It’s rare to find a social media savvy educator these days who hasn’t seen, or at least heard of, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. When I first watched this clip in 2013, it was one of those lightbulb moments. One of those concepts that was just so obvious that you wondered why you had never thought of it before. It simply made sense. It was the clearest explanation I had ever come across in terms of articulating what it was about all those leaders who inspired me.
I have always been someone who is motivated by that almost romantic and idealistic view of what can be achieved, and I am drawn to people who are authentic in their beliefs and the expression of these. It’s no wonder that some of the people whose writing resonates with me most, are those who convince me via their written word of this authenticity – @headguruteacher @LeadingLearner @kevbartle@Edutronic_net.
My discovery of the Sinek video coincided with the writing of our school development plan, and it has absolutely transformed the way we write and indeed use this document in our school. After only watching the video once, it already seemed ridiculous that we had always written a plan which was driven by data targets, structured around actions based on Ofsted categories, and aimed at outlining what we were going to do. What kind of teacher would get excited by this? Not the kind I would want educating my own daughters.
I am not naive enough to think that those things can just be discarded, but to make those the driving force of a document which ultimately is about creating incurably curious learners seemed limited at best, completely uninspiring at worst. Despite many previous attempts (which were successful to some degree) to engage all stakeholders meaningfully with this crucial document, we were always missing the final piece of the jigsaw. And it turns out that it came down to the way we were communicating. We had fallen prey to communicating the what, not the why.
So, in order to become the school planning equivalent of Apple, we reversed our process and thinking. We articulated our why first – our purpose in leading our school – condensed into one sentence which has become the drive behind everything we do . This was followed by the how – the 5 tenets through which we wanted to get to our why. And finally the what – the actions we would undertake to achieve this. Our plan now exists in the form of a diagram which mirrors Sinek’s golden circle.
The shift has been remarkable. Staff, students and parents can talk about and understand our core purpose and how we are going to get there. Leaders are always reminded of the distinct flavour of our school as they undertake actions, and this moral code keeps us on track to ensure that we remain authentic to our beliefs. I was challenged at first, by a practising Lead Ofsted inspector who works closely with us, as to why I hadn’t used the Ofsted categories or language as the frame for the school development plan. By the end of a lively and lengthy discussion, he was convinced. I am absolutely steadfast in my belief that if you do things right in the first place, the external validation will take care of itself.
Of course any effective plan needs clear and tangible milestones, and ours has an executive summary which maps these out, but these are simply checkpoints along the way. They are not the instigators of actions. By starting with the why, a school development plan suddenly becomes a whole lot more than just a document.
If you are interested in what this looks like, please feel free to direct message me.