Strategic, Sustainable, Systems – why they are essential in a school

Standard

My logical, strategic mind forces me to focus on HOW things are done as well as what the outcome will be. I do it naturally in my teaching where GCSE and A Level students never just do an exam paper and get it back. We analyse what they did, why and how they managed to get the answer. Quite a lot of my teaching is about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.

So, I believe that a school should follow these principles. For every aim, vision, objective or goal there should always be a ‘how’. That ‘how’ should be as simple as possible, using the expertise and skills of staff, and being made clear to everyone who is involved. To break it down, I think a school needs strategic, sustainable, systems.

    Strategy

OK so you have problems with boys underachieving, results for English and Maths are low, a high proportion of staff are teaching inadequate lessons or staff aren’t marking as they should, what will you do about it? Whatever you want to call it, there must be a plan. Not of what you want but how you will get to it.

I’ve seen many school development plans. I think the best was simple. They had 3 core aims and everything else in the document was a very brief explanation of what would be done to achieve this and who would be responsible for making it happen. How about a ‘keep it to two sides of a4’ policy on this?

The worst was almost a novel. Page after page of things that the people named would never get done or maybe by chance complete by default.

Who will be involved? The best way to get me involved is to pose something as a problem or a question. Offer the problem to your teams. Ask for strategies. We’re all professionals with hundreds of years of experience between us. Others will come up with more or even better ideas on how to tackle an issue. What SLT can address all issues by themselves without involving staff? It’s the staff who do the groundwork so involve them somehow in the process. (However this should not be lip service or then ignored. That’s the biggest way to demotivate your staff).

Finally, take comments, ideas and even criticisms on board. Why would someone bother to comment unless they really cared but thought that something needed to change? It’s not personal. The strategy isn’t one person’s. It’s everybody’s. And on a day to day basis it is the whole staff’s job to live out the strategy. Listen to them. Agree to disagree. But at least listen to what they’ve got to say.

Benefits

It makes everyone accountable.
Everyone knows why certain things are happening
It prevents rushed, unplanned, knee-jerk actions or initiatives
No secrets. Everyone is aware of what is being worked on. No hidden agendas.
Everyone can work towards the same simple aims

    Sustainable

When you start a new strategy you need to think of how likely it is that it will carry on. If you were to leave the school, would that strategy still work? It’s great to have someone strong in position where they are effective, but what happens when they leave? There is a large gap. In some ways that large gap can make things worse than they were before that person started the strategy.

Another area for consideration is, do you have the capacity at the moment for this to work? Are the named people able to do this effectively and efficiently? If not, best not to have a half hearted attempt. So many staff have experienced ‘experiment’ after ‘experiment’ on the use of their time that its almost like crying wolf, yet another thing they need to do that doesn’t last. This isn’t saying we shouldn’t try anything new but before you do something new, think about everyone involved, do some honest background research on whether people feel it would work and benefit the school. It may be heartbreaking to find that it isn’t the right moment but a carefully timed system will be many times more effective than a poorly timed one.

Benefits

Doesn’t waste people’s time
Continues when key people leave
Can be reviewed and modified

    Systems

I love systems. I like to know if ‘X’ happens then the consequence is ‘Y’ (This is why I love algebra!).

A school with clear, shared systems will give the foundations for everything else that we do.
For systems to be effective they need to be:

* Written or visually represented ( No ‘its the way we do it’ or ‘invisible’ systems)
Shared regularly with stakeholders and available in a central area accessible to all
* Applied in all situations (that are the same in nature) I.e the same actions results in the same consequence
* No ‘exceptions’ or ‘deals’ are allowed.
* It shouldn’t depend on ‘who’ is involved
* Monitored
* People made accountable if not followed
* Reviewed if not working and tweaked/developed where necessary
* Non-personal
* Recorded efficiently where all that need to see can see
* Be designed so that all can implement it. Skilled and unskilled. The system should still be effective.
* Have valid reasoning behind it ( not a rule for a rule’s sake)

Systems can’t cover every situation. That’s why we are specialists and have people in roles to deal with these situations. Their professional knowledge and judgements are essential.

Benefits

Fair and consistent to everyone
Can act as a deterrent in certain situations
Covers 95% of eventualities

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