Bounce was one of the first books that I covered in my professional reading. The core message of the book resonated with my personal experience. I have always been struck at how some people are very confident in their ability, and how what they have achieved is down to their hard work. Occasionally people will even use phrases like ‘I was born to do this job… I’m a natural… It’s in my DNA’.
I’ve always believed, even more so since working in a deprived area, that much of any fortune you may have is due to luck and circumstances beyond your control. It doesn’t mean that hard work isn’t an important factor, but you need to be humble enough to recognise that some of what you may have achieved isn’t just down to you.
The first time this really struck me was when I moved Secondary schools at the end of Year 9. I’d had a cosseted life at a Primary school where ‘pushy parents’ would move to make it into the catchment. Then it was off to Grammar school – having had the extra support of a tutor. Those are not opportunities afforded to every child… but at that point I didn’t know any different. It was when I suddenly had to attend Kemnal Manor – in the heart of St Paul’s & St Mary’s Cray that I realised there was a very different world to the one I had grown up in.
With the arrival of a dynamic young headteacher, who was committed to improving outcomes the school did begin to turn itself around, but when I first joined:
- The majority of the pupils would have been eligible for Pupil Premium – had it existed
- Most of my new friends lived in social housing
- Academic standards were low – and there was no shame in that, it was the natural order of things
- There were families where a parent was in prison, or had been out of work for a significant period of time
- Aspirations were low – it was very much like the Mickey Flanagan sketch about dreaming of becoming the White Van Driver
Matthew Syed’s book highlights how we need to be aware of how circumstance and environment can shape outcomes and ability. Change these… and the outcomes change. Indeed Kemnal Manor has not progressed to become the hub for a large Multi Academy Trust and has been a system leading school for twenty years.
To try and ensure that my leadership in an area of deprivation did not mirror the experience I had as a child I have tried to apply the following lessons from Syed’s book:
- be aware of the support offered to staff to aid their development – it may have unfairly hindered them: when I arrived at Broadford there were teachers whose lessons were not effective. This wasn’t because they were poor teachers, but because the support provided did not meet their needs or support them:
- poorly resourced – they didn’t have access to the materials they needed
- low aspirations from leadership – no one believed that staff or pupils in that school could be the very best
- no access to systematic training and development – the budget for CPD was enough to buy cheese and biscuits for the Governors’ meeting
- training that was provided did not contribute towards a longer term vision, it was haphazard and intermittent with little follow up for impact
- mentors provided for trainee teachers didn’t have sufficient expertise to support them in their formative years
- induction programmes for new staff and NQTs did not cover anything related to teaching and learning
- expectations for standards were unclear and inconsistent
Had Matthew Syed lived one door further down his road, he would have been in a different catchment area for Primary school. That would have meant, no Aldryngton Primary, no Peter Charters (the PE teacher who inspired him) and no Omega club (the shed with tennis tables where he practised morning noon and night. What about those teachers who by no design of their own choose a supportive, nurturing school for their NQT year? What about those who by no fault of their own end up in a school where there is a burdensome marking policy, ever changing approach to curriculum, poor leadership, no clear vision to work towards, a culture of blame… what happens to them? It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
- provide regular, meaningful opportunities for staff and pupils to practice the key skills and knowledge that you want them to be proficient in.
- If you want pupils to collaborate, create an environment that encourages that – objects too heavy/large to lift on your own, areas where they can work alongside each other easily every day
- If you want independence, provide them with access to resources and materials that don’t require permission from someone else. Pupils in KS1 and EYFS had no autonomy over access to small parts, lego, writing materials, blocks. Staff had no access to the stationary cupboard, paper or pens. Staff couldn’t easily access professional reading materials, or video their own practice.
- Core aspects of provision – like phonics – require regular training, refreshing, practice and feedback. There needs to be a constant, incremental approach to improvement.
- allow people time to develop and become confident. This doesn’t mean that you tolerate poor standards. If you can see that staff – and pupils – are:
- responsive to incremental feedback;
- becoming more self aware;
- take opportunities to develop their understanding independently;
- seek help and support if they need it;
- offer help to others;
- share the vision and values of the school;
- demonstrate the capacity for further improvement…
then stick with them, invest in them, nurture them, trust them and you will form a great team.
- this links to the development of leaders. They need sustained exposure to the right conditions to ensure they develop and strengthen their skills. If they never have to:
- identify an issue (check it is the right one)
- formulate a plan to address that issue and implement it
- evidence the positive impact of their hard work
- work with a mentor to see effective practice and leadership first hand (often with the steps clearly articulated…. don’t assume they can see what you are doing)
- articulate why they are doing something, how it is being done and what impact will be seen
- present to a range of audiences: staff meetings, conferences, parents, Governors
- provide positive feedback to others,
- hold others (staff and pupils) to account…
it shouldn’t be a surprise that they aren’t proficient in these skills. So how well does your school provide these opportunities in a structured, strategic way? If you look at @teacherhead post on Rosenshine, the principles that work for children are the same for adults.
I’ll follow this post up with some more thoughts on the book… too much for one blog.