The secret of my SDP success (part 1)

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:

  • Aim
  • Strategy
  • Tactics

Thanks Alastair. #winners

 

Leaders, Assemble!

In recent years, the education conference landscape has changed dramatically. There are still the same traditional conferences knocking about the place but they are being eclipsed by a grass roots movement of pedagogy platforms. Teachers are doing it for themselves. What’s more, they’re doing it at weekends and they’re loving it.

I’ve been to my fair share of these and I’ve always left feeling the same things:

  1. Teachers are cool!
  2. Teaching is exciting!
  3. Why does everyone hate SLT?

In my opinion it’s time for leaders to get in on the action and start a revolution of their own.

And, it was with this thought in mind that I jumped at the chance to be involved in a new education conference for the South West. At the moment, it has a date, Saturday 1st July 2017, but no name: #ConferenceWithNoName.

I am determined that, as well as being an incredible day of pedagogical wonder, it will be an opportunity for everyday leaders to have their say too.

I’m looking for leaders who are passionate about education and who unite teachers through their leadership.

  • Leaders who unify.
  • Leaders who strengthen.
  • Leaders who inspire whilst keeping it real.
  • Leaders who understand.
  • Leaders who care beyond ofsted and themselves.

If you think you could talk for about an hour, on an element of your leadership, and after that hour people would leave thinking:

  1. Leaders can be cool!
  2. Leading can be exciting!
  3. Who knew you could love SLT?

Then I want to hear from you.

I can’t promise you money. I can’t promise you fame or fortune. But I can promise you a firm handshake and a roomful of people who will be interested and a free drink if it all goes wrong.

If you fancy inspiring the next generation of school leaders, or just want to show people that leadership is a force for good, then please get in touch.

Leave me a comment under this post stating the area of leadership you would be interested in talking about and a way of contacting you (Twitter handle or email) and I will get back to you.

Thanks for reading.

@theprimaryhead

The targets are strong with this one

jedi-lightsaber-duo-pack

 

I was so pleased with this year’s appraisal process. I kept it simple. I stripped it back. More importantly – I thought – the teachers had ownership over their targets.* You may not believe me but most teachers seemed to leave the meeting with a spring in their step. They were, dare I say, excited that we’d identified something for them to focus on throughout the year. We didn’t worry too much about past lesson observations or previous years’ foci. Instead, we had an honest conversation about their year so far. This may sound odd but I like to expect my teachers to struggle. No matter how good they are, or successful they have been in the past, I find it’s healthier to presume that this could be the year it all goes wrong! I appreciate that on the surface that sounds quite negative but I assure you it’s not. I think it’s quite positive. It certainly takes the pressure of feeling that past successes must be improved upon without fail or else it’s capability time. This way you’re allowed to be human. You can be faced with whatever challenge is in your classroom safe in the knowledge that you can come to me and I won’t say ‘A teacher of your calibre shouldn’t find that a challenge. Oh my, I thought you were good!’ So, in they came with comments like:

  • Man, I thought I was good with behaviour but this class, WOW! I’m going to need some help with this, Boss.
  • I’ve got three new arrivals, Chief. I can’t understand them. They can’t understand me. Help me out please.
  • Crikey these lot are clever! I’ll need some advice about how to stretch them, Big Guy.
  • Hey Ice, what’s PDA? Our SENCO says I’ve got four kids with it. Help me out.

It was great. Honest conversations about areas of professional development they needed help with. That’s what appraisals are for. Not regurgitating tired Ofsted criteria or vanilla statements from the school development plan. This year, we were keeping it real. Teachers felt good because they could talk about a difficulty without being judged for it. I felt good because all these targets would improve what we were putting in place for the children.

I was psyched. I was pumped. I was totally ready for my own appraisal.

My Chair of Governors asked me to consider what targets I would want and email them across before the meeting. I dutifully reflected on the SDP and came up with four or five robust targets that would surely improve the school. They were linked to achievement, teaching, learning, behaviour, leadership and my personal development.

I attended my appraisal with a panel of governors and was shown four targets that pretty much had nothing to do with what I had prepared. Only one of them contained the briefest of nods towards what I thought should be my focus. I was a little stunned and a little more than disappointed.

One of the governors asked how I felt. I was respectful, but it was pretty clear to everyone in the room that I wasn’t exactly sold on the four targets I was clearly going to be given.

We discussed them. The cases put forward were:

ME: These don’t have anything to do with the areas of the school that I am actually accountable for.

THEM: We totally trust you to lead successfully on teaching and behaviour so why not push you out of your comfort zone.

ME: School improvement isn’t comfortable!

THEM: School improvement is what you will always do. These targets reflect the unique challenging circumstances the school, nay all schools, are facing.

ME: Oh very bloody clever!

I won’t go into detail about what the targets were but, to be fair to the governors, they had a point. Their target suggestions may have less to do with my job description than previous years but they do represent the reality of running a school in 2016-17. It is not going to be easy and, on reflection, it is only right that my targets be focussed on the nitty-gritty of the school I am leading. Without us knowing it, the governors and I had approached the appraisal process in almost identical ways. We had both asked our appraisees to consider the year ahead, focusing on the potential failures before making that the subject of the future. And the fact that the teachers seemed more excited about their targets than I did about mine maybe says more about the state of education rather than the appraisal focus.

Reflecting back, I now consider the teachers, walking out of their appraisals with a spring in their step, to be like children walking out of the cinema after watching ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. Whereas I felt more like a depressed child crying all the way home after watching Luke get his hand chopped off in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It may be stark. It may appear bleak.  But it is exactly what it needs to be. I am slowly concluding that my appraisal targets for this year may be the best I’ve ever had.

Now all I need to do is make sure that, in a year’s time, my appraisal review completes the trilogy and the governors will celebrate ‘The Return of the Jedi’.

 

*Well, not the achievement targets; I still set those. ‘SLT scum!’ I hear some of you scream. Yeah, I know, I know. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s my school and I’m setting achievement targets.