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Keeping it simple: a cycle that makes leadership better.

I'm quite a simple person at heart, anything too complicated and I just get distracted.  As an outdoor instructor, we stuck to a basic patters: plan, do, review. This simple system worked well in the high stakes world of mountains: get it wrong and people can get seriously injured or die.  Of course, there are many subtleties and tweaks, but improvement, leadership ad teaching are very simple at the core.

I may be completely missing the point (highly probable) but, after a run in the rain, here's what I think:

The beauty of this cycle is that it operates at any scale, from the individual lessons, through long term plans to whole school leadership of teaching and learning.

Big Plan

This is what needs doing.  There should be clear aspirations that are shared and form the basis of evaluation.  It's the most crucial stage and can take a long time to do.  It's also important to note that a Big Plan can operate at different timescales and range from micro to macro. Some examples would be:
  • How to teach Year 3 reading.
  • How to reduce the number of persistently absent students.
  • Adapting the curriculum in response to the removal of Controlled Assessment.
  • Accelerating the progress of all Pupil Premium students.
  • Gaining a Deputy Headship.
  • Getting Science away from being Sig- on RAISE.
  • Supporting staff to teach better through a better behaviour management policy.

Again, needs to range in scale according to the plan in place.  At a teaching level there is the assessment of and for learning. The important thing here is to revisit the aspiration and find relevant data.  School are awash with data, but many often forget that data is not limited to numbers.  Ideally, the data would have been identified in the Big Plan:
  • Attendance Data
  • The number of report cards being issued to Year 6
  • Moderated end of term assessments in Year 10 show a gap between boys and girls
  • Homework isn't handed in
  • Staff sickness is increasing
  • Controlled Assessment is not complete
  • Evidence that students have understood key knowledge, skills and understanding
  • External examination results and RAISE
  • Conversations with teachers - sometime anecdotes are fantastic evidence of and for change - just because you can't measure it doesn't mean it's not important.
  • Parental complaints or contact
  • Marking books
I would stress the important of live, living data rather than retrospective, historical viewpoints.  

At appropriate intervals, the Big Plan should be revisited and tweaked.  Stop doing stuff that doesn't work (although there is a fine line between waiting for impact and writing something off too early).

Adapt / innovate

Innovation is a relative concept.  What can seem like the latest cutting edge idea can seem humdrum in another setting.  Ideas in one classroom can be very different to those in another. And that's OK.  In addition, innovation does not equal technology - small, simple ideas and what is often needed. The point here is to do something with the information gathered.  

There is very little point in realising there is a problem (identified during the Assess stage) and then not doing anything about it.

Teach / Do

This is where the plan is followed.  Remember, good plans need only be tweaked.  For example, my first department development plan spanned three years and we stuck to it.

Here are some examples taken from my own experience.  As I say, I may be totally too simple here, but this is a story based upon making some real difference, because of my input.  The cycle does rely upon the professionalism of teachers, for example my Schemes of Work offered flexibility within a tight framework.  However, we must acknowledge that sometimes (and it is in a small minority of cases) there is a need for action, for handholding, increased monitoring and support plans.  

On the whole, I believe in giving more accountability to staff with added trust and flexibility.  And I'm afraid teachers can't have more freedom without increased accountability.  Accountability doesn't mean micro-management.


  1. I like this post, very much, and the cycle of plan-do-review. Seeing what the main elements which form the big plan is essential. I especially like the following points you make:
    1) Conversations with teachers - sometime anecdotes are fantastic evidence of and for change - just because you can;t measure it doesn't mean it's not important.
    2) Stop doing stuff that doesn't work.
    3) ... innovation does not equal technology - small, simple ideas and what is often needed.
    4) There is very little point in realising there is a problem (identified during the Assess stage) and then not doing anything about it.

    Senior leaders can have an amazing impact upon less experienced colleagues and, as such, keeping things, acting with humility, recognising the disasters we have had as young teachers, not forgetting what it is like to teach at least 20 hours a week and offering a helping hand are all essential qualities.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mike. I agree: it's so important to keep feet on the ground. Schools are a busy place.


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