Brilliant At The Basics
This is adapted from an excellent article *’Brilliant at the Basics of Business’* Nicholas Bate
1. Talk normally. Keep it jargon free.
2. Human beings are wired to pay attention to first impressions. So how good is your web-site? Your reception area? Litter? What do students look like when a visitor arrives?
3. Success can destroy you. Behaviour is ‘Good’, teaching is ‘Good’ the school feels ‘nice’. That’s when everybody relaxes. Being Ofsted Good (or Outstanding) proves nothing. Stay focused.
4. Your school isn’t special. It’s like all others. It needs to ensure that students are happy and progressing, it needs motivated staff, it needs to manage its costs, it needs to innovate. **Who’s making that stuff happen?**
5. One 3 by 5 card. That’s all it needs. That’s all it should take. To express your essential vision. To detail your strategy. To explain to an interviewee why he/she should join your school. Get a stack: 3 by 5 articulation. More than enough.
6. Those PPT slides. The ones shown at every open evenings. Are they for real? Or do they pitch a fantasy that no student has ever experienced. Make sure the gap between the story told at the pitch and the real experience is zero.
7. What does your e-mail sign-off say about you and your school? Does it make it as easy as possible to contact you? Does it emphasise how you are unique? Is there a handy link or two? Or is it nothing? Or a paragraph of legalese?
8. Stop wishing. Start teaching. Stop imagining. Support teachers in being outstanding. Stop playing with spreadsheets. Ensure that every lesson is good or better
9. Are you excited about your school? No? Best find something else…
10. Never walk by something which could be improved. A dangerous trailing lead. A student in poor uniform. A web-site link which is broken. Notice it? Fix it.
11. No ‘about’. Exactly where are students – who is on target? How are staff performing? ‘About’ schools fail. About
12. Train your people. Soft skills: how to answer the phone warmly. Technical skills: how to use the spreadsheet quickly. Clearly those skills help your school. But people who are invested in feel loved. And stay longer.
13. Everybody is about learning. Everybody talks teaching, everybody removes barriers to learning and everybody spots opportunities to improve learning.
14. ‘The Office’, SEN, teachers and site team are NOT rival departments. They are a seamless integrated operation. Right?
15. Dress code, meeting timings and prompt phone answering ARE important. They’re a quick indication of how you handle bigger things.
16. A High Performance SLT is not about ‘away days’. Nor a list of ‘core values’. Nor a fancy mission statement on the wall. Although any of these might help. It is about absolute and total loyalty to each other. Never talk negatively about a team colleague who is not present; talk to him or her.
17. In schools you are never ‘there’. You have never ‘won’. Excellent outcomes brings a demand for outstanding outcomes. It’s a journey: that’s what makes it exciting.
18. It’s bizarre how some schools work so hard to keep parents at bay through hard-to-find direct lines, layered web-sites and obtuse receptions. Be easy to speak to, all the time, every time.
19. Get Skillful. Sportspeople, plumbers, painters, surgeons, cooks, farmers… all get good then great at their skills. What skills do your team have? Develop them. Good for them; good for the school.
20. If you could start your school again, do it over all differently, structure it to be more student focused producing better results… To be less ponderous? Would you? You need to. We all need to. Every month.
21. What are you reading? We all need constant prodding, challenge and inspiration. Reading is convenient, accessible and cheap. Try blogs (e. g. www.execupundit.com) ; try traditional business books e. g. Free by Chris Anderson and less ‘obvious’ books such as Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Read.
22. Most schools just ‘do’. Better ones plan before doing. The very best ones review after doing. That plan-do-review never-ending cycle allows constant improvement, innovation and creation of competitive advantage.
23. Great schools aren’t actually about Ofsted, KPIs nor talent matrices. It’s about great people delivering fantastic learning. Don’t lose sight of the real purpose
24. What will the school look like in five years time? You will not get you an accurate answer. But it should clarify where you want to be by this time next year which is an invaluable piece of data.
25. In line management, ask probing questions. These are questions asked until the leader falters. At which point you know there is work to be done.
26. Define the job. Define the responsibility. Define the standard. That’s delegation.
27. Yes it does matter. Many people really do mind that ‘visitor parking’ has no spaces, that reception has last month’s magazines and the receptionist had an indifferent attitude.
28. ‘I didn’t have time’ is not a valid excuse. Make tough choices.
29. Communicate. You know what’s going on, but do the teachers? Teaching Assistants? Support staff?
30. Why aren’t people speaking out in meetings? Sending great ideas to SLT? Challenging-constructively-ideas coming out of leadership? What are they afraid of? That fear is not good for the school.
31. How many important numbers are you hitting on a consistent basis? Attendance for example? Levels of progress? Or employee satisfaction?
32. Get out of the office and find out what’s going on. What do staff and students really think of you? Do those fancy initiatives you dream up actually work? Clear the diary and go observe.
33. Quality isn’t an extra, it has to be a given. Never, ever, ever walk by a quality issue.
34. School culture is not something which can be ‘rolled out’; it is the sum of what individuals do on a day-to-day basis. And understanding why do they do what they do.
35. Keep a log to note how much of your time is simply reacting. And how much of it is being proactive, choosing and investing. Build that latter time dramatically.
36. Don’t rush recruitment; you’ll live with the consequences for years. Spend the right amount of time and money making the process as brilliant as you can. Rather than too much time and money fixing the problem later.
37. It’s not the problem which causes parents to hate you, it’s the way you deal with it or not which will cause them to really love or to really hate you.
38. Don’t use e-mail for anything which needs the expression of emotion unless you have the skills of a Mills & Boon novelist. No: see them face-to face or pick up the phone.
39. Notice how the small stuff can really wind you up when you are in line for a coffee or dealing with your bank. Does your school do that to its parents?
40. Your people will not be at their best if they do not have clear goals which get them working. But equally they cannot deliver to their best if they are stressed, anxious and/or exhausted. Great leadership is about guiding people to that balance point of buzz and exhilaration, of working in a great school doing great things.