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I focus on how to improve the culture, curriculum and teaching in schools.

What do we most need to know to teach and lead well?

What can we learn from cognitive and behavioural science?

How can we create great school leadership?

How can we create a great student culture?

How can we create great curricula? 

How can we create a great teaching culture?

How can we create great staff culture?

How can we improve assessment?

How can we teach English well?

What can we learn from great thinkers?

What can we learn from great schools?

What can we learn from new teachers and supply teachers?

How are teachers using social media?

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Treasure Trove #5: A Cognitive Science Crash Course

Time is short in schools. 

Fast, free CPD is key. 

Here’s a free, 2-hour self-study crash course to help teachers, school leaders, teaching assistants and support staff to grasp the science of learning. 

  1. Memory and overload Peps McCrae 1 min
  2. How cognitive load theory changed my teaching Zach Groshell 2 mins
  3. What can we learn from cognitive science? 3 mins 
  4. Three applications of cognitive science 4 mins
  5. Why don’t students remember what they’ve learned? 5 mins
  6. Introduction to cognitive science Ruth Ashbee 6 mins
  7. Teaching with memory in mind Jemma Sherwood 2 mins
  8. How to learn better Adam Boxer 2 mins
  9. What can science tell us about how students learn best? 3 mins
  10. How can we improve the quality of our teaching? 1 min
  11. One scientific insight for curriculum design 4 mins
  12. Cognitive science and visible learning 4 mins
  13. Why is knowledge important? Dan Willingham 8 minutes
  14. Worked examples James Crane 3 minutes
  15. The practice gap David Thomas 1 min
  16. The power of practice David Thomas 1 min
  17. The quantity of practice David Thomas 1 min
  18. Practice drills 2 mins
  19. Overlearning Dan Willingham 1 min
  20. Why people love and remember stories Dan Willingham 6 mins
  21. Mnemonics: making the forgettable memorable 4 mins
  22. An introduction to the science of learning Nick Rose 56-minute video

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Our thinking (working memory) is limited and gets overloaded fast; we forget fast, too.
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We remember knowledge by thinking lots over a long time with examples, practice and revisiting.

Questions worth trying to explain

  1. How do working memory and long-term memory work together in learning? (revisit)
  2. How does the mind struggle with overload?
  3. How does the mind struggle with forgetting?
  4. How does knowledge help learning? (revisit)
  5. How do examples help learning? (revisit)
  6. How does practice help learning? (revisit)
Posted in Psychology | 2 Comments

Golden needles in a haystack: Assessment CPD trove #4

School leaders and teachers are strapped for time. 

What is the best free, fast, flexible CPD out there on assessment?

What can we read that has the highest impact in the least time?

There are no silver bullets, but here are some golden needles I’ve found in the last 10 years I’ve spent looking through the online haystack of education writing. 

Probably a fool’s errand, but I’m going to try anyway.

It’s fourth in a foolhardy series of collections of treasure troves on staff culture, student culture, and curriculum.

Thirteen golden needles for a 1-hour assessment treasure trove 

1. Connecting curriculum and assessment by Stuart Kime (3-minute read)

Improving our use of assessment means deepening our understanding of the curriculum.

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2. The four pillars of assessment by Evidence Based Education (7-minute read)

We can’t develop our assessment practice without a strong base of knowledge of the key research around assessment.

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3. Bad ideas about assessment lead to workload problems (3-minute read) 

Assessment alternatives: questions & pupil work (3-minute reads) by Daisy Christodolou 

If we have a shallow understanding of an assessment system’s flaws, it’s harder to see the deeper reasons why it isn’t working.

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4. The level illusion by James Pembroke (4-minute read) and the madness of flightpaths by David Didau (4-minute read)

Predicting students’ progress is a mug’s game. 

[Note: Why are level-based systems so bad? In short, they are illusions. In this research study, pupils given level 2 in reading assessments had reading ages ranging from 5 to 10 years.]

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5.  Banning GCSE grades before Year 11 by Matthew Benyohai (6-minute read)

You cannot use a GCSE grade to describe the attainment of someone who hasn’t studied the whole course.

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6. Poor attainment data often comes too late! by Becky Allen (6-minute read)

Seek leading not lagged indicators.

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7. Giving our data a haircut by Matthew Evans (11-minute read)

To collect data requires a clear rationale, clear resulting action and beneficial impact that exceeds the cost of collection. 

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8. Decoupling summative and formative assessment by Michael Fordham (4-minute read)

To know whether pupils have learnt what is on the curriculum, we need a mix of assessment tools: some for determining whether factual knowledge has been learned; some for spotting misconceptions; some for seeing whether knowledge is sufficiently well connected. 

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9. Standardised assessment in reading (3-minute) 

Inferences drawn from standardised tests contain decades’ worth of standardisation, so they are more likely to be reliable; they also bring us shared meaning over time in the form of a reading age.

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10. Summative writing assessment with comparative judgment and writing ages (3-minute reads) by Daisy Christodoulou

Marking writing reliably is hard and has high margins of error; comparative judgment reduces margin of error a lot and brings us clear shared meaning over time in the form of a writing age.

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11. What to do after a mock? Sampling and inferences (4-minute read) by Adam Boxer

Question-level analysis is highly dodgy: don’t fixate on the test sample; revisit the domain knowledge.

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12. Receiver-focused reporting (longer read, well worthwhile for SLT or to convince them) by Sarah Jones

Ask: what do we most want pupils and parents to think and do with the data on the report?

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Voila! A free, 60-minute starter-pack to help get up to speed with some of the world’s best current thinking on assessment in schools.

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17 more free articles for a further crash course on assessment

In 2013, I wrote a 10-part series on assessment that I’ll share below as a second round, an extra 60-minute crash course in assessment thinking for school leaders.

1. What can we learn from AfL? (3 mins) (a shorter, better read is Daisy on AfL)

2. How is assessment shackling schools? (3 mins)

3. How could assessment unshackle schools? Subject-specific progression. (3 mins)

4. Life after levels: where SLT fear to tread (3 mins) (c.f. Daisy on Life after levels, 5 years on)

5. Who’ll create a mastery assessment system? (3 mins) (Mark McCourt)

6. Marking is a hornet (2 mins)

7. Three Assessment Mistakes (3 mins)

8. Why MCQs (2 mins) (Daisy on MCQs, distractors, research)

9. How to design MCQs (2 mins)

10. Quizzing (3 mins)

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Four core insights

Lastly, here are four main insights I’ve learned from 10 years of studying assessment research.

1. All assessments are just tiny samples of a much broader curriculum and much, much wider subject domain. 

2. All assessment scores are just proxies (stand-ins for what’s really been understood and remembered in pupils’ minds) and just one-off snapshots in a single moment in time.

3. Proxies, samples, exams, assessments and data have pitfalls and washback: we might overinterpret them, put too much weight on them, distort our teaching by drilling to the test, contort our curriculum to cram for a high-stakes exam, crowd out broader subject knowledge and underdevelop our pupils’ schema. 

4. All assessments have limitations, and knowing those limitations (such as almost-inevitably non-standardised conditions) helps prevent us falling into traps of illusory thinking. 

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My hope in investing the time it took to create this collection was that this two-hours-worth of carefully curated, freely available articles becomes not just another reading list, but a starting point for curating a coherently sequenced assessment CPD curriculum. 

The dream is to consolidate our knowledge of the best assessment research and expertise available to teachers and school leaders, and to consider which research questions we’d most like to explore as a profession. 

Posted in Education, Teaching | 1 Comment

24 hidden gems and the golden thread of CPD #3: Curriculum

Teachers and school leaders are trailblazing a golden age of professional learning.

150,000 *now free* National Professional Qualifications over the next 3 years with a codified body of knowledge and evidence as a ‘golden thread’ journey of ITT, ECT, middle leadership, senior leadership, headship and executive headship.

50,000 Early Careers Teachers training on teacher-selected core content with mentoring, focused on behaviour, instruction and their subject.

10,000 Oak Academy lessons filmed and curriculum sequences drafted and shared for free.

1000s of podcasts and blogposts online, and more and more by teachers, for free.

100s of Greenshaw CPD videos, book club videos and video lessons, all for free online.

20+ subject curriculum research reviews & webinars, collated for free.

But time is limited. How can we work out what’s best?

Find the treasure troves. 

In this series, I’m sketching treasure maps of where to unearth some of the smallest but most precious hidden gems. We’re looking for CPD that is free, fast and flexible. It should cost nothing (so no paid courses), not take too much time (so no full books), and be accessible anywhere on the planet (so no location-based events).

Treasure Troves to build your staff culture expertise, first.

Treasure Troves to build your student culture expertise, next.

Treasure Troves to build your curriculum expertise, in this blogpost.

Let’s continue with curriculum.

Treasure Troves of hidden gems to build your curriculum expertise

  1. Pedagogy is overrated; teaching and learning is dead – Stuart Lock, Adam Boxer
  1. Curriculum CoherenceJasper Greene; Cambridge Assessment
  1. Curriculum leadership series & knowledge-rich curricula – Jonathan Mountstevens
  1. Subject leader series; what leaders need to know about curriculum – Nick Hart
  1. Curriculum booklet, curriculum series and residue knowledge – Joshua Vallance
  1. Curriculum don’ts and the Curriculum One-Stop-Shop – Adam Boxer
  1. Myth-busting and over-documentation – Heather Fearn
  1. Four Curriculum Warnings curriculum thinking series – Claire Stoneman
  1. Curriculum progressionSubject leadership Michael Fordham
  1. Curriculum knowledge, Don’t change the subject! Supporting subject leaders; Genericism’s children, Senior curriculum leadership – Christine Counsell
  1. Curriculum as narrative; Curriculum as boxset – Robbie Burns; Neil Almond
  1. 10 principles of curriculum design; 3 principles – Matea Marcinko, Ambition
  1. How much of the Curriculum should be insisted on? – Ben Newmark
  1. Defining terms – John Tomsett
  1. Curriculum Links: Principles – Adam Robbins, Cogscisci
  1. Assessing Curriculum Intent – Mr Morgs
  1. Curriculum Directorythe curriculum will not be photocopied – Ruth Ashbee
  1. Thinking about curriculum collection – Shaun Allison
  1. Five curriculum threads – Andy Tharby, Mary Myatt
  1. Curriculum questions across subjects – Tom Sherrington
  1. Seven curriculum distinctions for subject leaders; 3 best arguments against a knowledge-rich curriculum – John Hutchinson for ResearchEd home
  1. Curriculum: the challenges of change – Tom Boulter
  1. Curriculum Outliers – Sarah Jones
  1. Booklets – Amy Coombe, Ruth Ashbee, Kat Howard, Adam Boxer, Adam Robbins, Jo Facer, Ben Newmark

Lastly, in a single sentence, I’ve summarised 24 top, free articles on curriculum here

All this has got me wondering – is it worth expanding this series to include a collection on assessment, and a cognitive science collection? 

It may well be the best time in all of human history to learn about the curriculum, with free, fast, flexible, focused, teacher-led CPD at our fingertips anywhere we go. 

Posted in Teaching | 3 Comments

12 treasure chests in the golden age of CPD #2: Student Culture

Over the last ten years, teachers and school leaders have led on creating a golden age of professional learning.

The facts suggest we are entering a golden era of CPD.

Research-based CPD has undergone an explosion over the last decade.

  • 20+ Behaviour hubs, growing by 50 in 2022.
  • 20+ subject curriculum research reviews & webinars collated by Ofsted, for free.
  • 37+ Research schools disseminating research evidence.
  • 40+ ResearchEd conferences and books, with several more planned each year.
  • 44+ ResearchEd Home talks, videos shared on Youtube for free.
  • 50+ schools’ SLTs on Teach First’s Leading Together 2-year program, for free.
  • 87 Teaching School Hubs funded at £200,000 per year.
  • 100s of Greenshaw CPD videos, book club videos and video lessons for free online.
  • 100s of podcasts online for free.
  • 100s of participants on the Exemplary Leadership Programme.
  • 100s of edu-books published by John Catt, mostly by teachers.
  • 1000s of trusts working with the Confederation of School Trusts (60% of academies and growing)
  • 1000s of teachers answering questions & seeing answers every day on Teacher Tapp – for free.
  • 1000s of blogposts written by teachers accessible for free online.
  • 10,000 Oak Academy lessons filmed, shared and collated by subject and year – for free.
  • 50,000 Early Careers Teachers training on a Core Content Framework with mentoring.
  • 150,000 National Professional Qualifications for free over the next 3 years with a codified body of knowledge and evidence sequenced into the journey of ITT, ECT, middle leadership, senior leadership, headship and executive headship.

Our time, though, isn’t limitless. There is lots of surface froth hiding the wealth of knowledge jewels amid the enduring currents in the depths.

We must choose selectively what to give our attention to. How can we best place our bets?

Find the treasure troves. 

In this series, I’m sketching treasure maps of where to unearth some of the smallest but most precious hidden gems. We’re looking for CPD that is free, fast and flexible. It should cost nothing (so no paid courses), not take too much time (so no full books), and be accessible anywhere on the planet (so no location-based events).

Treasure Troves to build your staff culture expertise, first.

Treasure Troves to build your student culture expertise, in this blogpost.

Treasure Troves to build your curriculum expertise, next.

Let’s continue with student culture.

Twelve Treasure Troves to build your student culture expertise

1. Science of habits7 keys to classroom habits that stickDavid Thomas, Peps McCrae, Logan Fiorella and the Greenshaw Research school playlist

2. Behavioural science – Harry Fletcher Wood

3. Science of motivation – Peps McCrae’s 6 strategies

4. Research on relationship-building – Harry Fletcher Wood

5. Two discipline systems – Andrew Old on norms & his extraordinary Guide to Scenes from the battleground

6. Routines – Tom Bennett’s behaviour lessons from the best schools & 10 reboot strategies

7. Assemblies – Sam Brown; Bravery & Courage – Ben Newmark & the Jonathan Mountstevens collection

8. Hotspot of Hope: the Charter turnaround collection – Jo Facer, Nat Jones, Kris Boulton, Olivia Dyer

9. Consistency – the inimitable Barry Smith podcast, and on Darren Leslie’s podcast

10. High standards – Amy Forester 

11. Pastoral curricula – Louis Everett on Emily Folorunsho’s pastoral podcasts

12. Personal development curriculum – Charlie Cromerford, a ResearchEd talk & thread

Lastly, here are 12 top, free articles I collated on pupil ethos within a wider collection of 24 blogspots of research, 24 blogspots on curriculum and 12 on staff culture. These include writing by top edu-thinkers Laura McInerney, Doug Lemov, David Didau, Greg Ashman, Steve Lane and Nick Rose.

Teachers and school leaders alike can feel upbeat about the golden age of CPD we are creating together.

Posted in Student Culture | 4 Comments

Treasure Troves in the Golden Age of CPD. #1: Staff Culture

Over the last ten years, teachers and school leaders have led on creating a golden age of professional learning.

If knowledge is treasure, in the era of the world wide web, wiki-sites, webinars, social media networks, smartphones, tablets, podcasts and ear-pods, we have greater, faster access to the accumulated and fast-evolving knowledge of humankind, in our pockets and at our fingertips, than ever before in human history. 

A range of facts and stats suggests that we are embarking on a golden epoch of CPD in teaching.

There have been more than 40 teacher-led ResearchEd conferences since 2013, with many talks filmed and available for free.

There are some 40 teacher-led Research Schools disseminating research, largely for free. 

Multi-academy trusts are sharing 100s of CPD videos, book club videos and video lessons for free online.

Some 8,000 teachers a day are answering Teacher Tapp’s call to ask, share and learn together – for free. 

Some 10,000 lessons have been filmed, collated and shared by teachers for free by Oak National Academy – for free.

There are now 150,000 National Professional Qualifications being provided for teachers and school leaders over the next three years, all centred on a codified body of knowledge with the science of learning at its heart – for the first time ever, and for free.

But we are also living in an age of overload, a data deluge, a content tsunami, killer infoglut, seduced by the soft power of invidious weapons of mass distraction, with limitless on-demand entertainment tempting us to binge.

Time is short; options are many. How can we work out what to invest our time into?

Find the treasure troves. 

In this series, I’ll try to sketch three treasure maps of where to unearth some of the smallest but most precious hidden gems. We’re looking for CPD that is free, fast, focused and flexible. It should cost nothing (so no paid courses), not take too much time (not even full books!), and be accessible to teachers anywhere on the planet (so no location-based events).

Three treasure maps.

Treasure Troves to build your staff culture expertise, first.

Treasure Troves to build your student culture expertise, next.

Treasure Troves to build your curriculum expertise, last.

Let’s start with some of the greatest hits and playlists from the brightest spots and brightest sparks in education on staff culture.

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Ten Treasure Troves to build your staff culture expertise

1. Putting staff first and the Mind the Gap playlist – Emma Turner, Jonny Uttley, John Tomsett, Tom Sherrington

2. Developing expertise as school leaders – Ambition Institute, Jen Barker & Tom Rees

3. Thinking & Collaboration – ResearchEd home playlist of 30+ videos – Cat Scutt, Claire Stoneman, Helena Moore, Phillipa Cordingley & Hélène Galdine-O’Shea

4. Culture handbooks – Nick Hart

5. Healthy schools – Dixons Open Source playlist – Luke Sparkes & Jenny Thompson

6. School leadership & CPD: 40 podcasts & webinar bank (& 100 others!) – Kathryn Morgan

7. School Improvement playlist32 video session playlist from the Greenshaw National INSET day, led on by Joe and Izzy Ambrose

8. Coaching book summaries – 7 book reviews in a collection of 40+. Pocket Wisdom by Sam Crome

9. Teacher-led research posters – 30+ beautifully designed posters in an amazing wider collection of quotes, diagrams, sketchnotes, illustrations and organisers and more by Oliver Caviglioli 

10. Talent Architects: schools as great places to work – the latest in a great series of white papers by Leora Cruddas & Steve Rollett at the Confederation of School Trusts

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Last of all, just as a small gem to add those ten treasure chests, I’ll reshare the 12 top, free articles I collated on staff culture within a wider collection of 24 blogspots of research, 24 blogspots on curriculum and 12 on student culture. These include writing by top edu-bloggers Kat Howard, Jo Facer, Carl Hendrik, Greg Ashman, Louis Everett, Harry Fletcher Wood, Matthew Evans and Claire Stoneman.

All in all, it’s a moment for us as teachers and school leaders to celebrate the golden age of CPD we are creating together.

Posted in Staff Culture | 6 Comments

Implementation as learning: 24 questions to ask

Implementation is everything. Or is it?

True, strategy without implementation doesn’t get done. 

But implementation without good strategy gets the wrong things done. 

No one could blame the soldiers on the Somme for not implementing their mission. They charged the machine guns and barbed wire with staggering courage and heart-wrenching loyalty to their country. But the strategy was totally flawed and doomed to failure, no matter how perfectly they’d executed it. Strategy is crucial. 

Even so, implementation plays a large part in why initiatives succeed or fail. Even the most carefully planned programs can fail if execution isn’t up to scratch. 

What can we learn from research?

Research on implementation

For almost 100 years, McKinsey have been studying implementation performance, factors and practices. In 2015, they surveyed 2,200 leaders from 900 organisations. They found that the most important implementation factor by far was ownership and commitment to change across all levels of the organisation. Most respondents said their organisations struggled to identify issues, root causes and solutions when implementing. Organisations tend to implement well when they have staff ownership, honest feedback and frontline trouble-shooting at the heart of what they do. 

Further research could test whether this hypothesis holds for schools too. Especially because McKinsey seem to have recurring blind spots around domain expertise. Based on experience in schools, a combination of domain knowledge and ownership seems to be a strong hypothesis for better implementation than without them.

How can we create high levels of ownership, along with deepening expertise, when we implement our plans in schools? What do we need to know? 

Two disciplines that take us beyond implementation science and its ‘mechanisms’

Headteacher Matthew Evans signposted me to a mind-shifting research summary by the BMJ that combines three disciplines: implementation science, complexity science and social science. Each has a different logic of change: mechanistic, ecological and social respectively. 

Implementation science developed from evidence-based medicine, and is systematic, sequential and structured, with talk of mechanisms as an ‘engine’. The EEF draw heavily and narrowly on this discipline. 

By contrast, complexity science is ecological. It sees organisations as complex, dynamic and evolving, full of relationships, interactions and uncertainty. It encourages understanding relationships, running experiments, asking questions, exchanging viewpoints, muddling through, developing adaptive capacity in staff by allowing judgments and tinkering, and a participatory culture. 

What is more, social science draws on people’s beliefs, feelings, values, motives, expectations, understanding, norms, customs and interpretations. It tries to understand why people act as they do. It recognises that under conditions of uncertainty, high stakes, group dynamics, and limited time, decisions aren’t always fully rational, but are social and emotional too. 

You can see how complexity science and social science perspectives, for example, complicate the causal web for things like obesity and its discontents.

I’d love to see further research on implementation and causal webs specific to schools, beyond the organisations and hospitals that the two papers above study.

Like strategy, which is actually more than one thing (knowledge-building, prioritising and adapting), and writing too (planning/studying, drafting, editing), implementation is actually several things: knowing our stuff, preparing, planning and reviewing.

We need to know what knowledge to equip ourselves with.

We need to know how to choose whether to run an initiative.

We need to know how to approach planning each initiative.

We need to know how to review our initiative.

Preparing, planning and reviewing well upstream can save massive problems and heartache downstream. All depend heavily on knowing the context and area we are implementing in: whether behaviour, curriculum or CPD.

What if we created and iterated a list of questions to ask ourselves to build our tacit and contextual knowledge at the crucial points before deciding on an initiative, before launching it, and for shortly after?

PREPARING: how to know enough to decide if this is the best thing to do

  1. Team: who will lead on the initiative as project leader, team and wider champions? How deep is their domain expertise – how much credibility do they have?
  2. Capacity: How much capacity do they and the organisation have – how many other initiatives are going on? how much time do the frontline implementers have to bring to what will need to be done?
  3. Time: How much time can we allocate to the knowledge-building, planning and reviewing phases of the new potential initiative? Remember Hofstader’s law- everything takes far, far longer than we think, even using this law.
  4. Comparisons: How confident are we that it’s the very best next initiative? What’s its feasibility and probability of lasting success, based on the research evidence and our domain experience? How high-impact is it for the time invested? What’s the opportunity cost? What are the alternatives? Should we definitely choose this over others?

In short, to prepare well when implementing, know your team, their capacity, the time and the options.

PLANNING: how to increase chances of success

  1. Problem: What’s the precise problem we want to address? what are the causal webs here, based on our experience?
  2. Initiative: What are the vital ingredients that multiple disciplines, research evidence and our experience suggest? What’s our theory of change – how exactly do we think our solution will address the problem and its multiple causes? 
  3. Scope: What scope are we choosing – what are the breadth-depth tradeoffs? 
  4. Quality: What standards will we set as essential, given our expertise – and how can we make them clear?
  5. Alignment: what are our team’s current beliefs, values, feelings, expectations and norms? Where does our theory of change clash with those? Where will it resonate and align with our people’s outlooks and worldviews?
  6. Pilot: How could we run a smaller-scale pilot to evaluate and learn from?
  7. Follow-through: What training activities and rationale will best boost follow-through and deepen domain knowledge?   
  8. Content: What needs to be produced to make the vital ingredients and training activities work?
  9. Risks/Premortem: What will the biggest challenges and risks be? What could best be done to mitigate them? If in a year it hasn’t  worked out, what would the reason be? 
  10. Tasks/Owners: What tasks must be done by when? Who will do what by when? How strong is their expertise in these areas?
  11. Milestones: What milestones and deadlines will we set? How realistic are these deadlines, given everything else we have on?
  12. Preemption: How can we preempt the ‘implementation dip’ by anticipating what is most likely to prove tricky? Could we get internal or external expert feedback on the content we create?
  13. Ownership: How can we create ownership among frontline staff, perhaps through involvement, decision-making and trouble-shooting on this?
  14. Launch: Who’s best placed to launch the initiative to frontline staff and how?
  15. Support: How will comms, reflection/discussion, coaching or other support work best?  
  16. Input: How will feedback, data collection and input-gathering work best to identify issues to resolve? Who will we get input from ahead of the launch, and after?

REVIEWING: how to choose whether to sustain, scale or scrap it 

  1. Adaptations: What side-effects and unintended consequences have we seen? How should we adapt to issues raised in review?
  2. Bright spots: What are the early wins and bright spots we can flag up and learn from?
  3. Sustaining: What is required to sustain this long-term in the culture? What knowledge will most deepen our expertise, and for who?
  4. Scale: Should we stick with the current scope, scrap it or scale the pilot up beyond its scope? If we scale, let’s return to the questions of the preparing phase.  

Do less, better

I didn’t ask these questions of the initiatives I ran in the past. To be honest I did not carve out the time for them. As a result, we came down with recurrent bouts of initiativitis.

Actually, these 24 or so questions make me realise: it would be much better for me to run far fewer initiatives, far better implemented. To do fewer things in greater depth. One CEO of a successful organisation I know ran just 5 big initiatives in 25 years. Many schools run 25 in 5 years. Or more!

If I asked these questions of each initiative I thought about launching as a school leader, it could help a lot.

  • It could create greater ownership in our teams. 
  • It could create greater understanding among our leaders.
  • It could create greater clarity and cohesion.
  • It could reduce confusion, overload, forgetting and burnout. 
  • It could boost morale, productivity and perhaps even happiness and retention. 

And it’s just a few steps.

Better knowledge. 

Better preparation. 

Better planning. 

Better reviewing. 

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With implementation – combining expertise, problem-solving and ownership – there’s lots to ask and loads to learn. 

Time to redouble my efforts!

Posted in Education, Staff Culture | 1 Comment

The wicked problem of learning

Sometimes we are so deep in an orthodoxy we cannot see it.

In their new book, Becky Allen, Matthew Evans and Ben White give us ways to question how we see and think about our schools. 

They combine a visit to the museum (a history of school improvement policy waves), research from Teacher Tapp surveys, and the lens of complexity and systems theory, with analysis of the perspectives of economics, sociology, psychology, educationalists, headteachers, school leaders and teachers. They share some powerful concepts (like patch-making, creeping managerialism and shadow boxing), vivid metaphors (waves, maps, patches, miracles, hill-climbing, waltzes, helicopters, foxes and hedgehogs feature) and a rousing call to action.

Here are some of their concepts, questions and insights.

What can’t we fully know? Where are we under the illusion of knowledge?

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Learning is invisible. The human brain is complex.

Can ‘progress’, or even who’s learning what exactly, be fully known?

Can metaphors like ‘schema’ fully capture what’s happening in learning? 

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Prior knowledge differs vastly.

Can ‘the starting point’ of ‘the class’ be fully known?

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People’s pasts, beliefs and habits differ vastly.

Can ‘the staff’, ‘the pupils’ or ‘the school’ be fully known?

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We can’t fully know the learning, progress or knowledge in the school.

What is known in a school is mostly in the minds of others.

How can we explore it? 

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What can we know? In which discrete areas is improvement knowable?

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We have limited time and precious energy. 

There are infinite numbers of ‘opportunities for change’. Most should not be taken. 

What can we best give our attention to?

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Problems in schools, like knowing who’s learned what, repeatedly reemerge.

What waves of solutions (personalisation, data, progression) have been tried?

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Managers have tendencies to want to fix things, ‘do something’, control stuff and monitor people.

Are we labouring under the orthodoxies that leaders act ‘decisively’ to ‘change’ things?

Which diktat and initiatives would have been better if they had never happened?

Might our schools be better places if the initiators had chosen to do nothing on these initiatives?

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Some problems are more fiendish than others.

What problem are we trying to solve? What type of problem? Is it ‘wicked’? or ‘illusory’?

  • Wicked problems resist all attempts to resolve them, like the invisibility of learning, or school improvement
  • Tame problems have tried and tested solutions: like knowing your ten times table.
  • Illusory problems are superficial problems, like certain staff non-compliance, caused by deeper problems, like excessive directives, prescriptive policies and high pressure.
  • Metamorphic problems recur in forms bearing the hallmarks of previous solutions: like the data wave emerging from the crash of the personalisation wave.

How can we better break down wicked problems into tamer problems?

How can we stop shadow boxing (attempting to solve illusory problems)?

How can we better see illusory problems for what they are? 

How can we deeply explore the problems we encounter and achieve shared understanding?

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Causes work not alone but in teams.

What is the causal ‘web’ that influences whether or not an initiative works?

What are the causal ‘mechanisms’ by which knowledge actually develops?

Which disciplines – history, economics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, evolutionary biology, cognitive sciences – can we draw on and learn from?

How can school leaders understand teacher beliefs and study teacher habits?

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All solutions are based on assumptions and justifications.

Ill-fated solutions rest on naive over-simplifications. 

What are the justifications for our initiatives, such as curriculum reviews?

What assumptions underpin them?

What evidence bases are our ‘best bets’ based on?

Where are we overreliant on a single frame of reference, like cognitive science?

How can we put our proposals under scrutiny by people with different expertise and perspectives?

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All solutions to complex problems have unintended consequences. 

How can we avoid the distortions of bolt-on fixes like retrieval practice and organisers?

How can we work out the adverse effects of our solutions?

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One in five teacher-respondents say they cannot raise problems with school leaders.

How can we create better feedback loops? 

How do staff explain each school initiative? How do they see it? How do they respond to it?

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We look to stories to make sense of and give meaning to our endeavours.

How can we tell better stories? that better capture our imagination, harness the energy of pupils and staff and propel us to better action?

How can we find simple, modest ways to improve without simplistic grand gestures?

How can we avoid oversimplifying the problem and overcomplicating the solution?

School leaders are mired deep within the orthodoxies of fixing, intervening, directives, target-setting, prescribing, monitoring, evidencing and scrutinising. 

Becky, Matthew and Ben help us see these orthodoxies for what they are: illusions. 

It’s time to stop shadow boxing. 

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What was asked at ResearchEd Surrey?

ResearchEd is one of the most exciting developments in teaching in the last ten years. Teachers and school leaders are now asking questions that cut to the core of how we can improve education.

The sharing, passion, generosity and collegiality make for an amazingly vibrant atmosphere. The thinkers we now have in school leadership in England make it feel like the best time in history to be in teaching.

From the six talks I was able to see at ResearchEd Surrey, I’ll share some of the most powerful questions and some of the central insights.

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How can we create a culture of teacher expertise?

Rebecca Lee

How can we develop our expertise and access others’ tacit knowledge?

How can we give teachers great subject feedback whilst avoiding the rubric problem?

What’s the best way to get external challenge?

Rebecca suggests building our knowledge, organised as mental models to guide actions on persistent problems, without falling into the trap of mimicking surface-level features (like copying the way Jonny Wilkinson holds his hands together when kicking rugby penalties, which isn’t a vital factor). 

How can we make today into CPD?

Mark Enser

How can we create great CPD without rushing it?

How can we create better, lasting learning for  all our staff?

How can we evaluate the impact of CPD both for novice and more expert teachers?

Mark argues that we should treat teacher learning more like pupil learning, plan our CPD like a curriculum, and allow plenty of time for discussion, experimentation and reflection.

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How do you build a curriculum from scratch?

Josh Vallance

Where and who does your curriculum come from – is it poached, imported, inherited?

What can we learn from others’ curricula – and get others’ input into ours?

What questions and ideas are most useful to focus curricula conversations on – without shortcuts?

Josh’s message is that conversations are the lifeblood of curriculum: deep subject knowledge and thinking over time, with deliberate selection and sequencing choices, allow us to make each unit in our curriculum build on prior knowledge, and help build future knowledge, to open up worlds for our pupils, to turn prohibition-era shacks into well-built houses. 

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Why do school leaders do daft things?

Becky Allen & Matthew Evans

Why do people overestimate their knowledge of how even simple household appliances work – until they’re asked to explain them exactly in writing?

What does this mean for schools, which are much more complex and fast-changing than household appliances, and for school leaders considering initiatives and interventions to improve them?

How can school leaders deal with complexity, uncertainty and the invisibility of learning, and avoid doing daft things that have harmful effects? 

Becky and Matthew urge us to face up to the limits of our knowledge, to see how ideas rise and fall in education, to notice when we’re in the grip of them, and to be alert to our own unhelpful tendencies as school leaders.

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What can we learn from Ofsted’s subject research reviews?

Heather Fearn

Why think about curriculum at all?

Why should we teach knowledge?

What knowledge should we teach, in what order?

What do teachers need to know? – a question also asked by Pete Foster at ResearchEdSurrey.

Heather suggests: curriculum reconfigures the way we think about teaching; knowledge helps us learn, and it helps us share in society’s conversations. We should teach the most significant knowledge, ordered to build useful schema. Teachers need to know how subject content will help pupils learn future content, and how secure pupils are in what they’re learning.

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What makes good writing?

Daisy Christodoulou

Why do pupils make writing errors in their sentences?

Is it that they know how to write accurate sentences but forget and get overloaded? that they don’t understand what a sentence is? or a combination?

How can we improve pupil understanding of sentence structures?

Based on studying over 500,000 pieces of student writing, and on extensive follow-up diagnostic questions to explore misconceptions, Daisy is testing two main hypotheses: many pupils have a shaky knowledge of what a sentence is, thinking that run-ons, comma splices and fragments are sentences and that short sentences aren’t sentences; sentence-error-correction exercises and multiple-choice questions give pupils lots of examples, practice and feedback to improve their understanding of accurate sentences. Writing ages can help teachers, school leaders, pupils, and parents know where they’re at. 

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Two themes that ran throughout these talks and others are deep knowledge and deep thinking. Deep knowledge helps pupils learn our subjects, teachers develop their expertise and school leaders understand how better to improve our schools. Deep thinking over time is required to build deep knowledge. 

Like the scientific revolution that underpins it, the knowledge revolution marches on.

The passion and generosity of the speakers and organisers, preparing and sharing their ideas and the weekend, is awe-inspiring.

ResearchEd is the best example out there that shows that we, the teachers, are now leading our profession.

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Taking feedback well

As school leaders, we need feedback from staff on how things are going; we can’t be present in that many hotspots, CPD sessions, lessons or conversations. But it’s hard for staff to be fully honest when their jobs, livelihoods and promotions depend partly on their relationships with heads and senior leaders.

Getting honest feedback depends hugely on how well we take feedback when it’s given – however unsolicited!

What tried-and-tested ways are there to take feedback well? 

How can we create a culture in our school where we all receive feedback from others really well, so as not to discourage people from sharing it in the future?

Four examples of being given feedback in schools

Let’s take some examples of unexpected feedback that I’ve seen people give and get given in the last 11 years. 

Three heads of department come into a deputy head’s office. Things look heated. 

‘Can we have a word please? The data drop deadlines for Year 7 to 11 and sixth form are all hitting teachers at the same time! Some of our teachers teach all 7 year groups. There’s massive pressure on us right now, and the communication has been really poor, to be frank. There’s a bit of a vacuum of leadership on this.’

A head of year emails SLT about whole-school end-of-break routines, with strong feelings. 

‘To be honest, we haven’t cracked lineups yet. Standards are slipping, and though we ask for silence it isn’t happening. Our expectations are lowering, and we don’t have enough SLT support or presence. There’s sometimes not a single SLT member or duty staff member there at all. It feels chaotic, students ignore us and bundle off loudly and boisterously into corridors, and to tell you the truth, I come into work dreading having to lead them. It would be good to get your thoughts on what we do about this.’

When a VP pops into a subject department office, a long-term cover teacher is in tears.

‘That was a terrible cover lesson. They were so disrespectful. On call didn’t come when I asked. One rubbed my warnings off the board. Another hid the projector remote. I think another went through my bag. It was really intimidating. I felt terrible. totally helpless.’

A middle leader is exasperated that other staff aren’t doing what’s needed, and shares their frustrations with an assistant head. 

‘People aren’t doing their jobs! We always have to pick up the pieces but we don’t have time for it all! If people just did what we asked them to… it doesn’t have to be like this, but they have to start pulling their weight!’

In these moments, it’s human to feel defensive, to defend ourselves or others from criticism, to justify, contextualise or explain. It’s normal and natural to feel a little prickly when our ideas, our close colleagues or our teams come in for criticism. It’s hard not to inadvertently deflect responsibility. 

These are moments of truth for staff in schools. The school leader’s response sends a signal, whether deliberate or not. The response either signals that we are open to listening and welcome upward feedback, or it signals that we are not open to learning and that we don’t want honest feedback. 

To stop me getting defensive in these moments, and to show staff that honest feedback is a good thing, I’ve created a mnemonic to help me remember what’s best to do in these moments. 

Five things to keep in mind to receive feedback well

To receive feedback well, we can try and keep five things in mind, chunked into the mnemonic RESET

Reassure: reassure them that the feedback is taken in the spirit it’s intended.

‘Just to reassure you – I’ll never take feedback badly. It’s valuable: it improves things!’

Enquire: ask to hear more about their view, and other perspectives.

‘What are the impacts of this that you’re seeing?’ 

What else is on your mind on this?’

‘What would you tell me if you were being even more totally honest?!’’

‘What’s the other perspective on this?’

Summarise: summarise the core of the feedback and check it’s been fully understood.

‘What you’re saying is, if I’ve understood it…..     Is that it?’ … ‘What am I missing?’

‘To summarise, here’s the top thing I think we can do better. Is that the one that makes most sense?’’

Encourage: encourage further honest upward feedback in future – or in the moment.

‘Keep sharing your thoughts honestly and directly like this! If we don’t know about it, we can’t address it.’ 

‘Keep letting us know about this sort of stuff! We have blind spots on SLT – we won’t see the things you do unless you help us see what you see!’

Thank: appreciate the giver for taking the time, effort and courage to be up front. 

‘Thanks for letting me know about this and for being honest about how you feel; I appreciate it!’ 

‘Better to let me know than talk about it behind my back – thank you for fronting up!’

‘I appreciate you sharing this, so that we can work out what we can do better.’

To be clear, this isn’t a set sequence: it’s not that you have to go through all five things every time, and it doesn’t have to be in order at all. That’s far too formulaic and doesn’t feel genuine.

It can be light-touch. Here’s an example of how I’ve seen it work in practice.

These five options give us a way to avoid natural but suboptimal defensive reactions. 

Instead of criticising the criticism, in the first instance I might summarise it.

Instead of pushing back and shutting down the conversation, we open up to asking and hearing about the situation, its impact and context more fully. 

Instead of justifying or rationalising a mistake I’ve made, say, I can use the chance to listen and understand, and make my colleague feel understood. 

Instead of leaping to defend myself, discouraging future honesty, I can encourage my colleagues to keep letting me know how inevitable unintended consequences are playing out. 

Instead of putting up barriers between staff and the senior team, I can learn where things aren’t working out that well.   

Instead of ignoring it, I can work out at least one thing we can do better. 

Knowledge and expertise, though, are key. Unless we as school leaders know how best to improve behaviour (cover and lineups in the examples above), curriculum (assessment and data in the examples above), and staff culture (underperformance, staff teamwork and comms in the examples above), reassurance and encouragement will fall flat without actually improving things.   

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What do we gain from taking feedback well? 

First, staff trust us as school leaders more. 

Reassuring, encouraging and thanking – each takes care of the emotionally risky side to giving upward feedback. Staff worry. They fear they’ll be seen as complainers or moaners. I’ve often heard staff express this feeling when giving honest upward feedback: ‘I don’t want to moan!’ ‘I don’t want to come across like I’m just complaining the whole time!’ We all worry how others perceive us, especially those who control our prospects of career progression; it’s natural. So we on SLT have to work hard to counteract these natural fears.

Second, trust helps the truth flow upwards. 

We see reality better. 

We see our blind spots better. 

We see unintended consequences better.

We get useful disagreement. 

We understand people’s concerns better. 

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Two ideas I learned from Harvard law profs Stone and Heen are the idea of a second score and the importance of boundaries when taking feedback. 

Five questions for giving ourselves a second score

When receiving feedback, no matter how harsh, we can always choose how we respond to it.

We can always strive to respond well, to build trust and to approach things well.

Even in response to an Ofsted grade, or lower-than-hoped-for GCSE or Alevel results (for a school, department, teacher or kid!), we can give ourselves a second score: a score for how well we respond.

Reassure: How well did we react to the feedback, even parts that weren’t quite right or unhelpful? 

Enquire: How well did we ask for others’ input and thinking? 

Summary: How well did we summarise rather than criticise it, to work out what, if anything, we can learn from it? 

Encourage: How well did we encourage future feedback by acting on it, choosing one top thing to try out from it?

Thank: How well did we make the conversation, or trust-building useful for the future, perhaps by showing appreciation?

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Drawing boundaries

But we can also get overwhelmed and overloaded by feedback. Especially if we become what Stone and Heen call a ‘gimme-feedback fanatic’, which I have susceptibility to become!

Some feedback isn’t so useful. Especially harsh or bitter criticism, where it’s badly clouded, often says much more about the person giving the feedback than the person it’s about. As a pal of mine puts it, ‘feedback is a gift; but some gifts you take to Oxfam!’ 

Given the volume of input that school leaders get, it’s important to discern and filter out feedback that isn’t useful.  

We have to draw boundaries. We have to be able to say: ‘I don’t want feedback on that subject, not right now.’ Or: ‘I don’t (think we) have the headspace to act on that at the moment, but thank you for letting me know about it.’ There’s always masses to work on. Change is taxing; overloading ourselves doesn’t help. External feedback may not be the very best next step to take and focus on. We can decline the offer of overloading feedback firmly, appreciatively, explaining why and redirecting feedback to where and when it’s most welcome. 

Some forms of feedback can start to become toxic.

If the feedback is unrelentingly hostile.

If the feedback always involves you having to change, and never any change from the giver. 

If your views and feelings aren’t a legitimate part of the relationship.

Then the feedback may be turning toxic.

That’s when drawing boundaries – or, ultimately, if boundaries are ignored, moving on – are important.

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In summary

Feedback is, for the most part, a path towards learning and improving. It’s hard to perceive ourselves fully, and the impact we have on others. Seeking plenty of feedback can often propel our development. 

To create a culture of receiving feedback really well, we can share these three challenges and ideas with staff. 

How to respond to tough feedback in the moment: RESET.

Reassure, Enquire, Summarise, Encourage, Thank.

How to keep improving how we accept feedback: second score.

Give ourselves a second score for how we responded to the feedback, rating or grade given.

How to clarify to feedback givers when it gets overloading: boundaries.

Explain gently but firmly: ‘I don’t feel able to act on feedback on that, not right now.’

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These ideas help us lead by example in moments of truth, when it’s most difficult.

Seeking feedback is vital for school leaders; so is taking it well. 

Let’s look in the next post at how we as school staff can best give feedback. 

Posted in Education | 5 Comments

Honest upward feedback

Staff don’t often tell school leaders what they truly think about what matters most..

Why does seeking honest upward feedback from staff matter?

Being ignored is demotivating.

We want staff to be able to share their struggles and mistakes without hiding them. 

If you feel unable to be honest, you tend to feel bad. 

If you’re able to be honest, you tend to feel happier. 

Happy staff are more likely to stay in the school.

Unhappy staff are more likely to leave the school.

Students prefer to be taught by experts who are happy, and who stay in the school.

But expertise is hard to build in a staff with lots of churn, turnover and attrition. 

Russell Hobby has spent more than a decade working with, listening to and learning from hundreds of headteachers and school leaders. I’ve learned lots from listening to him, from his humility and from trying to understand the wisdom he has accumulated about leading staff in schools. In an extraordinary article, he distils his insights on power, perception and distortion:

“One painful revelation for me was that the more senior my role, the more distorted my view of the reality of my organisation. 

The more power you are perceived to wield, rightly or wrongly, the more effort people put into managing you. Their careers depend upon it.

People are less likely to bring you bad news. They are more likely to agree with you. They are less likely to tell you that you are being an idiot. People are more reluctant to interrupt you with helpful observations. They may assume you have wise reasons for your outwardly baffling decisions. And they are more likely to behave well in front of you.

The distortion of the prism is correlated with the power gradient inside your organisation. You need power – quite a lot of power – to be effective in your role. But there are two types. There is earned authority based on wisdom, perspective and good judgement, with a minimal hint of just sanction in the distant background. And there is the power to hurt and humiliate. Right and might, if you will. You want to maximise the first and minimise the second. People will talk to you with relative candour in the former. They will avoid you as far as possible in the latter, and lie to you without a second thought.

There’s usually someone who can be relied upon to tell you the truth. Usually at the least convenient moment and in the most unpalatable way. Treasure your responsible mavericks. And if you ever punish anyone who gives you a difficult message you’re probably done for.

You wield power over people’s welfare and it shapes their behaviour. You need that power to do the good in the world that you want to do but you need to use it in a way that doesn’t provoke people to coddle or misdirect you in return. There is nothing more pitiful than a grandiose leader who is merely cocooned by their court in a prism of delusion.

Your perspective is inevitably distorted by your power. And the more visible your power, the greater the distortion.”

After 10 years working closely with some of the most extraordinary (and outlandish!) school leaders in education, including Katharine Birbalsingh, Barry Smith, David Thomas and Summer Turner, visiting and studying some of the highest-performing schools in the country, led by Sally Coates, Max Haimendorf, Luke Sparkes, Darren Hollingsworth and Izzy Ambrose, and listening and sharing ideas with longstanding headteachers like Tom Rees and Amit Hathi (all of which I’d like to do much more of!), there’s a set of beliefs, habits and practices for inviting honest staff feedback that I’m testing out. I’d like to share it with the edusphere and invite critique. 

The challenge of encouraging honest staff input and involvement is only one small part of school leadership, but it is a vital part, and very hard to do well in schools, which are quite hierarchical.

Headteachers and school leaders wield power over staff livelihoods, salaries, promotions, pay progression, opportunities, timetables, classes, duties, feedback, capability and daily experiences. 

It’s hard for staff to be fully honest with anyone on or close to the senior team.

So we have to work hard to encourage that honesty.

Which beliefs do I try to hold true to that help me with my reality distortion field?

Reality is hard to see.

We all have blind spots. Especially in leadership.

Truth doesn’t flow to the top. 

We tend to confuse what we want to be true with what is actually true.

Burying our heads in the sand like ostriches, avoiding problems – doesn’t help.

No involvement, no commitment. 

If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.

One of my most vital decisions is who to ask questions of. 

Which messages do I share with my colleagues and team mates and keep returning to?

Share what’s hardest to share. 

Don’t criticise people behind their back without giving them the chance to act on it! 

Tell them, not someone else without them knowing.

If I don’t know about it, how can I fix it?

Depriving me of feedback denies me the chance to improve. 

It’s hard to see my shortcomings, so I rely on your input! 

What habits do I try hard to practise for seeking staff feedback and input?

I ask staff for honest, forthright feedback, suggestions, ideas, criticisms and input.

I devote lots of time to talking and listening to people and asking them lots of good questions.

I learn something from everyone (and any school). Including, sometimes, what not to do!

I think carefully about who to ask questions of, thinking: who do I know who might help with this?

I invest lots of time to get teammates in sync; I don’t leave important conflicts unresolved. 

I work hard to see others’ viewpoints. ‘You see it differently! Help me see what you see!’

I summarise crucial opposing views to mine and check whether I’ve fully understood it.

I make staff feel completely backed. I insist they tell me if they ever feel undermined.

I instil confidence in my colleagues by developing my expertise, competence and reliability.

I surface disagreements to try to resolve them. 

I do not avoid, repress or deny conflict but see it as an opportunity for greater trust, teamwork, unity and alignment long-term through an open, honest and transparent conflict resolution.

I share dilemmas with people, especially those I trust most, and involve them in the problem so we can work out solutions together.

I share my mistakes to work out the most vital lessons learned – and work hard to apply them.

I never blame anyone, including myself! I take full responsibility for my choices instead, by working out what I could and should have done differently, sharing that and asking to be held to it.

I share my struggles, failures, and areas of low (or no!) expertise openly, so as to encourage others to do the same.

I recognise that everyone has things that stand in the way of success: I work these out, starting with myself, and try and address them.

I work out what my persistent shortcomings are and what my blind spots tend to be.

I make decisions – when they involve and affect others – considering not just the outcome but process, involvement and procedural justice. 

Plenty to work on there!

Which questions am I trying to ask myself more?

Where am I contributing to people’s thinking and impact?

Who am I overlooking?

Where am I getting in my own way?

Where am I getting in others’ way, hindering more than I’m helping?

Which questions am I trying to ask others more?

‘What would better enable you to do your best work? that’s within our control?!’

‘What are you doing that you want to do less of?’

‘What are you not doing that you most want to do?’

‘What’s (been) most helpful for you?’ 

‘What could we do differently?’

‘If you were going to be totally, brutally honest, what would you say?’ 

‘What haven’t I asked about that’s important?’ 

What practices am I trying out for encouraging honest upward feedback from staff to SLT?

#1. Chats

Walking around the school, taking time to chat, ask, listen and hear what’s on people’s minds. 

#2. Polls

Creating surveys to gather staff perspectives, ideas and suggestions. 

#3. 360s

Running annual 360 degree reviews – surveys seeking developmental feedback – to help me overcome my self-serving biases and misperceptions; to stop, start and keep up the right things! 

#4. Drafts

For irreversible, high-impact decisions, creating drafts of the tradeoffs and options to share with staff to invite their thinking, to overcome option blindness, and to improve the iterations. 

#5. Dragonfly-eye

Synthesising different views into clear-sighted summaries. Dragonflies see in 360 degrees!

There are downsides to this set of beliefs, messages, habits and practices. If not combined with strong values and steadfast resolve on principle, priorities and decisively saying no, they risk overstretch. They backfire in the wrong circumstances. And they must be combined with the multiple other dimensions to school leadership, such as clarity, cohesion, instilling confidence, safety, rapport and learning.

There are many other aspects to staff culture beyond upward feedback, such as difficult conversations about lapses in standards, misplaced priorities, persistent underperformance or misaligned values. There are team conversations, delegation conversations and coaching conversations within pastoral or curriculum areas. There’s thinking to be done on how best to give feedback and how best to accept feedback. But those are beyond the scope of this blogpost and for another time. 

A big part of creating a culture of honest upward feedback is receiving it really well. Let’s look at how to take feedback in the next post.

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