Sunday, October 25, 2009

article published

Take a look at Janshs blog for details of a recent aricle based on my EdD thesis

Saturday, October 24, 2009

book review - what makes a great school

A review of: What Makes a Great School? Andy Buck (2009)

A few notes and a suggestion of how we might use this for our own G2G journey: J Moreland

Buck’s formula is g = (3p + 2(c + t) + m + o) 5l

He is not suggesting this as a template but as a set of questions to ask which might then enable a school to frame its own formula for success. In fact, Buck is keen that leaders (at all levels) should concentrate on asking the right questions rather than always being seen as providing all the solutions. (2009: 17 and 62)

p= people (hiring/firing); developing staff, developing students

c= clarity, consistency

t= transparency, trust

m = motivation

o = outward looking

l = leadership (communication, performance, actions, courage, humility) and it is a power.

A few key ideas

The first thing that resonated with me was Buck’s assertion that “great schools maintain outstanding performance over a significant period of time” (2009: 14).

He also identifies a “deeply embedded shared culture” (2009: 15) and a commitment to what is often termed system leadership – what Fullan (2003) describes as the ‘moral imperative of school leadership’ – the effect we have on education and the community in much wider terms than just those involved directly with our school.Recruitment procedures (from attractive advertisements, through the interview process, to being unafraid not to appoint) and also competency procedures are rated as key features in securing outstanding performance across the whole school (I would add that this is not just pertinent to teaching appointments). Buck states that the interview should include an assessment of whether or not the candidate’s core values match those of the school. (2009: 20)

Buck returns to one concept quite frequently, when writing about individual members of the school, leaders, and teams – the following is just one example.

“Effective colleagues will ... demonstrate a genuinely mature team approach .... For example, when things are going well they will identify the people who have contributed to that success. When there has been a problem they will take responsibility rather than blame others.” (2009: 21)

Gaining consistency of approach, Buck suggests, comes from building a sense of pride and collaboration, from nurturing a no-blame culture, and from encouraging risk-taking and innovation. It is enhanced, he writes, through regular coaching, mentoring and self-evaluation. Buck uses Fullan’s (2007) notion of lateral leadership based on peer support – from within or across schools – to further emphasise the fact that great schools build on strengths rather than constantly focusing on the problems. (2009: 26-28) Perhaps this is related to a senior colleague’s recent question – “what is it that we are not doing?”

According to Buck, students need to be nurtured to develop self-discipline, high aspirations, appropriate response to challenge, and choose their own learning paths. He goes further, describing schools where students have participated in curriculum design and constructing schemes of work. Other successful strategies centre on extra-curricular activities and intervention procedures. Most importantly, in my opinion, is his point that these things need to be part of the daily dialogue between staff, students and parents – not just for assemblies, parents’ information evenings and so on. (2009: 32 - 35)

One idea which I found very interesting was the concept of a school defining its own approach to pedagogy. (2009: 43). Whilst he is certainly not advocating a prescriptive approach to lesson planning, Buck is suggesting that a set of underpinning principles (such as ‘the effective classroom’ - see recent blog post lesson 'observations') might go a long way to enhancing consistency of learning for the students.

The analogy of the airline pilot – we want our take off, flight and landing to be good a hundred percent of the time, not ninety five percent – is used to further highlight the need for consistent application of processes and procedures. This will facilitate easier relationships with students, parents and all staff. Some schools issue a parents’ handbook. Naturally enough, those who do not comply need to be dealt with appropriately, Buck states –with the addendum that sometimes policies need to be reviewed if they are not working. (2009: 51- 56)

Next, Buck turns to the use of data for action planning at all levels, with a suggestion for around only four key improvement priorities at any given time. (2009: 61)

Building trust is also seen as vital for success. Buck refers to Covey (2006) and I would also mention Bottery (2003) in pointing out that low levels of trust, unrest, political camps will lead to staff expending energy on those issues rather than on developing good working practices. Leave of absence is one situation where, Buck states, higher levels of trust are needed. He also cites schools which leave most doors unlocked – I remain unconvinced about this one but I am prepared to be swayed.

The leadership section is not an attempt to summarise leadership theory. A few points do seem worthy of note, nonetheless. Sending thank you or get well cards, really caring about the staff and students who may be experiencing difficult circumstances, mutual respect, mutual loyalty, small acts of kindness – even free tea and coffee and organising plenty of opportunities to socialise and have fun, these all get a mention. Of course, making sure teachers are not bogged down with tasks that make life more difficult, building in time to be reflective, and modelling this approach, are both mentioned, as is the fact that it is no use listening to staff, student or parental concerns unless we also are seen to act upon them. (2009: 102 – 117)


The grid below is one which we might wish to use with ourselves, middle leaders, all staff (including non-teaching). It might be a big risk of course ....


Bottery (2003) The Management and Mismanagement of Trust, University of Hull

Bottery (2003) The Leadership of Learning Communities in a Culture of Unhappiness, School Leadership and Management, 23, 2: 187 - 208

Buck, A. (2009) What makes a Great School, City Challenge

Collins, J (2001) Good to Great, Harper Collins

Covey, S (2006) The Speed of trust. One thing that changes everything. Simon and Schuster

Fullan, M (2003) The Moral Imperative of School Leadership, Corwin Press (SAGE)

How far have we got on the journey from Good to Great?

Key concept

What we already do

What we might be doing

Sustaining high performance over a significant period of time

Outward looking – partnerships with other schools and organisations

Embedded values

Robust recruitment and monitoring procedures

Team approach – credit where’s it is due and taking responsibility rather than blaming others

All staff and students self-motivated to improve

Sense of pride and true collaboration

Risk taking and innovation encouraged

Sharing best practice, coaching, mentoring, self evaluation, peer to peer work

Asking the right questions rather than always trying to provide all the answers

Students are self-disciplined, have high aspirations, respond well to challenge

The curriculum allows students to choose their own learning path and contribute to the design of the learning process

Extra-curricular activities contribute to the learning experience

Intervention strategies are well thought out and implemented

The values and strategies above are demonstrated in daily dialogue (between staff, staff/student, staff/home) and not just at special events

We have our own clearly defined approach to pedagogy

There is a high level of consistency and clarity in all that we do, including communications systems

Policies and procedures are regularly reviewed

Data is well used to define priorities for improvement

Staff have opportunities for self development, to socialise and have some fun

Mutual trust, respect and loyalty are features of all our relationships in school

Based on Buck, A. (2009) What makes a Great School, City Challenge

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pythagoras rap

sorry I have no video of me performing this rap but there are actions...

If you want the hypotenuse
You gotta use Pythagoras
Square root

you'll have to search for the trigonometry rap