I wrote this the other day, safe in the assumption that nobody would want to actually read about the joys of school development planning (SDP). Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather when literally ones of people wrote to me saying that they really were interested, and, please could I share my strategic wisdom with them. Now, I don’t know about you but I like to use the Ofsted criteria for statistical significance, so, when a third person showed interest it was clear that I had to consider a proportional and appropriate response. Hence why this Saturday, as well as attending the school Christmas Fair (where I spent most of the time trying to avoid getting my face painted), I found myself writing this seminal treatise on strategic school development planning.
It was a couple of years ago when I had my SDP epiphany. I was at the Birmingham Inspiring Leadership conference and Alastair Campbell was on stage. He was a late booking because someone more educatey had pulled out. Nevertheless, he was delighted to be here as he had just written a new book called ‘Winners’ and he happened to have a spare hundred copies in his van that he said he’d happily flog us at the end of the show. He also said he’d share a few funny stories about John Prescott as long as we promised not to record them and upload them to YouTube because, in Campbell’s words, Big JP still has a temper and a mean right hook. As it seemed pretty clear we were all going to be winners by the end of this hour we agreed to let him talk. I won’t go into too much detail about his talk because you’d be better off buying his book and reading it yourself. But there was one detail that really stood out.
The difference between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.
Lots of people, claimed Campbell, do not know the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Those that do, succeed. Those that don’t, often wonder why things aren’t succeeding as well as they thought they would during the planning stage. This was perfect timing for me as I was just about to start writing my new school development plan. After the conference, as I strolled to the Birmingham library to begin writing the SDP before my train arrived, I wondered if I knew the difference.
First though, I had to write my aim. Alastair Campbell said that your objective, or overall aim, should be bold and simple. That suited me just fine. After seven minutes I came up with one of the key aims of my new plan: ‘All teaching is brilliant’. Nobody, I thought, could argue with that. Why wouldn’t you want all teaching to be brilliant? Surely that is an idea that would unite everyone.
Now I had to come up with my strategy.
I began writing a list. Trouble is, I realised that I was just listing tactics:
- Lesson Observations
- Work Monitoring
- Collaborative teaching projects
I tried putting these into long sentences in the hope that they would become more strategic.
- Termly lesson observations to identify strengths within the teaching profile and areas of teaching that require improvement.
I imagined handing this over to Campbell for approval. I closed my eyes and could see him rolling up my SDP and beating me with it whilst calling me a small-minded unstrategic idiot. Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I understand what my overarching strategy was going to be?
And then it hit me.
What was my belief that underpinned all my tactics? Why did I think that these tactics would move the school forward so that all teaching would be brilliant? When I thought about how I would introduce all these tactics to my senior leaders, my governors and my teachers I suddenly knew what my strategy was:
Total commitment to all staff’s professional development.
The strategy was a mind-set. It was a lens that brought into focus the true purpose of all the tactics. No longer would this list of tactics be working on a deficit model of school improvement: making sure bare minimum requirements were reached or identifying where teaching needed to improve. The emphasis would not be on the teachers to try and get through these tactical actions unscathed. It would now be up to the senior leaders to make these tactics worthwhile. This is something they could only do if they were genuinely committed to helping everyone become even better.
When I discussed this with the SLT, I made it clear that only by keeping the strategy in the forefront of their minds would these tactics work. If all they were doing was carrying them out to make a judgement on teachers we would fail. If all they focussed on were the systems of teaching we would never achieve brilliant teaching across the whole school. Only if they were committed to finding ways of improving every teacher’s effectiveness would every teacher reach their potential.
When I launched this to the staff, I made it clear that in twelve months they would be better teachers. I didn’t know the specifics as to how. There was no blueprint. It wasn’t going to be because they used a marking policy or mapped out their differentiation in a way that the SENCO preferred. No, they were going to get better because the senior leaders would be working with them, side by side. Together they would explore the quality of their teaching, in the context of their current class, to identify something that might work even better. No teacher would get left behind. No teacher was too good to get better. No teacher would be unsupported. No leader would be unapproachable because we were all committed to them.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone then stood on their tables and called me ‘My Captain’ but there was a genuine sense of excitement as we started that year. Teachers understood the aim, trusted the strategy and no longer feared the tactics.
And it worked. Not that it’s the only measure of success but I got the Ofsted to prove it. More importantly I developed a team of teachers who enjoy being professionally looked after. They expect me, and the senior leaders, to help them get better. We all start the year knowing that by the end of the year we’ll be even better teachers. This year, we’ve taken it further. We have new tactics. But the strategy hasn’t changed.
So there it is. The key to successful school development planning in three simple words:
Thanks Alastair. #winners