Skip to main content

High Impact, Low effort

This month is the start of the #29daysofwriting challenge.  I enjoyed this last year and will be using my Staffrm account to post.  I'll also be reporting here, both to give a little more detail and to keep a log of what I have written. The challenge developed a great sense of community last year, which is why I'm choosing to write on Staffrm.

What I would say to those who are new to writing or don't want to run out of ideas is:

  • Write for yourself. Clarify an idea, write something out loud. The process of distilling thoughts into writing is immensely beneficial to your practice. If other read, comment and respond, that's a bonus. Ignore the muppets who know nothing of your context, style or students.
  • Mix it up - I like to read about real stuff from real classrooms and schools and also about other stuff.  If we always write about school, how does that work for workload?
  • If you've nothing nice to say, don't say it.
So, the following has been adapted from a geography article:

In my short teaching career, the national curriculum has changed three times including reform at GCSE and A'Level.  While this understandably creates pressure and tension, the curriculum is inherently dynamic.  Curriculum change presents an opportunity for creativity and excitement.  It allows us the opportunity to develop intellectual curiosity in ourselves and others.  It allows us to keep learning.
It's easy to feel bombarded by policy changes, but this is nothing new. Nor is high teacher workload. Consider this from Teaching Geography in 1975:
'As the teacher struggles to keep abreast of a 30-period week, with the pastoral care of pupils and with the hundred-and-one details of school operation, he (sic) continually hears about new ideas, new techniques and new information.' (Bailey 1975)
Frustratingly, reading widely and engaging with Twitter and research can add to the workload pressure and one can develop a sense of being left behind or simply not doing well enough.  But, as teachers we should be creating the curriculum and asking what young people should be learning and what they should be able to do.  
The trouble is, what do we stop doing?  
Adapted from here.
Look at workload.  The DfE people just need to stop changing the curriculum all the time and shifting the accountability measures. This will allow schools to develop and embed. And we won't sit still.  However, workload is a deeply personal issue.  Teachers have a shed load, but what alternatives are they putting forward? Teachers have to take responsibility and action.
So, look at your workload. Or the latest bog that shouts about what you should be doing and figure out where it sits:
Low Effort, High Impact
Ultimately, great teaching and learning by expert teachers over a long timescale leads to magic. What is it that you do that has the most impact but takes the least time? Do it more. Lots. Teachers talking to teachers about teaching.
High Effort, High Impact
These are the things that take a long time.  Like shifting the culture of low expectations that teachers have.  This is going to take yonks. Like engaging parents that don't want to be engaged in order to get children in to school and getting better life chances.  It's doing to take a lot of effort, but it's also going to take a lot of time.  Energy levels run out before time, so pace it.  Think carefully about things that fall in to this category and measure impact at regular intervals. Curriculum change falls in to this category. These things are often like a caterpillar, slow and wriggly but eventually transform into something quite beautiful. 
High Effort, Low impact
What's the point of writing the same comment in exercise books thirty times? Just stop.  What do you do that takes yonks but has very little difference?
Low Effort, Low Impact
These are things that need a bit of thought. Do they add to the culture and ethos that you're trying to achieve? If so, they may be worth it. 


  1. Hi David - thanks for sharing the link back to here. Let's hope we can keep the discussion and commenting as open as the ideas.

    I just wanted to say that a really useful phase when using this thinking grid is to track the potential trajectory of ideas or interventions. Nothing is static really. So if you imagine that every strategy becomes easier or reduces in effort over time. I like to draw that trajectory on the diagram. This is especially useful to think forwards about how the impact of an idea or strategy might increase over time, or in fact decrease. With arrows marked on it tends to open up discussion about how to change the impact or reduce the effort further. Once you have plotted initial positions it is a useful phase to discuss what happens over time. You could even explore how a typical school calendar increases effort across the board, for example during report writing time. Equally true of times when there is less stress and pressure around.

    Hope those additional ideas help extend the use of this simple grid for you, it has always proven to be a great provocation for me.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom. I hadn't thought of tracking the trajectory of ideas over time and I like the thought of revisiting ideas that have been useful in the past. I can see how this could be used both to assess actions that have had high impact in the past but are starting ti dip as well as those where impact is getting better.

      I have to admit thought that I feel that the best things are well worth the effort and struggle in order to achieve, although the bulk of that struggle should go to different parts of the leadership structure. I hesitate to use the term 'Senior Leadership Team' but perhaps those with overall oversight of the strategic direction of the school. This should allow teachers to teach and other leaders to focus on their particular cog.

    2. Yeah I suppose the challenge of this diagram, thinking grid thing, is that the impact is not static nor is the effort the same for different people. Responsibilities are rarely only on individuals.

    3. Agreed, especially around responsibilities and individuals.

  2. Very insightful. And the grid was a brilliant idea that I am sure going to try soon. Thanks! :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

#GAConf22: A paradigm shift for anti-racist, decolonised teaching and inclusion

 " You can't start a fire,  You can't start a fire without a spark" Bruce Springsteen.  Well, it's been a fair while since I felt the motivation or the need to blog. Whilst not a story for now, over the past five years I've danced along the knife edge and, often, the call of the abyss has been both tempting and compelling. Certainly, my failing in both my personal and professional life have been numerous. But. This is not about me, but the people that have (re)ignited the spark to the fire in my soul. I realise that this is from the perspective of a privileged, white, middle class male view. I even have a beard. I am scared of getting it wrong on this topic. Teach me if I am wrong, it is from the position of a learner. I was looking forward to the GA Conference this year, the first face to face since 2019. I have to say that Alan , as president, and the Geographical Association's team did a fantastic job at being inclusive. The hybrid format allowed peopl

What makes a learning experience profound? Personal reflections and possible implications for classroom practice.

I have recently begun a Leadership Pathways journey.  As part of the first core day, we were asked to reflect on a profound learning experience. This got me thinking about how many profound learning experiences I have both been involved in, and how many I have been able to give to others.  Our group came up with a huge long list, but these are my five. Emotional Connected Demanding Reflective Collaborative As always, these are personal thoughts and quite mixed up.  I put them here so that I can look back on them (plus they’d get lost inside my world-cup-free brain) 1. Emotional I can’t think of a time where deep learning hasn’t engaged my emotions.  From being awe inspired to that tingle feeling when a student gets a light bulb moment.  From this-is-the-happiest-day-ever, to I-think-I’m-about-to die.  How often do we engage the emotions of those we teach?  Here, I would argue that having a safe learning environment is not always conducive to profound

Trust and support our school leaders, the role of the governing body in the Covid times

One of the roles that I love is being the Chair of a Governing Body.  The aim of this post is to share what we are doing, as a Board, during these difficult time.  I will refrain from commenting on the role of the Government, DfE and local authority as I intend for this to be both a positive and useful post. What is clear is that governing bodies have a crucial part to play. I am grateful both to the brilliant Clerk and the National Governance Association whose Covid advice pages are fantastic. Firstly; from the outset, the brilliant leadership team that I work with have my unwavering and public support. Regardless. As this is a fast evolving crisis, often with pages of advice, guideline and directives to decipher and digest on a daily basis. As such, the role of governing bodies is twofold: 1.  to prioritise the providing of support to the Headteacher and all colleagues in the school, and 2. to allow them to get on with operational matters and decision making. The role of