Wednesday 18 February 2015

CPD - Taming the beast of unreasonable expectations

CPD Activity
Taming the unreasonable beast of unreasonable expectations

I'm celebrating 45 years in the education profession this year, an old dog now, one who's successfully survived most jobs in teaching, leadership and school improvement see CV  and I still love my work.  Most my contemporaries were glad to escape the treadmill, years ago.  All said they’d never experienced such unreasonable expectation.  And, oh dear reader, I hear you groan, "When I'm his age, retirement will be years away.  How will I survive?" Has this old dog one new trick for you?

In formal mode

A New Trick from an Old Dog?

I smashed out a RANT, on your behalf, in my last but one BLOG about the pressure in our profession See: "The Emperor is wearing too many clothes" . I promised to write more positively about all this but I went away on a trek and came back looking like this...

Informal mode
(Knowing when to get some space is one of this Old Dog's tricks.)  I regained my sense of perspective on that trek.  I wrote about what I learnt in Nepal See "A Deeper Sense of Knowing"

When I came back I began work on my positive ADVICE, a CPD Activity for ONE and an OFFER -  here they are....

Kill the myth of the Super-Teacher
Killing the myth of the Super-Teacher is your first task.  Working with a hall-full of NQTs in Lincolnshire recently (What is the collective noun for NQTs?) I realised many thought they had to teach outstanding lessons, every lesson, every day, every week.  We all know that’s nonsense but I sense the expectation lurks deep in our collective sub-conscious. Just read all the chest bashing and guilt about workload and cries for teacher "Well-Being"...  Cue a rendition - See "Superhead's Conference Address" written in 2002 but as funny, pathetic and true today as ever. 

Beware these self-professed Super-teachers  (you can read the BLOGS). They care like all that do our work do, but they are toxic, self-deluding and unrealistic role models, who try to do it all, “make it complicated and don’t stand a chance”.  Read down the page  see "The Decision"  to find what happens.  They become the loners who drink in excess, take drugs and time off with a “Bad back” or “Virus”.  It’s cruel but it’s true.  I’ve seen it, even been it and survived it and am stronger for it.  Resist the temptation to become one. Kill this myth before it kills you.

Learn to do less well rather than more badly
Over my 45 years in the job, I’ve seen the people who succeed, not just in education, and I now know how they do it.  They’ve tamed the beast of unreasonable expectations. You’ll see they are not super-human, they are ordinary people with immense willpower who, “do less well rather than more badly”.  They take the longer view, prioritise, focus and act.  They, “know their ONE priority”, so they say, “No”, to other temptations, in order to say, “Yes” to the priority of the moment.  They’ve smelled failure and have come back from the brink, with a steely, single-mindedness and unremitting moral purpose. They reject independence preferring interdependence, knowing the power of cooperation and how to create the permitting circumstances for others to understand and join them.  

Watch them and learn as I did. You’ll see they are strategic. They have powerful processes and systems. They keep it simple, knowing it'll get complicated anyway.  I have used all of their processes, including: action research, coaching, self-evaluation and performance management and spent years merging and honing the best into my own simple model.  I’m going to describe one CPD-ACTIVITY for ONE, from that model - an activity I guarantee will work – an activity that is, by far, the best evaluated aspect of all my work.

An SLT doing the activity in January this year

Take the longer view, prioritise, focus and act.

1.  Book a quiet room, with chair(s) and table, for one hour, ideally away from work.
2.  Take in, only, a few sheets of A4, A3 or flipchart paper, a pen, pencil and, if you wish a red and green crayon.  This activity utilises your nous – the practical intelligence, intellect and information you “know” about your personal and professional circumstances.  So, leave all work material and electronic devices outside.
3.  Concentrate by reminding yourself that this process will make a difference by: simplifying complexity; focussing effort; analysing key factors; acting to make progress in an area of significant importance – your priority area.
4.  Take one sheet of paper and list all the KEY ELEMENTS of your work, down the left hand side.  These are the things you are responsible for, your work areas, but add in concerns too.  A typical list might be:  Achievement, Behaviour, Staff Morale, My Work Life Balance, State of Buildings, Finances, The Team.  You can use Ofsted/Teacher Standards, or other criteria, or objectives from plans and reports.  Just list all that comes to mind.
5.  Put three headings across the top of your sheet from left to right and label them:  Awful (or below expectations/unacceptable) – OK (or meets expectations, satisfactory, ) – Brilliant (or exceeds expectations, excellent)
6.  Now draw a horizontal line from each of your Key Elements across the page.  It will look something like this:

7.  Read down your list and put a cross on the line, indicating how you judge performance in this Key Element, from “Really Awful” i.e. far left to “Stunningly Brilliant” i.e. far right.  I use lines, not table boxes, to ensure gradation, so take time to work through the relativity of the positions of the crosses.
8.  Review the table you have drawn and consider the following:

  •         The crosses to the right are successes – these can be ticked, or coloured green, and left alone, they are not priorities.  You ought to thank lead colleagues responsible for their brilliance, if you haven’t already done so and celebrate any personal success here.  You can also leave the central OK crosses, for later, they are not priorities.
  •        The crosses to the left indicate your greatest concerns. Mark each with a question mark, or red pen.  You can ignore any you have no direct control over but you ought to alert lead colleagues to your concerns.
  •       Review the remaining crosses to the left.  They will not be of equal magnitude but they will contain your priority.
  •        Think carefully, decide the priority order and number them 1 to 4. Only number 1 will be considered in this session.
9.  Now take a second sheet of paper and write your priority, Number 1, at the top and draw a vertical line down the middle of the page.
10.  At the top of the left write HELPS and at the top right HINDERS.
11. Now write in actual people, information and resources that have HELPED, or HINDERED progress in this Key Element. Then, add actual people, information or things that might yet HELP, or HINDER, progress. If what you write is vague, e.g. New Staff, or Behaviour, split that “force” into sub elements and challenge yourself to name names and specify actual issues. Your sheet will look something like this..

12.  When you have identified all the forces that are, or could be, exerted, your next task is to prioritise these too. So, number the forces, be they helps or hinders.
13. It's obvious that progress will be made as HELPS gets stronger and the HINDERS weaken.  So, your penultimate task is plan to increase the priority HELP or decrease the priority HINDER (at best you combine both) So, you take your third sheet of paper and write up a Planning Strip for your priority force.  This could have a number of formats but is likely to contain common elements.  A Planning Strip to reduce the hindering force of “Parental Support in some groups” by harnessing the helping force of new staff Mike and Jo might look like this:

14.  The action taken is likely to make a difference and later, planning strips can be completed for other priority forces to increase progress in this area. You can, of course go back to other Key Elements and follow the same process.
15.  Your last task is to implement the action and evaluate impact.

Developing the CPD - The iAbacus
I improved this CPD-ACTIVITY by using my kids’ abacus and asking colleagues to slide the beads, instead of drawing crosses on paper.  The visual image was compelling, sliding the bead was cathartic.  The Planning Strips, detailing one action were a revelation.  As a senior leader I used to say to colleagues, “Don’t turn up with worries and problems, come with ideas to help”. I kept a store of Planning Strips and when a concern was raised I’d often say, “OK, let’s work on who will do what to sort this”. The strips fitted together and became our full plans.  It was all about taming the beast of unrealistic expectations.

Two potential priorities on this iAbacus

That abacus became my “New Trick” my simple process, applied to any area of endeavour.  In 2010 I met Dan O’Brien and we designed the on-line iAbacus.  It is now a unique self-evaluation and action planning tool and our users love its deceptive simplicity.  You can explore  iAbacus here see a Video here read primary and secondary school testimonials here and interrogate the theory and research behind it see iAbacus Model here   So, what’s the offer?  As you’d expect it’s simple....

THE OFFER - One bead to rule them all
Part One:
Take an iAbacus 30 day free trial here (no tricks involved) I promise it will help you, “Know your ONE priority” by finding the one bead to rule them all.  It will guide you through the process of prioritise, focus, act.  It will also, compile a report, offer clear sets of criteria for your judgements, help collaboration and much more.  Once used you’ll want to apply it elsewhere... Above all it will do it all simply... within minutes you’ll be up and running.

Part Two:
Save a PDF or WORD iAbacus report of your work on the trial, email it to me at  and let me know one area of work you want to improve and we'll set you up with a free year’s licence to continue the process you started in your trial. (This is worth £100)

Woody Allen once said, “Life is tough and then you die” Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”  I'm with Leonardo.   My honest hope is that the simple and sophisticated iAbacus will become your New Trick and help you: sort your professional approach and tame the beast of unreasonable expectations.  There’s even a Health and Well-Being iAbacus – why not use it to ensure you become a fit and enthusiastic old dog? 

My Old Dog - Jasper
who teaches me to relax