupt the current status quo: If your mission is to address dissatisfaction or a need for change and this is multiplied by a Vision (Mission) and First Steps (Campaign) and this is greater than the Resistance you will achieve Momentum. (based on Gleicher formula)change-graphicOvercoming the Resistance of status quo requires a disruptive drive to succeed in achieving non-reversable change.
  5. Persuasion: You will not achieve your mission alone – persuasion is the key to securing followers – it is followers that transforms a lone nut into a leader. You need a tipping point to secure change – persuade through the strength of purpose, mission and ambition – people follow those with a deep and unshakable belief about what they seek to change. Unwavering commitment to change.
  6. Connection: Connect and network widely to secure support, seek feedback and make things happen.
  7. Optimism: To overcome the status quo activists and campaigners need to be optimistic. The vast majority of people will give up before they realise the change they seek. Develop the ability to bounce.

“Go big or go home. Because it’s true. What do you have to lose?” (Eliza Dushku)

Maybe then: As educators and leaders we should assume the role of activist and trigger campaigns to achieve missions. This language underlines the inertia of the status quo and that if we really want to trigger change and make a big difference – irreversible change – then activism and campaigning is more appropriate representation of the energy and commitment required to overcome the inherent resistance and secure the improvement we seek.

Go forth and disrupt, commit to a mission that you love, use ridiculous amounts of drive, communicate for buy-in, create a movement through persuasion and connect with others to achieve a level of momentum that makes the change stick and irreversible.

Go big or go home

Further Reading: (“Mission” by Michael Hayman and Nick Giles is excellent and very applicable to educational leadership)

and this blog: Great Leaders create movements that stick | Amazing is what spreads 

August 2015


Thunk #1 | What if… leading change and improvement is all about the nudge? Nudge “Nudges are ways of influencing choice” (Hausman & Welch 2010) …a fundamental aspect in education. The behavioural insights team, led by David Halpern, commonly known as the “nudge unit” was set up by David Cameron to “help people make better choices for themselves… (by gentle prompting or nudging).” The art of leadership, teaching and sparking change is often in the ability of “nudging” new ways of acting, learning and thinking in others. Nudges are similar in nature to other powerful change agents: butterflies (Brighouse), bright spots (Heaths) or positive deviants (Sternin)… those outliers present in any population that, when amplified, have the power to leverage change and improvement. Thaler et al. highlight that there are influential strategies (nudges) that leaders can use as choice architects to influence choice and behaviour. So leaders are choice architects; determining the environment in which noticed and un-noticed features influence the decisions that staff and students make. Leaders have the ability to influence behaviours, create social epidemics and use “nudges” to influence individual and group behaviour. We are surrounded by nudges; good leaders see them, look for them and use them (often automatically), great leaders have an increased awareness of nudges and use them to spark change; clever, cheap and effective ways that change behaviours intrinsically – without forcing choices. Perhaps some obvious nudges are:

  • What is placed onto observation forms and is therefore rewarded.
  • Telling students how many marks they are away from the next grade and not their actual grade.
  • Shifting Satisfactory to Requires Improvement.
  • Removing levels.
  • Any new performance measure  – nudging by shifting the goal to where you want it and not wasting time supporting the how it can improve.
  • Any new category that classifies performance of Academies or MATs – nudges improvement toward set criteria.
  • Asking (not telling) others what they will contribute.
  • Warning bell moved earlier to nudge punctuality.
  • Accepting that change is the norm and not saying things like, “we just need stability”
  • Never talking negatively as a leader – nudging that positive ethos that is desired.
  • Being in every classroom everyday.
  • Providing enough seating at lunchtime.
  • Finding and promoting teaching bright spots.
  • Removing all graffiti immediately.
  • Using “we” and not “I” or “you” when collaborating.
  • Investing in signage/branding that describes the accepted behaviour.
  • Leading with Why and telling emotive stories of a compelling future.
  • Not talking about behaviour and only about learning.
  • Praising the good habits, only highlighting that which is desirable.

…you will have other nudges. As the choice architect of your organisation, team, classroom… 

  • do you recognise the nudges around you? …the nudges that influence you as well as the nudges that you use to influence others?
  • how do you use nudges? Do we think and plan long enough to seek softer ways (nudges) to achieve the changes we wish to see?
  • how can you nudge improvement?

(a Future Thunk: Do we understand and recognise the constraints that we have around us; constraints that control what we do, how we think and how we behave?)

 August 2015

Great Leaders create movements that stick | Amazing is what spreads

“The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.  Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate” (Gladwell, 2002).


It is probably true… that understanding how to “start a movement” is a key leadership quality at all levels within organisations. Why is it that somethings tip and others do not; why some approaches are adopted and become habitual and others not? It is also probably true that movements start when the conditions are right and you emotionally connect, tell stories, ignite action, reach the tipping point and propagate the conditions for contagion, so that ideas spread, are well adopted and become typical. 

Indeed it might be… that those organisations who create movements by seeking small but precisely targeted pushes turn the Flywheel (Collins), so that the organisation becomes and stays great. This is focused, deliberate change and improvement, based on an understanding of how to start and propagate movements and trigger change that sticks. Great organisations take bets where the odds suggest that change will be well adopted, aligned to core purpose, impactful and importantly … irreversible. Great organisations deliberately stay close to their flywheel and make a few well-placed bets on a few key irreversible strategies that matter and make the difference … it is around these that great leaders create, trigger, propagate and sustain movements.

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However…it is probably true that education is riddled with dead-end initiatives and unsustained changes – the consequence is either a wasteland of innovation or multiple initiatives; where a thousand flowers are allowed to bloom and wither often in rapid succession; all of which has a damaging impact on the credibility of the organisation’s leadership.


 Which beg the questions…  What are the conditions required for a movement to start? AND how, as leaders, can we start, propagate and embed a movement/change based on key leveraging strategies that stick and accelerate improvement?


The importance of the firsts followers, the lone nut and creating conditions for movements to thrive

What if… we understood how movements start and remind ourselves of this great clip and piece of observation from Derek Sivers … how to start a movementhqdefault

Derek Sivers: Blog: https://sivers.org/ff

“…remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you. … be public. … be easy to follow! …remember leadership is over-glorified. … It was the first follower that transforms a lone nut into a leader. … there is no movement without the first follower. …the best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. … so when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.” (Derek Sivers)

What if…, as leaders, we…

“…take responsibility for enabling others to achieve a shared purpose.” (Sinek)

…understanding that by enabling others to achieve and by creating conditions for connection and collaboration we provide the opportunity for movements to start.

“What happens when you build an organisation that is flat and open? what happens when you expect a lot and trust the people you work with?” (Seth Godin)

What if… we were aware that great leadership is about creating a climate where movements happen; that these need to be well focused, but trust that it is amazing that spreads.f163eaa3b112c76e1f850c9a4ba57189 What if… we recognised that change and movements do not take hold where there is disorganisation; where an organisation is…

  • Passive
  • Divided
  • Drifting
  • Reactive
  • and prone to inaction

What if… sustained change and the conditions for movements to grow occur where an organisation is…

  • Motivated
  • United
  • Purposeful
  • Values initiative
  • Moves to action?

“The role of the leader is to enable, facilitate, and cause peers to interact in a focused manner…but still only a minority of systems employ the power of collective capacity.” (Fullan, 2010)


Igniting and propagating a movement that sticks…

What if… we understood that the spread of a new idea, strategy or approach is determined by the adoption patterns of this small group of ‘socially infectious’ early adopters and connectors in an organisation that enable the reaching of a tipping point (Malcolm Gladwell). Who are the Connectors in your organisation? or the sneezers…

What if… we knew who our “sneezers” are? After all it is the sneezers who “unleash the idea virus” (Seth Godin) These are the people who are listened to, who are respected and admired. If you can build up a core of evangelizers among these sneezers, Godin says, your idea is much more likely to spread. What if… we understood how ideas become adopted by a population…perhaps then we would be more successful at starting and creating movements…

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What if… it is about 16%?

Maloney’s 16% Rule:  Once you have reached 16% adoption of any innovation, you must change your messaging and media strategy from one based on scarcity, to one based on social proof, in order to accelerate through the chasm to the tipping point.

How many organisations fail to switch approach for new strategies and simply decide to re-invent or scrap it? Do we invest enough time in ‘social proof’ a demonstration of the effectiveness of the new strategy – measuring and communicating the impact? What if we understood that 16% is a significant tipping point; that point where the early adopters become interested – we then have a movement (if we seek and communicate ‘social proof’)

BUT…

What if… as senior leaders within organisations the actual tipping point is far beyond 16% – perhaps >80% after which the movement is embedded, change is sustained and habits become irreversible.

AND…

What if… we re-set our movements to ensure that there is on-going improvement that is fit for the time and focused on maximum effectiveness. An evolving, well positioned and aligned movement may require re-birth to maintain momentum of improvement and avoid plateauing:

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Diagram credit: Innovation-Management.org


Create the time, space and opportunity to connect and collaborate; creating the conditions for movement to trigger, propagate and become habitual.

What if … we understood the power of connection; actually the power of purposeful connection and collaboration. Remembering that connection means nothing without a commitment to move to action. Slide1 What if… we understood that an organisation cannot remain agile and innovative with a purely hierarchical structure (right side of diagram). That great organisations maintain a connected structure that supports innovation, grows its individuals and ensures that there is collective ownership and opportunity to drive the organisation forward (left side of diagram) (John Kotter). It is within this structure that your, connectors, sneezers, early adopters have the opportunity to follow and create a movement…remembering that it is the first followers that transform a lone nut into a leader and a fad into a movement.

What if… this also recognised that decision making is better done nearer to the action; that this is what empowers individuals to commit and convert into habit those things that make the greatest difference. (David Marquet) Slide1 What if… we understood that through connection and collaboration we grow resources and opportunity; we gain insight, ideas and innovation. This challenges that traditional assumption that change just costs time and money.


Getting out of the cave and inviting peers into our cave provides perspective and enables more deliberate focused innovation; we increase our odds of instigating the right movements around the things that matter…

What if… we get out of our cave and connect so that we create opportunity and increase our view of what is going to have the most impact; increasing our odds of success. What if this also involves inviting others into our cave to provide peer review.Deer_Cave_Mulu_National_Park_Borneo_Malaysia

Image Credit: wallpaperweb


Tell stories that connect emotionally and tell of a bright future, trigger movements and compel people to action?

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What if… we shared stories that motivate: Stories that are about SELF, are about NOW, are about US and are about the FUTURE. People respond to stories; how often do leaders use stories to  make an emotional connection? We are pre-disposed to responding to stories; we understand our world through story and strong leaders understand this; and will passionately link stories to the WHY and the moral purpose.

“The Story is everything.” (Spacey)

What makes a good story?… Kevin Spacey highlights the need for… CONFLICT, AUTHENTICITY and AUDIENCE. kevin-spacy-cmi Stories create emotional connection:

“People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking, than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.” (Kotter)

John West-Burnham highlights the importance of describing a preferred future.

“Successful and credible leaders are able to tell compelling and credible stories about the future – they are leaders to the extent that people accept and value the future they describe.” (John West-Burnham, 2012)

Stories bind movements together they give reasons to start movements, they tell of a worthwhile future and they connect emotionally; it is the story that moves people to action.

Inspired leaders, organisations and teams find their deepest purpose – their ‘why?’ – and attract followers through shared values, vision and belief.” “this has the ability to transform the fortunes of a group or enterprise – activating individuals, providing a cultural glue, guiding behaviours and creating an overall sense of purpose and personal connection.” (James Kerr, Legacy, 2013)


Movements are more likely to take hold and become habitual if we KISS and avoid complexity – Complexity unravels good ideas, diminishes adopters and stops ideas sticking.

What if… we understood that we needed to  “Keep it simple, stupid?” The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Complexity is the enemy to creating a movement or implementing change. Where strategies mis-fire, or change is not adopted, or where there is limited consistency and low habit development, complexity is likely to be the cause. What of we… also recognised that:

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 What if.. we also understood that when a thousand flowers bloom we are not deliberate or focused enough on propagating and developing those ideas that really matter that really make a difference. Innovation and movements need to be few, deliberate, leveraging, focused, contagious, simple and compelling. 


Wide held and owned set of beliefs in what is possible maintain movements and make them stick. Great organisations have deep, clear and simple beliefs, that are widely held and applied. These underpin the success of any movement or change. Where change or a movement mis-aligns with the underlying belief it will mis-fire.

What if… there is a wide-held and embedded belief in the organisation that we can do things that are amazing? The type of belief that enables and levers success from deep within the organisation – a belief that lives and breaths –  it is felt, insidious and ubiquitous; it is in the air.

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” (Anatole France)

What if… we build this belief into great ambition, purpose and drive? Quotation-George-Akomas-Jr-decision-promise-belief-success-commitment-Meetville-Quotes-66977

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” (Henry Ford)


 Making movements stick. “Fire bullets then cannonballs” (Collins)

What if… we sought stickability of change and movements? Not only does change or movement need to be compelling, it also needs to stick around. Creating a movement or instigating change should consider if it will stick, a year, two years, three years… if not, don’t launch or invest energy and time, it is futile. The stickiness and sustainability of change is key; it needs to have legs! Education is a wasteland of terminated, washed-up initiatives. This is a real problem, because where organisation are initiative rich and these rarely take hold, the leadership reputation is eroded and damaged; further innovation becomes less likely to stick.

What if… we fired bullets first to test the water and then fully back those ideas that have the potential to be sticky, by firing cannonballs.

““the stickiness factor”, is a unique quality that compels a phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of people and influences their future behaviour.”

What if… we understood how to make ideas stick? and we considered the six principles of sticky ideas (“Made to Stick”, Chip and Dan Heath).

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Stories

Maybe then…

  • we would understand the dynamics of how to start, propagate and sustain a movement (change) around the few things that matter; the few things that make the difference.
  • we would better understand that it is more about the followers than the lone nut leader. That moving from 16% to 80% is the measure of success as well as understanding that re-invigorating change is required to avoid plateauing and sustain a trajectory of improvement.
  • we would create the connection and conditions for movements to start, ensuring the checks and balances are in place so that we back those movements that are deliberate, effective and well targeted… avoiding a thousand flowers blooming and then wilting.
  • We would use story to emotionally connect and move people to action.
  • We would take bets on a few ideas and strategies that have a high chance of success. where success is measured in sustainability, adoption, impact and whether the change will become irreversible (or evolvable in the same direction) Will this be in place – consistently applied in 3 years time?
  • We understood the key components for making change stick; the stickability factor.
  • We would KISS and avoid complexity; because complexity kills movements.
  • We would get out of the cave and invite peers into our cave more to get perspective and better understand the movements we need to create; having that wider view.
  • we would align belief about what is possible .. about what the future could be .. and that this aligned to a deeply held moral purpose .. that recognise that everything is possible .. so long as we are willing to do whatever it takes.

“Great leadership is the ability to place bets on the few things that matter; that have impact – great leaders use a wide-view to create and propagate movements that reach tipping points, achieve irreversible change and lasting impact. This enables a metronomic and efficient turning of the flywheel.”

May 2015

Disadvantaged children | think low attainment not low ability

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“What if… we view disadvantaged children as low attaining and not as low ability, instil a deep and widely held belief in what is possible and then set eye-watering targets that underline our ambition to overcome the inertia of context.”

It is probably true that… Primary and Secondary schools need to do more to close the gap in attainment between disadvantaged and advantaged children; perhaps seeing it more as low attainment and not low ability or delayed progress and not that there is a limit to a child’s potential. We know that gaps appear early (ages 0-4) and widen through a child’s education. All of which has a deep impact on the child’s life chance and success that ultimately leads to generational cycles of poverty and disadvantage.

Which begs the question… what does it take to close these gaps and disrupt the loop of unequal opportunity and outcomes?

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What if… education reinforces early advantage and accumulated advantage for advantaged students and inadvertently creates conditions where early attainment gaps widen?… do we disadvantage the disadvantaged?

Malcolm Gladwell identifies in Outliers that we often perpetuate early advantage. He exemplifies through the Canadian Ice Hockey League where those children selected at 4 and 5 years old, are generally the oldest and largest children; having their birthdays in Jan, Feb and March. These children enter the hockey Academies, experience great coaching, many hours of practise (largely deliberate in nature) and of course they thrive, out-strip their slightly younger peers and go on to be professionals. Not because they are more gifted or talented than those children born later in the year, but because they were a quarter to fifth older and larger than their peers when selected…what happened next just served to prove the selectors and scouts right.

“Autumn born students showed higher attainment and made more academic progress over KS3.” (DfE, 2012)

What if… as educators and teachers we are complicit in the widening of gaps and perpetuating the early advantage of students from advantaged backgrounds?

“Within the complex landscape of differential attainment, socio- economic disadvantage appears to be the most consistent predictor of attainment, particularly for children and young people from white ethnic groups.” (Ofsted)

What if… we recognise that low attaining disadvantaged children on entry to Primary and Secondary school are actually low attaining and not low ability. What if we are actually see “delayed progress” and not fixed ability or limit our belief in what disadvantaged children can achieve.

What if… there is a wide-held and embedded belief in the ability of all disadvantaged to achieve and attain – life enhancing qualifications and skills that will break the generational cycle of poverty? What if… we did not assume that this belief exists? The type of belief that enables and levers success for disadvantaged students needs to be to depth and has to live and breath in the organisation – it has to be felt and ubiquitous in all that happens.

What if… we build in greater ambition for disadvantaged students? At the start of secondary why do we not set low attaining disadvantaged children a full level of progress each year?

What if… we understand that this higher ambition and action seeks to close early gaps in literacy and numeracy for example – because these gaps disenfranchise children from their education and maintain the loop of poor outcomes, with each generation.

What if… we understood that disadvantaged students are prone to “self de-selection”. They are more likely to see an opportunity, chance or activity as not for them and de-select themselves. What if we had a policy of “meeting them there” – to ensure that disadvantaged children attend extra-curricular events and attend trips etc. … and to deliberately plan lift the cultural capital for each child.

What if… we understand that disadvantaged students are more likely to have an external locus of control and more likely to assume that their experiences and opportunities in life are determined by others and that they are not in control of their own destiny (internal locus of control). All of which links to the self-esteem and self-confidence that is more prevalent in advantaged households, where there is an assumed progression and a greater internal locus that expects individuals to take control of their future; making things happen.

What if… we understood that not all disadvantaged students are disadvantaged and that there are many advantaged students who are disadvantaged? Do we use our own understanding and soft intelligence to identify our actual disadvantaged cohort?

What if… we sense-checked our pupil premium spending to ensure that the strategies we are using are not in fact enabling advantaged students to flourish further,(obviously no bad thing) but that they targeted at enabling disadvantaged to close the gap and achieve. This can only be born out of a deep understanding of what being disadvantaged really means.

What if… we realise that pupils premium spending should be proportionate to the numbers of disadvantaged and that only by measuring impact can we truly understand what and how we close the attainment gaps?

What if… we gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be disadvantaged – not because we intend to mis-understand the complexity of socio-economic disadvantage by creating unhelpful generalisations, but so we can find a language, approaches, strategies and teaching that unlocks and reverses the disadvantaged inertia that slows/delays progress.

Key factors can include: worklessness, low parental education, lower ambition, less well informed choices, poor home study routines, poor diet, overcrowding, alcoholism, violence, chaotic homes, lower access to books, tables, further resources, reduced cultural capital, visits, newspapers, discussion, debate… (obviously these are generalisations – there are many disadvantaged backgrounds that support and provide conditions for children to thrive and achieve beyond that achieved in advantaged households.)

“Students’ academic attainment and progress are strongly influenced by the education level of their parents. Influence of Fathers’ qualification levels only half as strong as mothers. Positive parenting experiences, especially the early years Home Learning Environment (HLE) helps to promote better longer term outcomes.” (DfE, 2012)

By understanding context we can inform the quality of provision that enables all children to exploit their one chance.

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What if… we understood that gaps in attainment happen early ages 0-4 and that these gaps typically widen through Primary and Secondary education. “Success is what sociologist would call accumulative advantage.” (Gladwell, 2008)

“Overall, attainment gaps are present from the early stages of education and progressively worsen during transition and through each phase.” (Ofsted)

What if… we understood that these gaps widen because of the Matthew Effect: “it is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.” (Gladwell, 2008)

Differences in academic attainment and social-behavioural development related to background emerged early (at age 3) and remained fairly stable to age 14. (DfE, 2012)

What if…  the quality of Nursery education is a key determining factor. It is not uncommon for gaps to be significant at Reception and that this often directly relates to whether the child has attended Nursery and then whether this is of good quality.

What if… we understood that the summer holiday break (in this instance in the US) has a greater impact on disadvantaged children than advantaged children exemplify the home-advantage of advantaged children…

“The wealthiest kids come back in September and their reading scores have jumped more than 15 points. The poorest kids come back from their holidays and their reading scores have dropped almost four points. Poor kids may out-learn rich kids during the school year. But during the summer, they fall far behind.” … “Virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way that privileged kids learn while they are not in school.” (Gladwell, Outliers, 2008)

What if… we took seriously our collective system leadership responsibility for supporting families and by extension all children to make strong progress between 0 and 4. Fully exploiting the potential offered by all-through Academies. This connects the dots and works to remove/improve damaging transitions.

What if… all leaders and teachers are leaders of learning? And that this is never divorced from an on-going and deep dialogue about how we best-teach and support all children to close gaps. Indeed we have a moral obligation as leaders to close these gaps, because only then do we enhance life chances, break the generational cycle of poverty and leave a legacy that we can be proud of.

“Disrupt the loop of unequal outcomes.” (Ofsted)

What if… targets for disadvantaged students were set to close gaps (not to maintain them)? Too often we set targets that simply maintain the gap (for example 4 levels progress for all). And in this moment we limit what is possible and set our ambition for disadvantaged students – we are confirming previous disadvantage – we are seeing disadvantaged students attainment as their potential and limiting our ambition for them. Disadvantaged students need the opposite of this … to be offered a deep belief in them and their ability and that with the appropriate provision delayed progress can be reversed – not least because we should see low attainment not ability and that progress is delayed not a reflection on the child’s ability or potential.

What if… we understand that quality first teaching is what matters for exploiting potential and enabling accelerated progress of disadvantaged students? Indeed quality teaching has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged children (and in contrast to summer holiday progress, above)…

Slide17

…underlining that disadvantaged students make greater progress than advantaged students when they receive quality teaching – perhaps highlighting the appetite of disadvantaged children to learn, again reflecting delayed progress not innate ability.

“The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, such pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers … For poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher can result in a deficit of a whole year’s learning.” (Ofsted)

What if… we realised that where Academies only go as far as identifying disadvantaged students on seating plans (or similar) that this could be limiting potential of disadvantaged students; as teachers make unhelpful assumptions about the child’s potential and become content that this child is keeping pace (or slightly behind the progress of advantaged children!)? Quite the opposite is required; disadvantaged children need to outstrip the progress of advantaged children – targets need to reflect greater gains in progress.

What if… we enabled a continuous discussion and strategy-sharing between teachers and pastoral staff to identify strategies and approaches that specifically support disadvantaged children – and that these are made explicit and employed to support students to make accelerated progress.

What if… we recognised that it is the quality of feedback (built-in, not after the event – that is particularly important for disadvantaged children) and what is done with it as well as the quality of differentiation that has the strongest opportunity to accelerate the progress of disadvantaged students.

“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

What if… we considered the language that we use in lessons and across the Academy when talking about children with low attainment or delayed progress? How often do we talk about ability as if it is fixed or imply that there are limits and ceilings for some children. How far do we employ a growth mindset approach and a language of effort and opportunity?

What if… we remember that effort and opportunity are the greatest determinant on success in almost every area of life? Dweck, Coyle and Gladwell provide compelling evidence that learning and progress is achieved through effort, deliberate practice and the development of myelin within the brain. Disadvantaged students are not wired differently or born less clever…all of which demonstrates that (almost) all gaps can be closed and rates of progress increased. (Accepting that extreme neglect in early childhood can create physical changes in the brain).

Perhaps all of this will help to disrupt the loop of unequal opportunity that hold disadvantaged children back; reversing the cycle of poverty.

“Children experiencing poverty face multiple disadvantages that often continue throughout their lives and all too often continue on to the next generation.” (Child Poverty Strategy 2014-17)


Maybe then…

  • There would be a deep and wide-held belief in the possibility of closing all gaps. That there is eye-watering ambition for all students.
  • We would not equate low attainment as low ability. Such that our targets should reflect an acknowledgement that this is delayed progress.
  • We would develop  a greater understanding of what it means to be disadvantaged.
  • We understand that the educational system actually reinforces and perpetuates gaps, because cultural capital and early advantage enables advantaged students flourish.
  • We use system leadership and connections to equalise access to early advantage when children are 0-4 and through Primary into Secondary.
  • We no longer set targets for disadvantaged that simply maintain or worse open gaps wider for disadvantaged students.
  • We would realise that we often put into place strategies and approaches (perhaps through pupil premium funding) that simply enable advantaged students to continue their “accumulated advantage.”
  • We continue to invest in quality first teaching (particularly feedback and differentiation) so that disadvantaged children are freed and supported to make progress.
  • We remind and promote that ability is not fixed and that through effort and deliberate practise everything is possible.

“Education and organisations should be judged by how well it supports its most vulnerable and disadvantaged to achieve and feel success.”

May 2015

Failure is not an option… attitude matters…

“Leaders (and teachers) who know what they are doing will aim for the heart. They connect to the deepest values of their people and inspire them to greatness. They make the business case come alive with human experience; they engage the senses, create messages that are simple and imaginative, and call people to aspire.” John Kotter

It is probably true that attitude matters…possibly the most. It is also probably true that this determines our belief in what is possible, determines the questions we ask and the quests that we embark upon. Attitude is everywhere; it determines our limits and those that we expect of others…it is the underlying attitudes that determine the outcomes and progress of students in classrooms and schools/academies.  It is also probably true that urgency, purpose, emotional connection and ownership are key for developing, fostering and motivating positive and focused attitudes that are aligned to the ambitions of the individual, class or organisation.


…Urgency is often the key to aligning and propagating attitudes – attitudes that can transform and create unusually positive outcomes. The compelling urgency for the safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts is a neat example of how attitude sets the challenge unwaveringly and achieves what appeared to be a miraculous return to Earth… taken from the script of Apollo 13 (edited)…(click picture for the video clip)… maxresdefault

GENE KRANTZ (FLIGHT DIRECTOR) – So you’re telling me you can only give our guys 45 hours. It brings them to about there… Gentlemen, that’s not an option.

(the use of the visual on the blackboard here is key – people need to see and feel a problem  – only then are they likely to be moved to action.) 

MOCR ENGINEER – Gene, Gene. We gotta talk about power here… 

CONTROL – Without it they don’t talk to us, they don’t correct their trajectory, they don’t turn the heatshield around… we gotta turn everything off. Now. They’re not gonna make it to re-entry…With everything on the LM draws 60 amps. At that rate in sixteen hours the batteries are dead, not 45. And so is the crew. We gotta get them down to 12 amps. 

MOCR ENGINEER – Whoa. 12 amps! – How many? – You can’t run a vacuum cleaner on 12 amps, John. 

GENE KRANTZ (FLIGHT DIRECTOR) – Well, we’re gonna have to figure it out. I want people in our simulators working re-entry scenarios. I want you guys to find every engineer who designed, every switch, every circuit, every transistor and every light bulb that’s up there. Then I want you to talk to the guy in the assembly line who had actually built the thing. Find out how to squeeze every amp out of both of these goddamn machines. I want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare. We never lost an American in space. We’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch!. Failure is not an option!

(the attitude here compels action, it expects much and takes a “whatever it takes” approached to a well defined and clear, compellingly urgent problem. How far does this type of attitude permeate our classrooms and academies?)

…and from Star Wars… (the importance of certainty and purpose of moving to action –  committing to a key internal decision to do something..)

Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try. Yoda: No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try. 

Yoda-do

Luke: I don’t, I don’t believe it.  Yoda: That is why you fail.


All of which begs to question how do we recognise, use and provoke great attitudes, that make everything possible and does whatever it takes in our academies and classrooms?


What if we understood how our attitude and that of others around us interact to achieve our ambitions or hold us back? Consider your colleagues and students … are they drains (takers of energy) or radiators (givers of energy)? Street_Drain_w_Double_Yellas_by_BewildaBeast8radiator What if we also considered Adam Grant’s great book, “Give and Take,” which provides greater insight and highlights that there are three types of people: Givers, Matchers and Takers. Takers only seek to gain from others, these add little or hold organisations back. Matchers, match what they give with what they have received. However, he argues that the Givers are the most and least successful…

“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” ― (Adam Grant)

Question: how do we create the conditions in our organisations that reward and support Givers?

What if we realised that establishing the WHY (Sinek), the PURPOSE (Pink) and aiming for the heart (Kotter) is key to motivating and harnessing buy-in. This has a direct impact on attitude and on mobilising the inner drive to improve and succeed. It is interesting how these ideas line-up. Simon Sinek argues that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it … Dan Pink identifies three things that are important for people to feel/achieve success – a motivating purpose and the autonomy to seek mastery. Allied to John Kotter’s thoughts around aiming for the heart, we have the recipe to secure and maintain individuals attitudes and for keeping these aligned to the organisational, class or individual ambitions.

Slide1

What if we realised that as teachers and leaders in addition to securing the why, we must also give autonomy and ownership of the how? This is important because to maintain a “whatever it takes attitude” there needs to be ownership and a freedom to determine the what and the search for mastery. This must also involve pushing the decision making closer to the action (David Marquet). What if we understood the motivating power there is in ensuring the attitudes and approaches value the near-win and the journey toward mastery? How do we reward the near win with our colleagues and students? As Sarah Lewis discusses, those seeking mastery have an attitude that drives them to strive and feel success in the near wins…

Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It’s in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be. …. We see it … in the life of the indomitable Arctic explorer Ben Saunders, who tells me that his triumphs are not merely the result of a grand achievement, but of the propulsion of a lineage of near wins.

We thrive when we stay at our own leading edge. It’s a wisdom understood by Duke Ellington, who said that his favorite song out of his repertoire was always the next one, always the one he had yet to compose. Part of the reason that the near win is inbuilt to mastery is because the greater our proficiency, the more clearly we might see that we don’t know all that we thought we did. It’s called the Dunning–Kruger effect… “You learn how little you know.” (Sarah Lewis)

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Click picture to see Sarah Lewis: Embrace the near win

What if we realised that by keeping the moral purpose at the centre, investing time on the why, reaffirming the purpose and by appealing to the emotional drivers we maintain high urgency in the system – be it at individual or organisational level. It is this owned inner drive, the intrinsic motivation that will compel toward action and keep attitudes aligned with the ambition. Chip and Dan Heath highlight the key is to motivate the elephant as well as the rider…

  • Find the feeling (WHY/Purpose) – make people feel something
  • Shrink the change (How) – shrink change so that it does not spook the elephant
  • Grow your people – instil a growth mindset – attitude

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(taken from Switch, Chip and Dan Heath)

What if attitude is about feelings and that stories are uniquely placed to motivate and develop attitudes that align with the ambition? As John Kotter highlights…(how often do we use stories … particularly those that tell of a preferred future?)

“Neurologists say that our brains are programmed much more for stories than for abstract ideas. Tales with a little drama are remembered far longer than any slide crammed with analytics.” (John Kotter)

What if we also understood that positive attitudes stem from a growth mindset? (Carol Dweck)

growth-mindset

What if we also understood that we need to develop attitudes in line with being deliberate? (Malcolm Gladwell) Leaders, teachers and students whose attitude drive them to…

1. …be motivated and exert effort to improve their performance.

2. …engage in tasks that take into account their pre-existing knowledge.

3. …seek and receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance.

4. …repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks towards near wins…mastery.

“Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

What if attitude is dependent on ignition? and we should seek to increase students and colleagues opportunities to be ignited by an experience, thought, fact, opportunity etc…

“Beneath every big talent lies an ignition story – the famously potent moment when a young person falls helplessly in love with their future passion.” (Dan Coyle)

For Albert Einstein, that moment happened when his father brought him a compass.

“Einstein later recalled being so excited as he examined its mysterious powers that he trembled and grew cold…. [Einstein wrote] “I can still remember – or at least I believe I can remember—that this experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.”

What if we recruited much more on attitude, understanding that skills and knowledge gaps are easier to close?  Particularly because getting the right people on the bus is the key to great organisations (Jim Collins).

What if we realise that asking challenging questions and setting expectations high can  instil desired attitudes? If we ask ridiculous questions we prompt different possibilities and perspectives. (Questions must be based on the brutal truth of the present reality.)

  • “If your life depended on it what would you do?”
  • “What would we do if the target was 100%?”
  • “What do we need to do now, such that everything else is either easier or no longer required?” (Keller)

It is often the second question that really makes the difference – having attitudes and approaches that dig deep to understand problems and to find solutions that aren’t immediately apparent. What if we also realised that this is about getting the right people in the room – those best placed to ask the right question and not so many to complicate the answer. Steve Jobs only met with 3-4 people – any additions were removed.


Maybe then we would pay much more attention to the attitude of leaders, teachers, staff and students …and seek to create the conditions that foster positive and aligned attitudes.

Maybe then we would also look to other examples like the Apollo 13 mission and learn that attitude rarely exists without purpose and urgency – it does not happen in a vacuum. We might work harder to engage the emotions to drive attitudes and approaches.

Maybe then we would work harder to create the conditions necessary to ensure healthy and positive attitudes.

Maybe then we would work harder to generate or communicate urgency and that this needs to be born out of a clear moral purpose and that this is best aimed at the heart.

Maybe then we would find more ways to reward attitudes that drive us toward success.

Maybe then we would be more attuned to understanding the importance of and the need to create conditions for ignition … to ignite a passion in a colleague or our students … that will propagate attitudes than align with our ambition.

Maybe then we would recognise the importance of attitude and stance when recruiting – getting the right people on the bus.

Maybe then we would understand that autonomy and ownership of the how and what are key to generating the motivation required to propagate great attitudes

Maybe then we would create organisations and classrooms where attitude is understood, fostered and grown – because attitude matters and failure is not an option.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  (Samuel Beckett)


April 2015

Seeing the wood for the trees: beware organisational blindness

blind-spot

Can’t see the wood for the trees: the whole situation is not clear, because you’re looking too closely at small details, or you’re too closely involved.

trees

It is probably true that the longer we lead, teach or support within an organisation the blinder, more conditioned we become to accepting how things are. Our organisational blindness restricts our ability to be shocked or provoked into action; our ability to see the ‘brutal truths’ (Collins) of our situation decreases with time (and surprisingly quickly). We are less able to see the reality of our present situation and less able to seek the required improvement.

“Organisational blindness inhibits individuals and teams from seeing the brutal truth of their reality; leading to missed opportunities, an inability to not see what really matters or be agile enough to strategically move to a brighter future.”


Which begs the question, how do we correct our organisational blindness; overcome our biases and conceptions that grow through time and be alive to the brutal truths so that we can focus on the things that matter; those things that will address the reality and not our perception of the reality? So how do we provoke fresh thinking and fresh perspectives?

g2g-confront-facts

“You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.” (Collins)


What if we fully understood that we learn to live with and accept things over time. That over time we become organisationally blind to our reality. The story goes that if you place a frog in water and gradually boil the water, the frog sits happily until death, but throw a frog into boiling water and it will jump straight out…the difference between becoming conditioned and normalised to our organisation and seeing it through fresh eyes and from a new, wider perspective.

frog-in-pan

What if we understood that when we move organisations we have our sharpest understanding and insight during the first 6 weeks and after that we gradually become part of the system (Dr Patrick Dixon). What if we worked harder to find ways of re-creating this opportunity; to more often see through fresh eyes?

What if we realised that our institutional blindness is our greatest risk? As the future becomes increasingly uncertain and the educational landscape shifts often, an organisation that is sleepy and fog ridden with organisational blindness is very vulnerable to “wildcard” events as well as to normal rates of change. There are a number of island Academies who have required reinvention; a significant contributing factor being organisational blindness and a poor perspective on what matters now.

fog1

What if we recognise that decisions, strategies and approaches are often only appropriate and right for a point in time? Great organisations are able to be agile and evolve practices so that they stay on the leading edge. Our vulnerability increases where organisational blindness is deep and widely shared such that we are unable to see what is right for now.

What if we realised a key strength of being part of a collaborative network or Multi Academy Trust (MAT) is the ability to connect, compare, contrast and have the wider view that improves our organisational blindness, enabling a greater identification of the brutal truths. What if we accelerated our connectivity, because together Academies in firm and soft collaborations can raise standards and overcome the blindness and vulnerability caused through isolation?

What if the most dangerous institutional blindness is when it occurs at the top. If the Head/Principal is the most significant leader then blindness at this level can cripple an organisation. More than ever we need all leaders to be system leaders…

“All leaders, South West leaders.” (Sir David Carter, RSC)

What if the fragmented nature and isolation of some academies increases organisational blindness? Where island organisations exist and/or there is significant blindness there is significant danger that the organisation becomes less attuned to reality and less successful.

“We still have an education system that is fragmented and unstandardised (adapted from Lord Nash); one where there are too many island schools/academies whose viewpoint is unavoidably organisationally blind.”

What if we recognised that much of what we see and think is hugely vulnerable to selective perception: seeing only the things that fit with our own preconceptions or prior beliefs? Whilst we rely on internal scrutiny these perceptions will limit our notion of performance and this worsens over time.

“Selective perception is the tendency to not notice and more quickly forget stimuli that causes emotional discomfort and contradicts our prior beliefs.”

What if we accept that the people within organisations are least likely to be able to evaluate its quality? What if we fully exploited, embraced and sought external scrutiny, because as leaders we understand that this perspective will be truer, more balanced and less open to bias than our own?

What if we grew more system leaders to horizon scan and have a wide perspective that can correct blindness… to find coherence, to light the way, to reduce blindness so that the system as a whole saw more of the light; lifting our young people and communities up?

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What if system leaders connected the dots and collaborated; being strategically altruistic. Recognising that where we strategically give and collaborate we reduce our institutional blindness and contribute to correcting institutional blindness in others. By connecting the dots and by being a deliberately altruistic system leaders we reduce blindness in ourselves and others.

dots-and-circles-purple-24173866-2560-1600

What if we spent more time out of our organisation? What if we actively supported leaders and teachers to spend time in other Academies? So that we eased and removed organisational blindness, provided perspective and shifted the frame of reference such that we were better able to see the brutal truths and plot improvement. Fresh eyes provide a new perspective; in the land of the blind the one-eyed person is king…

Basic RGB

“Complacency in leadership limits our ability to notice the unacceptable and maintain high expectations. Leaders need to welcome and proactively seek challenge and peer review.”
(adapted from Steve Munby)
What if we recognise inhibiting hubris. Jim Collins in “How the Mighty Fall” identifies the dangers of hubris, the excessive pride that brings down a hero – following success, leaders often become arrogant about their success and almost view it as an entitlement.  As a result, they become complacent and lose sight of (become blind to) what caused/s their success.  Organisations that were perceived to be successful can be vulnerable to disruptive changes (occasionally dramatically)…

There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.” -Phillip Franklin, White Star Line Vice-President

Der Untergang der Titanic

What if by recognising the problems caused by organisational blindness that we are better able to avoid catastrophes and to find an appropriately risk-aware approach based on the true realities of our performance and provision?

What if we protected ourselves from this false sense of security, the false notion of being able to control situations or understand present performance. It is this that compromises our ability to cope and evolve to meet the demands of the present and the future. Perhaps this is about remaining students of our work and seeking external opinion and thoughts; taking every opportunity to vacuum the brains of others for insight and perspective…

“Like inquisitive scientists, the best leaders remain students of their work, relentlessly asking questions–why, why, why?–and have an incurable compulsion to vacuum the brains of people they meet.” Jim Collins.
What if we sought peer review and scrutiny as the best way to avoid both complacency and organisational blindness? Even if this makes us feel uncomfortable and exposed to the truth… perhaps a humbling truth, but with this comes new understanding, insight and perspective to enable improvement.
 “What makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful.” (Brene Brown)
“What do we see when leaders are at their best. – a balance between confidence and humility.” (Steve Munby)
What if Ofsted valued system leadership more? Valued the system contributions made to other organisations and the wider community? After all Ofsted wields significant power to nudge the education system in the direction it chooses.
What if we also recognised that unless leaders, teachers and staff go beyond the organisation there is significant danger of Cabin Fever; becoming conditioned (negatively) to everyday experience, with little ability to measure quality or what is normal? It is healthy and desirable to offer and ensure that all staff gain wide perspectives – as organisational blindness can be damaging and provide a warped sense of performance or quality…(often selectively perceiving the organisation based on low amounts of evidence or restricted perspectives).
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Maybe then we would recognise the prevalence and harm of organisational blindness…understanding that our ability to see with fresh eyes lasts around six weeks, after which, without corrective approaches, we become increasingly blind to the brutal truths of our reality, less able to identify improvement and actions that are right for now.

Maybe then we would have far less complacency within the system; the sort of complacency born out of hubris and organisational blindness.

Maybe then we would see the brutal truths in ourselves and our organisations. Enabling our organisation to avoid dangers and to be agile enough to cope and thrive despite the present pace of change.

Maybe then we would see the huge opportunity that presently exists for shifting our fragmented island system of Academies into local hubs and multi Academy Trusts to reduce blindness, create coherence and shift the quality of education for whole communities.

Maybe then we would connect and collaborate not just to see again, but so that we could treat blindness in others and be system leaders.

Maybe then we would welcome scrutiny and peer review as a way to reduce blindness, bring better perspective and focus and to therefore accelerate improvement.

Maybe then we would seek opportunities for staff and ourselves to “get out more often” to improve our blindness and that of others? … as well as reduce cabin fever and the dangers of selective perception.

Maybe then we would connect more and be strategically altruistic to improve the wider system; playing our part in removing organisational blindness. After all great organisations don’t settle and achieve greatness through conscious choice…

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.” (Collins)  (A choice that needs to be seen through the fog of organisational blindness)

Slide39


April 2015

To grade or not to grade… is probably not the question?

obs in time

“Whether we grade observations or not, we need to ensure teaching is increasingly progress-orientated and outcome-orientated – concentrating the strategies that provoke progress and secure outcomes for students.”

It is probably true that we should not determine the quality of teaching based on short lesson observations, but use a triangulation of evidence that identifies the typical quality of teaching; evaluating the effectiveness of teaching for securing progress-over-time and its success in securing strong outcomes for students. (outcomes in a broad sense as well as”attainment”) 

It is also true that we need to ensure and support teachers to find their way to great progress/outcome-orientated teaching that has a deep impact on students life chances. It is this autonomy that secures the motivation and ownership to reflect and stretch toward mastery.


We should, however, explore the assumption that grading teaching denies formative development; understanding that it perhaps provides the framework for improvement. Without a descriptive continuum of effective practices there is a danger of mediocrity. Particularly as…

“Not all approaches aimed at securing progress over time are equally effective or equally well delivered”

So this begs the question how do we develop a deep understanding of what secures progress, how do we measure the quality of teaching and how do we ensure that feedback to teachers is precise, owned and liberating, such that it sparks deliberate improvement, debate and improvement? It is difficult to see how we do this without a  descriptive continuum of what matters. We can rename the continuum, but when we consider progress-over-time and outcome-orientated teaching not everything is equal…or equally well delivered. Slide1


What if we fully understood how we move from this…Slide8To this… (where teaching is progress and outcome-orientated?… and that it is this that is rewarded and developed?)

Slide16

What if we understood that measuring quality of teaching through observation alone only measures a teacher’s ability to perform a lesson by tumbling and jumping between different teaching and learning strategies to tick enough of the criteria to get them over the Good line? What if we understand the limited sample that a lesson observation provides?…(shown as the vertical line below)

jumpy progress What if we firmly framed any episode of learning or scrutiny in the context of student progress, in the past and into to the future as the measure of the typicality of teaching?… such that it becomes a measure of how:

  1. Progress-orientated the teaching has been, such that students have made good progress over time.
  2. Outcome-orientated the teaching is, such that students achieve in the future.

What if we viewed the window of observation as an opportunity to measure progress over time and future progress?… obs in time


What if we examine, reward and measure the conditions, teaching habits and approaches in lessons that give us evidence that students are making progress over time and are aimed at achieving worthwhile outcomes?

What if this involved us recognising and identifying poor proxies for learning and being smarter at evaluating what we see? (from Robert Coe)… Slide21

“every child a powerful learner” (Steve Mundy, 2015)

So given that not all approaches/strategies are equally able to leverage progress over time and that some proxies are compelling, even blinding, what should be valued to ensure that every child is a powerful learner? What if progress-orientated and outcome-orientated teaching was revealed in…

  • The quality of teacher subject knowledge, concept (and misconception) understanding as well as pedagogy understanding.
  • and that this was revealed in the quality of direct instruction and the ability to impart knowledge and to understand how students learn and make progress in their subject
  • and that this was expertly revealed in the quality of questioning that accelerates learning and unlocks understanding (perhaps the most efficacious part of the learning for progress?)
  • and that this has had the impact of increasing the quality of students answers and oracy that is beyond age-related expectation and directly improving writing.
  • and that through embedded formative assessment (within not after) – teaching plans, differentiates and intervenes to enable all abilities to make progress.
  • and that there is real clarity on the end point – students are well set to perform unusually well in assessment or exams as a result of outcome-orientated teaching.
  • and that teaching shows ambition, warmth and drive to secure progress for all; setting ambitious expectations for all students.
  • and that this is also revealed in the quality of work in books.
  • and that these highlight an appropriate amount and depth of learning as a consequence of time spent in lessons focused on writing and demonstrating learning.
  • and that teaching dwells and goes to depth at the expense of skimming content.
  • and that is informed by on-going feedback that is within and not bolt-on in lessons. And that time is committed in lessons to respond to feedback and make progress. What if we rewarded and looked for actual improvement in books from the front to back as evidence of ongoing feedback … and much less impressed by regularity of feedback sheet or dialogue that does little to improve the work?

Slide2

  • and that there is clear evidence of an ethic of excellence where students re-do and redraft work, so that they produce their very best work that they have ever done more often – something that diminishes as they progress from 3-19. Primary children often produce their best ever piece of work.

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  • and that leads to students attitudes and approaches that demonstrate a thirst for knowledge, enquiring and knowledgeable questions.
  • …and because teaching has imparted inspiring knowledge and achieved progress over time – learning takes on its own momentum.

What if we also realised that the greatest teachers have these as habits…consistent approaches and abilities to teach with purpose, precision and consistency.

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What if the importance of progress over time and having the end in mind was rewarded and that observation is seen as just one part of evaluating whether the conditions are present to secure progress? What if we triangulated with data, outcomes, planning, student voice, books and other evidence? Perhaps then we would measure the quality of teaching in this way…(apologies for the grading – but not everything is equal or equally well delivered)

Slide2 …by ignoring observed performance, we reward teaching habits and approaches that have created and secured the conditions for progress and outcomes. if there is no evidence of progress over time, historic good outcomes and/or evidence of outcome-orientated teaching then teaching cannot be typically good.

What if this meant that evidence over time led to a view of the typicality of teaching and that this is stickier than when judgements are based on one-off observations? Any observed episode then simply adds to what is already known about the typical quality of teaching to secure progress and outcomes.


What if we ensured that ownership for improvement was located with individual teachers – understanding that there is also an element of earned autonomy to this freedom… Not least because you…

“Prescribe adequacy, (but) unleash greatness…”

What if this empowered teachers who then have greater freedom to explore progress-orientated and outcome-orientated approaches to teaching…

  • Purpose (secure student progress to give them a better chance in life)
  • Autonomy (you decide how you secure student progress)
  • Mastery (it is a craft not a science, be creative and innovative – seek mastery in teaching to drive progress and secure outcomes) (Dan Pink)
“We know we are in a good school when the four following things happen: Teachers talk about teaching and learning; Teachers observe each other’s practice; Teachers plan, organise, deliver, monitor and evaluate their work together; Teachers teach each other” Judith Warren, Little The Power of Organisational Setting (1981)
What if we applied our understanding of deliberate practice to support teachers to improve…deliberate practice occurs when teachers…

1. …are motivated and exert effort to improve their performance.

2. …engage in tasks that take into account their pre-existing knowledge.

3. …receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance.

4. …repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

So that…

practice (is) intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for (a student’s) current skill level, (aimed at excellence), combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.” (Malcolm Gladwell)

What if observers engaged with teachers in real time, so that observers support improvement, reflection and learning during lessons?


Maybe then we would…

  • …ensure that teaching is progress-orientated and outcome-orientated.
  • ….not use short observations alone to assess quality of teaching and instead triangulate observation that evaluates progress over time and the effectiveness of the teaching to deliver outcomes.
  • …tread carefully when considering removing grades as this may reduce our ability to understand what makes the difference and to show direction of travel for teaching improvement…even without grading a descriptive continuum is required – probably divided four ways… (beginning, embedding, effective, transferrable)(or 4,3,2,1)
  • …understand that not all strategies and approaches are equal or equally well delivered.
  • …understand that the efficiency and efficacy of teaching for progress and outcomes is what matters.
  • ..release teachers to own their improvement and to consider what we know about deliberate practice as a framework/continuum to enable teachers to receive immediate feedback that informs focused, repetitious improvement.
  • …realise that what maybe considered as traditional teaching is often the most effective at securing progress over time.

March, 2015

A culture of continuous improvement…

“Seek marginal gains to outperform – small steps that create a contagious environment, where a philosophy of continuous improvement engages everyone.” (adapted from Sir David Brailsford, 2015)

Sir David Brailsford eloquently and concisely outlines the key characteristics of high performing teams in this great 2 minute video…click the photo belowIt is probably true that there are some key principles that are at the heart of high performing teams that enable outperformance .. all of which are highly applicable and relevant to education.

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Sir David Brailsford identifies a number of key principles that allow teams and organisations to over-perform or out-perform others. These are explored below…

1. “Recruit the best people that you can find”. What if we are really fussy over recruitment; ensuring that we recruit the very best to the team? What if we were also focused on this being a good behavioural fit … given that attitude is the key aspect in creating an over-performing culture?  There are a number of organisation who largely recruit based on attitude – often gaps in core skills can be closed. What if we started with First Who Then What?…

g2g-first-who“Good to great companies first got the right people on the bus (and in the right seats) –and the wrong people off the bus –and then figured out where to drive it.”

(Jim Collins)

What if these were the superheroes, linchpins, mavericks or Freds whose connectivity and altruistic collaboration enabled the organisation to fly?


2. Seek out the “Podium people – ask, who is the best in the world?” What if organisations identified the best in the world? What if we then understood where they were, how and what they achieve? What if we then work out precisely where we are and then plot to close the gap? By setting direction for the “Podium People” in our field we set the expectation high. What if we habitually faced the brutal truths of our own performance?…

“have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Collins)

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By aspiring to reach and exceed Podium People we commit to do “whatever it takes” and embark on a journey, an accumulation of steps…

“What we can do and what the best schools do already – is ask where they would like to be in five years time (aiming for the podium) and what steps they will take to get there” … ” the best schools accumulate these small steps and describe themselves as being on a journey.” (Tim Brighouse)

What if we time limit the drive for improvement?…

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough-time.” (Leonard Bernstein)


3. Seek Marginal Gains, because small improvements in a number of aspects that we do can have a huge impact to the overall performance of the team.

marginal-gains

What if we realised that impact, stickability and the effectiveness of any change is in the detail and that where change is planned, simple and purposeful big change and impact can follow? … often with unexpected benefits…

“We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly!” (Malcolm Gladwell)

Jobs-quote

What if we understood greatness was about the choices we make and the discipline to see them through?…

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” (Jim Collins)


“Leaders are only truly in charge when they inspire others to take charge.” (Simon Sinek, 2012)

4. Give Ownership, because with ownership comes motivation. What if we trusted that because we have set the destination … on exceeding our podium people/organisations and  that we have the right people on the bus … then these people are best placed to lead and make decisions? That by giving ownership we increase autonomy and this drives-up motivation and performance that is widely owned and more likely to be sustained. – “pushing decision making to the action” (David Marquett)

What if this ownership was allied to responsibility and accountability – a measuring stick and evaluation that rewards and supports motivation? … so that individuals know they are doing a remarkable job.

What if we connected individuals to collaborate? … Seth Godin reminds that groups/teams need a clarity of destination and an ability to connect and communicate … collaboration and improvement follows…

“…groups of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to become a tribe: a shared interest (vision) and a way to connect and communicate.” (Seth Godin)

What if, as John Kotter identifies, we create and facilitate connection and collaboration (right hand side) alongside hierarchy that challenges, supports and delivers accountability (the left hand side)? It is balancing these that create a successful, agile team/organisation.

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5. Absolute clarity of role – People need to own and absolutely accept the role they have, but importantly they need to believe it is the right thing to do. What if we understood that Individuals perform well when there is absolute clarity on what is expected of them? Too often leaders complain of poor performance only to realises that they have never been clear in the first place as to what was expected.

What if we also identify the standards and insisted on the highest of expectations – in all that you do? What if we create a positive, risk-embracing environment and culture so that we face the brutal truths and seek feedback and understanding to maintain continuous improvement?


Maybe then we would build teams in education from middle to senior to executive leadership that understand outperformance, borrow from other professions, sports and organisations to realise the leadership potential that exists.

Maybe then by asking…

  • …do we have the right people on the bus and in the right seats?
  • …do we know who the podium organisations are? – and how we close the gap?
  • …do we find marginal gains for continuous improvement?
  • …do we give and facilitate ownership for improvement and balance with accountability?
  • …do we have absolute clarity on roles and responsibilities and ensure that the standards and expectations are set high … within a feedback and risk-taking culture?

we would would better understand our organisation and how we create the conditions for great teams to grow, succeed and out-perform. After all, in academies/schools leadership and the extent that leadership creates high performing teams directly relates to the success or otherwise of the organisation.

“Delivery never sleeps.” (Barber)

March 2015

If not now, when? Raising Achievement

‘Garry was brilliant,’ …. ‘He told us exactly where the Italians were and he really motivated us with things like: ‘If not now, when? If not you, who? How much do you want this?’ We knew then that we wanted it more than them.’ (Greg Searle, Gold, Barcelona Olympics)

In the Barcelona Olympics the Searle brothers trailed the Italians by two lengths at 1250m…with 15 stokes remaining it was still more than a length…rising to the if not now, when? and the if not you, who? challenge…the brothers showed extraordinary courage and determination to overhaul the Italians in the last stroke to win Gold. (Click picture to view the race)

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It is probably true that when it comes to raising achievement (RA) a whatever it takes” mindset and culture is key and Term 4/5 is the engine room of opportunity to ensure that students perform. Where there is a focus on quality first teaching and a balance of being deliberate, precise and rigorous on strategies and approaches that matter… there are no limits to what can be achieved.


This begs the question: How do Academies/schools raise achievement most effectively ahead of summer exams? After all, “If not now, when?” … “If not you, who?”

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Malcolm Gladwell)


What if we always kept central that it is quality first teaching that matters? – what students receive every lesson, every day is what raises achievement and this is best achieved through strong, precise and deliberate teaching over time. – This is the “flywheel” (Collins), the “One Thing” (Keller). Keep the main thing, the main thing…

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What if we also understood that RA approaches have much to inform us about everyday teaching, assessment and practices? So that RA is not about a sticking plaster or a bolt-on (panic) approach, but is built into effective progress-focussed teaching across all Year groups.


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What if we realised that urgency is important when raising achievement and that it is crucial that this is communicated to encourage and insist on a move to action for both students and staff? We need to “amplify a need” to secure action that makes the difference.

What if it was the superheroes in our midst that led RA – each teacher, tutor, mentor, leader taking responsibility for RA and believing that anything is possible and being the change and impetus to move students to action? …the deliberate action that enables students to achieve. Blog: Connected Collaboration and Deliberate Altruism

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What if we are very clear about who is responsible for student performance? Class-level responsibility is key to RA – teachers being accountable for students – where there is quality conversation (support and challenge) around what can be achieved with a group of students – teaching becomes more focused on RA.


What if we reward teaching that is outcome-orientated? We value and reward teachers who achieve progress over time; placing more weight on outcomes and progress achieved than performance in observations. And what if we support and reward teaching that is more deliberate and grounded in formative assessment, so that it enables planning to close gaps and secure greater progress. (blog: progress over time)

What if we show a boldness of leadership that reshuffles students, alters groupings and changes staffing to ensure students get the best opportunity to perform? (they only get one shot) And What if where behaviour limits progress teachers and leaders are tenacious and quick to remove this barrier?

What if we fully recognised that Raising Achievement is not about doing more and stacking strategy on strategy … in the push to raise achievement… “not everything matters equally?” (Keller) see Strategic leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery. We should deliberately seek “marginal gains” (David Brailsford) but resist the temptation just to add strategy on top of strategy – such approaches are high energy, spread impact thinly and are often counter productive.


What if we embedded deliberate practice within teaching and RA? Deliberate Practice occurs when students…

1. …are be motivated and exert effort to improve their performance.

2. …engage in tasks that take into account their pre-existing knowledge.

3. …receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance.

4. …repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.

What if based on sound formative and summative assessment that allowed a deep understanding of what students are able to do and not do we used DTT and DDI to close gaps in understanding?…

  • DTT – Diagnosis, Therapy, Test, Diagnosis, Therapy, Test….
  • DDI – Data Driven Instruction.

What if using DDI allows for greater professional conversation around how to secure concepts with students? Why are there gaps shared by students in their understanding? If we focus on understanding how effective our instruction is then teaching will more quickly RA of students.


What if, like the Oakland As, RA is consistently Data Driven? If we ask the right questions and measure the most important performance indicators (the gaps) we get a sense of impact/performance and we direct teaching, planning and intervention to efficiently and effectively close gaps. See blog: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Coyle What if we borrow and use more of Dan Coyle’s ideas on learning and performance? He identifies three important conditions that support learning:

  • Maximise reachfulness in the presence of an expert
  • Embrace the struggle – “You will become clever through your mistakes.”
  • Encourage theft – use feedback and copy others.

Dan Coyle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq0pHpNy6bs (17 mins)

What if RA is based on the assumption that anyone can learn anything? That the physical development of myelin to secure pathways in the brain enables learning – it is practice that counts and that Dweck’s Growth Mindset ideas are central to highlighting what is possible?

“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).” (Dan Coyle)


What if Mock exams were regular and deliberately delivered, perhaps in this sequence? Quality teaching…Walking Talking Mock…Visualisation/deliberate instruction/preparation…Mock Exam…question-level feedback…moderation…diagnosis…DDI/DDT…deliberate results day…quality first teaching/intervention that precisely closes gaps.

Slide02

What if these Mocks are externally marked or moderated? such that a accurate “Actual Performance” is measured? …completed in exam halls, under full exam conditions, with full exam papers? …including all access arrangements?

What if Mock performance precisely informed what is taught and better still how it is taught (DDI)? What if Covey tables or similar identified specifically the gaps and opportunities for marks and that this is owned in subjects and at class-level? (remembering that some marks are easier than others)

What if fine grading was used across all subjects and that the criteria for each fine grade is consistently applied? And what if feedback from each exam provided question-level analysis and specifically directed students to when and how they can close gaps in understanding?

What if parents evenings were also results evenings where students receive results and specific question/area-level feedback on what is known and where the gaps…and how, where and when the gaps can/will be closed?


What if we meticulously had a plan for the seconds, minutes, hours and days prior to am and pm exams – that this tapered preparations, supported students and was consistent, dependable and reassuringly routine?

What if the period before and during the exams was precisely timetabled to make the very best use of the time available, such that quality teaching input existed up to each exam and that lessons and teachers whose courses had completed made an Academy contribution to support the preparation for other exams?

What if we also focused on student well-being, praise and reward? Cohort performance is often linked to cohort ethos and approach, such that there is a collective and wide-held value placed on performing and achieving? This can often be tangible and obvious – where cohorts tip outcomes improve. What approaches can be used to create a sense of belonging, a Year group sense of we are in this together and “your success is also my success?”

What if RA is a whole Academy drive such that a 100 day plan (to… 50 day plans) leading up to and through the summer exams is owned by all? And even better if this is translated into subject plans…that are very specific, deliberate and precise. What if there is a clear focus on the key students that make the difference the “key 34” the “critical 25” the “golden 28”?


Maybe then we would exploit a “whatever it takes” and “if not now, when” mindset that assumes everything is possible and ensures students perform and achieve. That we never let up on improving the quality of teaching as this is the most effective way of raising student achievement of students – what happens in every lesson really matters.

Maybe also we would be precise and deliberate about Raising Achievement, squeezing out the most from the strategies and approaches that matter the most.

…enabling students to perform unusually well.

March 2015

Connected collaboration and deliberate altruism… growing great organisations and systems

Connected collaboration and deliberate altruism… how great organisations grow and coherent education systems improve…

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slide-5-638It is probably true that…for organisations to excel and become great the internal climate needs to support individuals to connect, collaborate and be deliberately altruistic. These indispensable individuals (mavericks, superheroes, connectors, change agents, linchpins, Freds etc.) draw maps, bring Art to work and accelerate organisations toward greatness.

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It is also probably true that this scales to a system leadership level such that great systems grow where deliberate altruism within collaborative networks/multi academy trusts enable clusters of schools to be remarkable; to bring Art to education – lifting-up communities.


Which begs the question: How do we enable change leaders and linchpins across the system (within academies and across clusters of Academies) to connect, collaborate and be deliberately altruistic to deliver world class education?

Perhaps Seth Godin expresses it best: “What happens when you build an organisation (or system) that is flat and open? what happens when you expect a lot and trust the people you work with?” …and what if we create the climate/platform for connection, collaboration and deliberate altruism? … maybe then system leadership has a chance to raise the bar and make education remarkable.

“(when) Schools pull together and share their best ideas, while simultaneously employing peer pressure to achieve more for the sake of all students (and the whole community).” (Hargreaves et al. 2014)


What if there are superheroes in our midsts?… What if we set them free to bring Art to work, to be remarkable, to be heroes who seek connection, who collaborate, who are deliberate, innovative and who altruistically spread ideas that work, because they are close to the action and they are infectious with enthusiasm. Tumblr_mnh27a7WA31rir6lho1_1280 Who are the superheroes?… What if we had more Freds in organisations and across systems? The story goes that Fred was the postman of Mark Sanborn. Fred cared; he cared a lot about providing a service – he did not have to, but he did – he went beyond the call of duty to add real value. Not because he had to, because he wanted to…he was extraordinary and he made Mark Sanborn consider the Fred factor; for which he identifies four principles…

  1. Everyone makes a differencedo we exploit opportunities to make a difference?
  2. Everything is built on relationshipsdo we always invest in relationship building?
  3. You must continually create value for othersdo we lift others up & create value?
  4. You can reinvent yourself regularlydo we take a fresh look and reinvent ourselves?

How many Freds do you know? Organisations that have Freds, add value and are likely to thrive. It is for leaders to create an oasis of Freds within their organisation – and even better if they inspire others to take charge…

“Leaders are only truly in charge when they inspire others to take charge.” (Simon Sinek, 2012)

What if we had more linchpins in organisations and across the system? Those that say…Linchpin_TTb What if we actively recognised, grew and recruited linchpins, These are positive deviants, who engage in “positive deviant practices.” (Heaths) Seth Godin in his Tribes and Linchpin books identifies that these individuals bring Art to work, are creative and are linchpins that link and connect widely. Gladwell would describe them as Connectors. (Tipping Point). 499b343267ee2a7181a9913c4f593c48 What if we allow linchpins to bring Art to work and drive improvement from within? What if we also devolve and push decision making and innovation closer to the action (David Marquet), so that Linchpins and connectors influence others, lead change and release potential to secure improvement? Maybe then change and improvement will have greater stickability, be more effective and more consistently delivered. It is exactly these individuals who “Don’t settle” (Steve Jobs) and consistently reflect and innovate deliberately around the few things that matter. See: Strategic Leadership | fanatical discipline and deliberate delivery. Jobs


What if we enabled and created a platform for these change agents, innovators, linchpins and Freds to do their work…to be given the time and space to energise and accelerate improvement where it matters … near to the action.

“The role of the leader is to enable, facilitate, and cause peers to interact in a focused manner…but still only a minority of systems employ the power of collective capacity.” (Fullan, 2010)

What if leadership within an organisation and across the system created a climate for individuals to thrive, to lead…what if it offered discretion to be creative and innovative? And what if it was less about the leaders at the top and more about enabling and freeing linchpins and Freds to go about making remarkable things happen?

“There are conditions under which people thrive and conditions under which people do not. The culture of an (Academy) is essential…it is organic. If the conditions are right – you give people a different sense of possibilities, a new set of expectations and offer discretion to be creative and innovative…things spring to life…real leaders know that.” Ken Robinson 

And What if leaders sought not to command and control, but to create a climate of possibility that enabled people to rise up, influence and do remarkable things?

“The real role of leadership in education…is not and should not be command and control the real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility…people will rise to it and do things that you did not anticipate and could not have expected.” (Ken Robinson) 

Quotation-Seth-Godin-giving-leadership-work-ideas-people-Meetville-Quotes-228804 What if we developed tribes…

“…groups of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to become a tribe: a shared interest (vision) and a way to connect and communicate.” (Seth Godin)

After all, given freedom we should trust that… f163eaa3b112c76e1f850c9a4ba57189


What if the mode of operation was deliberate altruism. As Adam Grant considers, there are givers, matchers and takers. The takers hold what they have, steal ideas and focus on self-interest. The matchers only give if they receive something of equal value. The givers who give strategically/deliberately, make things happen, they gain far more and they contribute to improvement. We all know takers, matchers and givers. It is interesting that whilst this works on an individual level it is also true at an Academy level. Where Academies give they make a contribution to the system…everyone benefits…in fact more comes back… a-few-quotes-from-its-not-how-good-you-areits-how-good-you-want-to-be-3-728

“There is a crucial difference between the wisdom of openness and the folly of unguarded innocence. (Givers can be the most and the least successful)” (Hargreaves and (Grant))

What if every organisation created the space and supported connected collaboration for individuals to bring art and what if system leaders understood the power of networks…John Kotter provides an excellent diagram of how a great organisation maintains a hierarchical structure with all the necessary line management and accountability whilst enabling connected networks to exploit the linchpins and Freds in the organisation to connect and enabling the organisation to be agile and innovative. If we place a number of hierarchies (academies) around a central network, a network that connected linchpins and Freds across the system, we have the model that connects. If this connection and collaboration is built on deliberate altruism we have the basis for enhancing system leadership and a chance to reshape education. Slide1

Uplifting leadership entails engaging a talented team that values risk and creativity, acknowledges and tolerates honest mistakes, and has members that participate and “play” in interchangeable roles. They inspire each other as leadership emerges throughout the group.” (Hargreaves, 2014)


What if organisations/academies deeply connected and collaborated across networks/clusters of schools and altruistically shared everything such that there was a wide responsibility for system improvement? What if all Principals/Headteachers were system leaders or change agents?

“If as a principal you go it alone, you can only go so far…although it is possible to become a great school despite the system you are in, it is not possible to stay effective if the system is not cultivating greatness in all of its schools…the system matters a great deal.’ (Fullan, 2014)

The best system leaders look out to improve within whilst contributing to the wider system. What if we did not see local schools as competitors? what if there was a greater recognition that the success of other schools increases system success and this is better for everyone? Hargreaves et al.(2014) identifies three powerful combinations of collaboration and competition:

  • Co-opetition: the alliance of opponents achieve greater value together than they can achieve alone.
  • Uplifting federations: that include competitors increase social value for the wider community as well as for each individual organisation.
  • Being on the collaborative edge: enhances motivational value; pushing up performance in the comradely quest to keep innovating and outdo others – in a way that moves everyone up to a higher level.

“There are many strategic benefits…from aligning joint effort, and for combining collective investment for competitive gain. Uplifting leaders know that these (collaboration and competition) are the yin and yang of enduring success.” (Hargreaves, 2014)


Maybe then…Academies will develop greater opportunities and platforms to support individuals to be linchpins, connectors, Freds and change agents. Maybe where the connection and collaboration of these individuals is deep and deliberate altruism dominates, great ideas and approaches will grow from within the organisation.

and Maybe this will…push decision making, innovation, research, development and delivery to the people closest to the action. Perhaps this greater ownership and drive increases consistency and take-up and importantly is better attuned to the needs of students and the Academy. Perhaps this will also allow Academies to be agile enough to stay on the cutting edge … ever closer to creating remarkable approaches that deliver unusual outcomes for students and families.

…and Maybe if we take these ideas and apply them at an Academy level and to Principals as system (uplifting) leaders across networks of schools and multi academy trusts we could transform education. Creating deep connections and collaboration based on deliberate altruism would better allow clusters, trusts and networks to lift up communities and regions….making education remarkable.

Perhaps it is at this level that we require our system leaders (our uplifting leaders) to be superheroes, Freds, connectors and linchpins to take on the responsibility for taking a deliberately altruistic approach to collaboration, creating a remarkable education system…that has a wide and deep impact on communities/regions.

and perhaps there should be greater focus and measure of these qualities and approaches …such approaches are poorly incentivised at present…and yet it offers a remarkable opportunity to grasp and shape education.

Maybe then we will have a coherent system and shift into the top right quadrant where connected collaboration and deliberate altruism dominates… del alt 3 February 2015 | @DrDanNicholls https://twitter.com/DrDanNicholls

Life without levels | With opportunity comes responsibility

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It is probably true that: “The removal of levels from the curriculum creates an amazing opportunity to redefine success and progress for children…and to reshape teaching (and assessment)” It is also true that poor thinking or planning of a new curriculum could lead to the promotion of mediocrity and the inching over thresholds or jumping through false hoops that hang in the air… and ultimately results in slower progress that has a detrimental impact on learning and progress.

From September 2014 levels have been removed from the curriculum (except Y2 and Y6). Tim Oates provides a good case fro their removal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q5vrBXFpm0  Whilst a number of schools have chosen not to jump and retain levels, a brave few have jumped to new approaches. It would be fair to say that Primaries are ahead of the game in their thinking in this new world (the compulsion to act has been greater).


Which begs the question what should be considered in the new world without levels?

The following attempts to offer a set of What if… comments that underline the new opportunities that are presenting themselves and how a set of key principles can be applied to seize this opportunity. It is clear that this will play out differently across 3-19 (we must however anchor our approaches around the same principles).


What if we saw the move away from levels as an opportunity not to just re-do/rethink assessment and how we track progress?, but instead asked the question what should teaching look like in a post level world? This initially shifts debate toward pedagogy and away from how do we replace numbers/levels/labels. It is proving very easy to shift to a system that simply reframes levels and replaces with grades for example.

What if we considered the age related standard that children should reach each year. What if this is clearly located around what would be the expected standard of a child in terms of knowledge, skills, understanding, application, conceptual awareness and mis-conceptions?

What if the age related standards are clearly communicated on single sheets that show the specific areas – not dissimilar to PiXL Covey table or PLC grids…a DTT approach. What if deliberate practice approach is then used in lessons and intervention to close gaps.

What if we then further embed ideas around Blooms and SOLO taxonomy? That “by age” we were very clear about what is expected (what competences children need to know or be able to do?)…and that this provides the framework for depth, teaching, questioning etc. as it already does in many classrooms.

blooms_taxonomysolo-taxonomy-with-verbs

What if the achievement of these age related standards were delivered through a Mastery approach – such that teaching was given the time and focus (and teachers the permission) to secure the age related standards…and that this was non-negotiable.

What if we were able to teach to depth around these age related standards because the necessity to cover lots of content is removed. What if there was a real stickiness around redrafting and re-doing, such that children were challenged to do their best work and this enabled students to achieve age related standards.

More generally, in top performing education systems the curriculum is not mile-wide and inch-deep, but tends to be rigorous, with a few things taught well and in great depth.

stock-footage-deep-end-deep-end-of-the-pool-a-good-visual-metaphor-to-show-madness-forstock-footage-shallow-end-of-the-pool

What if we did not seek breadth and reduced the burden on teachers; freeing them from the need to skim and teach at pace.

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What if we made a far greater investment in developing (continuing to develop) teacher subject, conceptual (and mis-conceptual) and pedagogical understanding.

What if instead of using KS3 as the basis for performing in GCSE exams that we asked what do we need student to be able to do and know, so that they are set up to perform well at GCSE and in the rest of their lives?

What if this is firmly located around a growth mindset model (Dweck) – where an anything is possible  – what if it was the absolute expectation that children had to meet the standards. …ensuring, of course, that we do not set the bar too low.

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“People with Growth Mindsets and who show GRIT achieve more when they engage in deliberative practice … it is this practice that achieve marginal gains (Steve Peters), inching toward excellence.”

In Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, students, parents, teachers and the public at large tend to share the belief that all students are capable of achieving high standards. (BBC news)

And yet, results from Pisa tests show that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries. (BBC news)

What if we focused more on the journey; on the “near win” (Sarah Evans)

“The pursuit of mastery is an ever onward almost.” … “Grit is not just simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again.”(Sarah Evans)

What if that when children achieved the standard for their age the focus shifted to greater depth (not breadth) moving to the top of Blooms and across SOLO taxonomy and not moving to the set of age-related targets.

What if all of this also sought the ethic of excellence, because… https://dannicholls1.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/the-ethic-of-excellence-powerful-lever/

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“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)

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What if this seeking excellence required an unswerving expectation that all teachers were  purposeful, deliberate and precise around formative feedback and that this was within tasks and lessons and not bolted on.

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What if we judged the quality of feedback much more on the quality of what students produce and less on ticks or comments or forced dialogue in books.

What if we described progress not in terms of levels but is terms of a child’s progress in line with age related standards. Perhaps the conversation at parents evening becomes much more powerful and useful: compare “your child is below what would be expected at this age, we need to focus on…” “with your child is a 4a to move to a 4b we need to focus on…” Levels can mean little to (parents and students).

What if we are very aware that there is a real danger that we could teach to the middle and even bottom with this approach and that we should embed from the beginning the ability to challenge children to depth to ensure that those on steep progress trajectories continue to accelerate improvement.

What if parents evening was a discussion not about a series of letter or numbers, but real clarity about what is expected by this age and a rich discussion around the students work (in books), oracy, knowledge and practical skill.

What if summative assessment remained a key part of preparing and testing students. That this could test against age related standards and also indicate present GCSE grade and given professional judgement and trajectory the most likely grade at end of KS4. Keeping an end in mind.

What if the curriculum was interleaved so that the age related standards are re-visited to embed and secure new knowledge and understanding?

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Maybe then we would have a curriculum and teaching that:

  • was purposeful, deliberate, formative, to depth…
  • sought to move all children through age-related standards… and these raised the bar…
  • used a mastery approach, a growth mindset and an ethic of excellence focus to expect much from every child…
  • is really focused to depth on the things that mattered…
  • enabled teachers to not race or skim content, but to focus on quality outcomes…
  • invested heavily in formative assessment…
  • measured progress on security of the age related standards…
  • used evidence to show progress not movement between random numbers…
  • reported formatively to secure next steps…
  • was not hung up on numbers or grades…
  • used summative benchmarking to quality assure and formatively develop teaching and children.

And finally all of this requires time, thought and professionalism. Teacher and team ownership is crucial and particularly the setting of appropriately challenging and well communicated age related standards the detail really matters, because this is worth getting right.

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