Leadership musings: transforming a vision into action

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Gaping Void makes me thing, but as I come to the end of my time at Priory Geography, I have been reflecting upon the department’s achievements.  In particular, I’ve been unpicking how we got there. 

I’ve always had a strong vision of how I wanted Priory Geography to be (a branding post is coming up soon). The thing is, that if the team’s individual goals didn’t meet the organisational (department) aims, then there ain’t much point in having a well worded, flowery vision statement.  The key has been to attempt to create a team where its members are self-motivated to meet the vision.  This links closely to providing enough reward, which doesn’t mean more work, and opportunities.  It’s probably best to ask Jo and Sam… I suppose, it’s about the right thing still happening when I’m not in the department.

Anyway, one of the ways in which I’ve tried to create common goals and vision is to ask people to bring objects that represent where the department should be.  This simple exercise usually creates some very deep thinking.  Last year, the objects were turned into our department video:

Bringing objects along helps to create a shared vision and action plan.

The next step is to turn this vision into specific actions.  Without these, there is no way that a vision can be realised. Below are two of the action plans that I’ve co-constructed whilst at Priory Geography.  And annotations and shading are a simple traffic lighting system as an action plan should be a living document.  The later action plan also has a summary sheet which sits on each desk.  It’s important to note that the overall aims and vision is informed through robust self assessment.  It;s the only way to get better. However, as there are many ways to get to the same destination, it’s important to involve as many people as possible in drafting actions.  The critical role of the leader in this situation is to choose the course of action from many the various options.  I would also say that this process will die a quick death if the overall vision and purpose of the meeting to action plan isn;t shared in advance.  This allows individuals to reflect and plan their responses.  Sending out an agenda on Friday for a meeting on Monday doesn’t work and doesn’t get the best out of people.  Encourage freedom of expression by giving equal time to all attendees.

2008 Action Plan

2011 Action Plan

A recent visitor to the department couldn’t believe the national footprint that we’ve achieved considering our context.  Again, I would put this down to action planning and giving rewards. For example:

  • Getting NQTs to lead important developments such as BBC School Report, Olympic Geocaching, Space Explorers and Whole School Enquiry Days.  Plus, giving the support, space and time for it to be done.
  • Ensuring that every project is not only embedded into the department’s curriculum and schemes of work, but in the action plans.

Then there’s the promotion of the aims.  These are public and around Priory Geography and haven’t changed since my arrival in 2008.  If they are great aims, why should they change?  I also find out whether our shared and co-constructed vision and action plan has actually found its way to the most important people: students, TAs, visitors, parents.  I can find this out through focus groups and an annual pupil survey.  If I’ve got it right then most individuals within the organisation will state similar aims when asked, and generally this happens.  Even Jo agrees with me….

The test? When visitors come along to Priory Geography, I am confident that they could visit any classroom with any teacher and see what they came to see.  Recently, many visitors have commented on the departments ability to deliver lessons that inspire, motivate and allow young people to make progress.  There is also a clear theme where independent enquiry and thought prevails and I often walk into one of Sam’s or Jo’s lesson to heated debate and students struggling to articulate their (not the) answer.

In summary – your vision can be as well written as a Pulizter winning article, but if nobody knows how to put this into action, then there’s very little point to it. This becomes even more important in bigger organisations.  Critics would say how do you allow individual contributions.  I’d say that’s straightforward. You just get as many people as possible involved in the action planning stage.

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