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Slow down, we move too fast!

I believe if we really want to improve what we do in schools, we need to slow down. For too long we have rushed, or been pushed, headlong into one change after another. As a result, many schools and teachers have done lots, but have achieved little in terms of real development that impacts on learners.

Each new 'thing' is embraced by senior leaders, then passed on to individuals or a working-party to implement and deliver. The result is a glut of little understood initiatives, with little understanding of where they come from, or why they are being introduced. All of which leads to little, if any, positive impact in classrooms or for learners.

So what can we do about this?

My suggestion is to slow down, think more and act less. How we do this is by firstly understanding exactly where we are in development terms. We need to recognise what our strengths are, individually and across the school. We need to then identify what we need to focus on next, in order to develop and keep moving forward. The only way we can do this is through robust and valid self evaluation activities. Done correctly, these should identify the next steps in our development journey.  In my view, the starting point for our self-evaluation should be our values and principles. Is the experience our learners are having a reflection of our values and principles? If they are not, then that is our first point for action.

By having good self evaluations we can identify the areas we need to focus on. Trouble is, there may be quite a few. The answer to this dilemma is not to try and do everything, but to clarify your priorities. This again is where you values and principles can be very helpful. My thought is that teaching and learning should always be the core priority. It is impossible to consider meaningful developments in teaching and learning without considering pedagogy, planning, assessment and curricular content. All the key elements of school development.

This leads to another key consideration when managing change. You need to connect the changes you are making, and make these connections visible and obvious to all staff. That way you you are less likely to have the scenario where staff feel overwhelmed by all the 'things' they have to do. If they, and you, can see how everything is connected, and how you cannot look at one key aspect without considering the others they are more likely to see how change and development is being managed and makes sense.

In consultation with staff, you need to develop your improvement plan. Again, I would use the maxim 'less is more'. Do not be tempted to include too much, or plan to cover developments too quickly. We should be aiming for depth and for planned developments to to become embedded in individual practice, and the culture and ethos of the school. For this to happen, staff need time. Senior managers need to recognise this and create the 'space' within the development timetable for this to happen. Senior managers also need to recognise the complexity of change, accepting that this will not be a linear process, there may be stalls in progress and plans will need adjustment. This year's improvement plan should lead into the next one, and build on the development work already undertaken.

The other aspect that needs to be in place is a culture that supports and is based on trust. If you really want staff to innovate and try new things in order to develop, they have to feel they are supported, it is okay to make mistakes and to admit what they don't understand. This too takes time. But I believe it to be time well spent. When in place, you will be more likely to have the necessary commitment from staff to embrace change and work with you to develop themselves and the school. Such a culture also encourages professional dialogue and discourse, and these too are key to exploring issues and developing understanding. This has to happen for change to become embedded in practice. This takes time.

In my experience, if you take these steps, and you thoroughly involve yourself and other SMT members in the whole process, you can bring about deep and meaningful development in individuals and schools.

If we continue to try and todo too much, too quickly, and in an unconnected way, we will continue to have high levels of frustration and dissatisfaction amongst staff. But worse, we will not be improving the experiences and outcomes for our learners.

I suggest we resolve to take more time in order to really make a difference.


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