If learning is invisible.
If learning occurs over long periods of time.
If teaching is led by an individuals’ beliefs and values.
If effective teaching is hard to agree on and to a large extent determined by outcomes (but not entirely).
Is it right to persist with inferring judgments on teachers and lessons?
It seems we’re trying desperately to measure something that is very difficult to quantify (if not impossible). “Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter” a colleague of mine said recently when discussing the grading of lessons. Does the grading of lessons actually detract from genuine, deliberate improvement? This made me consider an over arching question – what is the purpose of lesson observations? Are they to judge or are they to offer support and help develop teachers? Is it possible to do both? In my experience I’m not sure that it is.
The problems with grading lessons.
The main problem with trying to judge a lesson is that it’s hard to agree on exactly what great teaching is and in the moment of an observation it’s impossible to know what the learning gains for the students will be as a result of that lesson. If learning is invisible and it happens over long periods of time then perhaps all we can see in lessons is performance rather than learning and as Professor Coe points out, this generates lots of poor proxies for learning that we quite often use to grade lessons and assume learning is taking place.
Despite a shared vision of improving the outcomes for young people, because the act of teaching is based upon peoples own beliefs and values (which will differ from person to person) it’s very difficult to agree on ‘good practice,’ and quite often our own confirmation bias takes over when attempting to observe it. As a result you could say it’s unlikely that multiple observers will arrive at the same grade, which brings into question the reliability of grading individual lessons. This was evident in the MET project…
Questions around the reliability of lesson observations are further explored here…
If we consider Professor Coe’s ‘Poor proxies for learning’ is it possible to truly know whether a lesson is likely to produce good outcomes from a 20 minute observation? It’s easier to check for evidence of a schools ‘list of non-negotiables’ in lessons – have books been marked, is homework being set, learning objectives, e.t.c. This is made possible by their prescriptive nature. But can observers accurately predict outcomes based on this and the conditions in the classroom? We know that a calm, quiet classroom does not necessarily indicate that learning is taking place, however it quite often gets used as a proxy for learning during observations. Which leads to this question…How many lessons that are judged to be ‘outstanding’ produce truly outstanding outcomes?
The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
As a senior leader how well do you know your teachers? How often are you in and out of lessons?
As a senior leader when was the last time a member of staff came to you for help regarding a tough class? In a thriving school that genuinely prioritises the improvement of teaching, shouldn’t this be fairly common?
As a senior leader, how much of your time is spent in lessons speaking to students about their learning, getting a feel for typicality of teaching across the school? This should be a daily ritual, part of your core business.
As a senior leader how much time have you spent with the teachers who consistently get great results? What have you learnt from them? Has this been shared?
Teachers are people, not robots that can be pre-programmed. They have beliefs and values related to teaching and education. A teacher on a full timetable is an extremely busy person carrying a reasonable amount of stress with them on a daily basis, mainly because they care so much about their students. Lesson observations should serve to support, challenge and develop teachers but quite often in a graded system the added stress of ‘being observed’ leads to a culture of fear. This is probably caused by:
- a lack of clarity for teachers around what observers are looking for in lessons
- a lack of clarity for observers around what they should be looking for in lessons
- subjectivity of observers and teachers
- what will happen next should a teachers lesson not be ‘up to scratch.’
If teaching is the most important factor in achieving great outcomes for young people, do we really spend enough time trying to genuinely improve it? Does a graded system help create a culture of improvement or distract from it? Does a graded system inspire teachers to improve or does it burden them with unnecessary stress? Does a graded system sharpen the focus of improvement or blur it beyond recognition?
It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to agree on a list of prescriptive teaching strategies (and Ofsted don’t presbive any methods of teaching) but it’s easier to agree on elements of great teaching. When I think about elements of great teaching I tend to look no further than Shaun Allison’s fantastic model.
Whenever I revisit this model I find it difficult to tweak or change it. When I share it with colleagues it just seems to make sense to both them and me. How teachers go about implementing the above model into their lessons / series of lessons should be down to them. What this model looks like in a series of drama lessons it probably different to what it may look like in a series of maths lessons (however that does not mean that are things that cannot be learnt from observing both). Teachers should be trusted as the professionals that they are to do what’s best for the students.
The danger of moving away from a graded lesson observation system for some schools is that it could invite mediocrity, as most graded systems bring with them a very prescriptive set of teaching strategies. In some cases where schools are in need of improvement putting in a prescriptive structure can be the first step towards improvement – tighten up for good, loosen for outstanding. Tightening up will only take you so far. Grading lessons can show a direction of travel for improving teaching (as Dr Dan Nicholls explains here) but it also comes with excess baggage which can slow down the speed of travel. Perhaps a simple ‘secure’ or ‘developing’ may provided a stepping stone to merging the two schools of thought on grading lessons, e.g. “From the evidence collected in the lesson the questioning observed appears secure because… Further evidence from talking to the students suggests…” However this opens the flood gates of subjectivity, which can be curbed with prescription and eventually takes back to square one.
What is the alternative?
What if instead of trying to judge the teachers / lessons we adopted an approach where observers go into lessons to learn. This could take the form of observers going into lessons to collate evidence for teachers (perhaps under the headings of Shaun’s expert teaching model above) with a view of feeding this evidence back to them, similar to a lesson study approach. Build a picture of what appears to happening in the classroom (feeding the pig) rather than making a judgement (weighing the pig). Evidence could come from questioning students about their learning, looking at student work, observing how students / teacher interact with each other as well as assessment data provided by the teacher.
What if observers gave live feedback to teachers based on their observations during the lesson instead of waiting hours, days or even weeks to feedback. Here’s an example. A lesson is underway and the observer is watching as the teacher delivers an explanation of a key concept using a subject specific key term. After the explanation the observer spends a few minutes questioning the students to gauge their understanding of the task they have been given and the key term being used by the teacher. Out of the several students that have been questioned by the observer they are all able to explain the task (what they have to do) but none are unable to articulate what the key term means. Using live feedback (rather than waiting for the follow up feedback session) the observer is able to give feedback to the teacher straight away who is then able to help move the students forward with their understanding of the key term. In the follow up meeting the teacher explains that they had been using the key term for a few lessons and despite explaining the meaning in the first lesson they had failed to continually reiterate the meaning of the key term through the series of lessons. Together the observer and teacher are able to collaboratively come up with a simple strategy of asking students to repeat back definitions of key terms during lessons and the teacher was set the target to make this habit across all their lessons. This also served as a timely reminder for the observer to continue to develop across their lessons. At a department team meeting later that week the teacher is able to feedback their experience to colleagues.
Collated evidence + clear collaborative target = genuine improvement(?).
Not only did this experience serve as a timely reminder for the observers own teaching but the other teacher involved had a small step to implement and experience some immediate success. The observer followed this up with another supportive observation where they the teachers new habit developing in real time and it allowed the observer to collate further evidence of what was happening in the classroom, for the teacher. How might this process had gone if I had graded the lesson? I think the point here is that there is no need to grade the lesson at all – making the simple more complex for no additional gain. All the teacher needed to know was what was happening in the lesson – what did the observer notice that perhaps the teacher did not? What are the next steps to improve? In hindsight (my confirmation bias may be at warp factor 10 here), but I think a grade being given in the example explained above could have diluted the feedback and perhaps stifled the motivation for improvement.
Collating evidence in the classroom.
Chris Moyse has already started some great work on evidence based lesson observations – read about it here.
The idea revolves around going into lessons to learn and help teachers see things that they may not notice during a lesson – very similar to the lesson study approach. I’ve started to develop a document (in its first draft – feedback welcome) to collate this adopting the principles of great teaching from Shaun Allison’s model.
Draft observation form [PDF version]
Judging the quality of teaching.
How do we judge the quality of teaching if lessons are not graded? We really get to know our teachers. If quality teaching is the most important factor in determining great outcomes then SLT and middle leaders should spend more time in classrooms. What if members of SLT blocked out an hour a day to get into lessons and provide live feedback to teachers in the teams they line manage (if the one thing that would move a school forward is the quality of teaching, is an hour a day manageable? Probably). This could also be used to ensure non-negotiables are being met reducing the need for additional book scrutinies, learning walks, e.t.c. This could be on a continuous cycle that creates an open door culture and encourages teachers to ask for help rather than shy away from it. This would help the school have much clearer picture of the typicality of teaching. Judging the quality of teaching would be qualitative, as Shaun Allison explains…
If we really need to assign numbers to teachers, based on a 30 minute observation, to know about the quality of their teaching, then we are doing something really wrong. We still know our teachers inside out – we know who the really great ones are, and who are the ones who need that extra support with a particular aspect of their work. Without the need for numbers. We know this by looking at their student outcomes, as well as by looking at and discussing their lessons, the feedback that they give to students and the work that their students produce during lessons and at home. We know our staff.
In order to genuinely improve teaching we need to stay focused on the main thing – the quality of teaching. We need to focus on how it can be improved and not allow anything to dilute or blur supportive feedback. We need to remember that teachers are people and that our best chance of improving the outcomes of students is to support and challenge colleagues through a trusted relationship built upon collaboration and a relentless desire to learn.
- Grading individual lessons is difficult, unreliable and time consuming which often results in little actual improvement.
- Grading individual lessons does not always speak to the person, diluting and blurring the focus of improvement.
- How can lesson observations be used to improve teaching (feeding the pig rather than weighing it)?
- Live feedback during observations – why wait for a feedback session if it could help students in the moment.
- Collation of a variety of evidence including student voice, assessment data, work in books, e.t.c. to give teachers further insight into their lessons.
- Continuity – SLT take joint ownership of improving the quality of teaching with middle leaders through daily time spent in classrooms. Time spent here could reduce the need for additional learning walks.
More questions have been asked than answered in this post but I hope it has provided some questions to consider when attempting to improve the quality of teaching through observing lessons. I intend to follow this post up with a more strategic plan of how the points in this post would manifest themselves in school (the logistics) and potentially replace a graded observation system.
This post aims to collate news coverage and blog posts about the recently published Sutton trust report into what makes great teaching.
- Sutton Trust report PDF
- Summary of Sutton Trust report
- Professor Coe’s presentation – What makes great teaching?
- Durham lecture: Improving eduction. By Prof Coe
- YouTube playlist of Prof Coe speaking at ResearchED conference.
- 10 things teachers should know from the research. By Lee Elliot Major
- What makes great teaching. By Daisy Christodoulou
- Who needs the sutton trust when you have Mr Clarke. By Shaun Allison
- This much I know about… what makes great teaching. By John Tomsett
- Much about what we believe about teaching is wrong. By @websofsubstance
- Myth-busting. By Shaun Alison.
- What makes great teaching and the role of technology. By Jose Picardo
- What makes great teaching – expert views. By Guardian teacher blog
- 7 things that don’t work in the classroom. By World Economic Forum
- The problem with praise. By Richard Bailey.
- Great teaching leads to student progress. By Stephen Cavadino
- What makes great teaching. By Huntington School T&L blog.
- The Sutton Trust report – Great teaching? By Donal O’Mahony.
- In search of praise in PE. By @ImSporticus.
- Our checklist for great teaching – How does it fit with the Sutton Trust report? By John Smith.
- My lessons from America – Reflections on Sutton Trust teaching summit. By Tom Sherrington
In the news
- Education study finds in favour of traditional teaching styles – The Guardian
- The seven deadly sins of teaching – TES
- Teachers warned that praise can make pupils complacent – The Independent
- Lavish praise from teachers does not help pupils – BBC
- Traditional teaching best, modern popular styles harmful – BREITBART
- Teachers told praise can hamper pupils learning – The Scotsman
- Why praising to the skies clouds the issue – TES
In my last post on leading whole school CPD for teaching staff I described my plan for the year and my thinking behind it. Now that the first term is over it seems like a good time to reflect on how the schools vision for genuinely continual, personalised CPD is taking shape.
At my school CPD sessions are scheduled every other Wednesday afternoon throughout the whole year. During term 1 these sessions were given over to departments. This has been really popular with staff and has enabled departments to recap and embed expectations whilst sharing great practice. In preparation for this department heads were asked to submit a plan for the sessions (brief summary of what would be covered in each session). This was really useful for me as I was able to see at a glance what departments were working on and also start to connect the dots across the school – linking up departments that were focusing on similar things.
Outside of the Wednesday afternoon sessions being run in departments I now had term 1 to set up and embed optional CPD activities for staff, something that had not happened before in school. Before I outline some of the optional activities, first let me explain my thinking behind this approach.
In John Kotter’s book ‘Accelerate’ he puts forward an idea of how great organisations stay creative and innovative as they grow in size. When most start up companies begin they don’t tend to have a hierarchical structure, instead they work in small groups that collaborate and innovate with flow. This is in essence one of the driving forces behind successful start up companies – their ability to work in a way that is free from hierarchical structures which encourages and enables innovation and creativity. Ironically as these companies grow into large organisations they tend to develop a more structured hierarchy and lose the spark of creativity they once had when they were a small start up. Kotter argues that the truly great organisations run what he calls a dual-operating system – they have a structural hierarchy to ensure organisational accountability but they also deliberately create opportunities for groups of people to get together and collaborate outside of this structure.
This is what I wanted to create with optional CPD activities – opportunities for people (regardless of job role) to get together and collaborate on things they are interested in. Making these groups optional means you get the right people on the bus at the beginning which increases the chances of success. Success is teachers talking about teaching. Success is collaborating in meaningful ways which empowers people to take action and improve because they feel passionately about doing so.
With Kotter’s dual operating system in mind I went about setting up a few optional CPD activities over the course of the first term…
15 minute forums.
Over the course of the first term we have held three 15 minute forums on Friday lunch times. Each session is lead by a member of teaching staff and attendance is completely optional. These sessions serve as a great opportunity for colleagues to share ideas and discuss them in more detail. The worry is always ‘will anyone turn up?!’ Thankfully numbers have been good with sessions ranging from 15-20 colleagues in attendance. Sessions this term have included:
- Positive relationships with staff and students.
- Effective mind-mapping techniques for revision.
- Learning dialogue.
What has been really pleasing is that the sessions are not necessarily about someone giving you a ‘silver bullet’ on how to do something. The theme that has evolved is that staff bring something they are working on, explain their thinking and any impact it has before others from the group share their experiences or thoughts on how a strategy could be improved or implemented more widely.
Another relatively easy activity to set up. I choose the book ‘The hidden lives of learners’ by Graham Nuthall to start of with (after the first cycle I will be asking staff to submit book options and then vote on a range of books). I sent an email out to all staff advertising the activity and set a limit of 10 places. Within a couple of days the places were filled, books were given out and the ball was rolling. Towards the end of term 2 we will meet to discuss the book and present back to the staff body during a morning teacher briefing on what we found out.
‘Bright spot’ learning walks.
No grades no forms. The purpose of these learning walks is to find great practice, those bright spots that exist somewhere in every school. I conducted one in our Science department recently where I managed to take pictures of several great resources and bits of student work. These then go into a presentation which can be used for a teacher briefing. During the teacher briefing you display the images and ask colleagues to explain more about the context of what was going on in the lesson and how the resource / strategy helped. Longer term I would like to create more of an ‘open door’ culture across the school and involve staff in searching out the bright spots for themselves.
I’m not sure if it was over-ambitious and just stupid to organise a TeachMeet for the penultimate evening of an 8 week term, but I did and it offered another opportunity for staff to get involved. Just over 100 heroic teachers from different schools (across multiple phases) showed up for an evening of having their thinking challenged whilst also being inspired and thanked for their hard work. The theme of the evening was about understanding what works rather than just being bombarded with 1000s of ‘quick wins.’ TeachMeets are a great opportunity for expanding your thinking, developing ideas and networking with great people outside of your immediate day to day surroundings. Last weeks event was brilliantly captured by David Vignolli (a visual artist from London).
Now that these activities have been set up it’s my role to ensure they continue (for as long as they are useful to people). My hope is that these additional activities provide staff with opportunities to engage and develop in ways which suit them. The one size fits all approach to CPD is dead. To make great teaching a typicality across a school, staff must be given meaningful opportunities to develop and feel supported in doing so. Investing effectively in staff will ultimately lead to better experiences for the students which is what all of this is about after all – the students.
Dave Scott is a 6 times winning world Ironman triathlete who left nothing to chance. During peak training you could catch him cycling 75 miles, swimming a few 1000 metres and running up to 20 miles on a daily basis for weeks on end. In order to win six world championships he continued to reflect on his training and make tweaks to it in order to achieve optimal performance (much like the British cycling team under Sir David Brailsford – searching for a series of small marginal gains which would combine to produce a larger impact on performance). Dave Scott took it a step further and use to rinse his cottage cheese (not a euphemism) with water in order to reduce the amount of fat it contained upon consumption. He believed that this was one in series of other small steps which enabled him to reach peak performance. This got me thinking about teaching and how teachers develop their practice in the classroom.
As teachers we are in the business of changing lives. The best to do this is to get a better understanding of what works in the classroom (rinse our classrooms of wasteful practices and focus on what actually works). CPD is often fraught with difficulties – whole bodies of staff being forced to engage with CPD in one particular way which leads to minimal buy in. One off INSET days on a magical strategy to transform your teaching and the cult of outstanding can also end up leading to more lip service but even less action in the classroom. As David Weston (@informed_edu) points out we need to move our teacher development from awareness to transformative practice if we want teaching to improve. We need to take action.
From September I took up a leadership role in my school to lead CPD for teaching staff. I’m passionate about helping all students to succeed and understand that the best way for that to happen is to ensure they are exposed to great teaching. I want teachers to flourish and engage with CPD that personalised and enables them to take control, take action and subscribe to continual improvement in a way that works for them. In previous years CPD has consisted of a ‘one size fits all approach’ and so this year I wanted to do something a little different.
Based on the ideas of @Shaun_Allison and @Dan_Brinton I set out to offer a much more personalised CPD programme that focused on transformative activities. In the rest of this post I’ll attempt to outline the CPD programme I have planned for the year.
I adopted @Shaun_Allison ‘s layered approach to CPD.
Blanket activities relates to whole staff CPD activities in directed time which in my school equates to one 60 minute session every fortnight throughout the whole year.
Optional activities means exactly that – CPD activities like 15 minute forums, teach-meets, Edu-book club that teachers opt into if they want to. These activities are about getting the ‘right people on the bus.’ In order for them to be successful you need to create clusters of staff that want to be involved (and quite often lots do but just haven’t had an appropriate forum to get involved).
Directed activities relate to sessions for specific groups of staff like NQTs who may need additional support but also under-performing staff. Providing support for these groups are vital to ensuring that students get the best possible learning experiences.
CPD Overview 2014 – 2015.
Here’s my plan – Download a PDF copy here.
Staff will spend blanket time in departments during terms 1 and 6. Department leaders put forward a plan as to what their CPD will look like in these sessions. It focuses on specific needs of each department.
Terms 2 – 5 is where the personalised CPD takes place. Staff will opt into one of four pathways. The staff leading each pathway have opted to lead and take part in their pathway so will not miss out on CPD. During term 5 staff will be given directed time to create a piece of work to explain what they have investigated and then present it in a market-place style event at the end of term 5. I’ll blog about each pathway in more detail later in the year.
Outside of the blanket sessions there are a number of optional CPD activities aimed at building a culture of continual improvement. So far take up has been overwhelmingly strong for the optional activities.
Teaching is difficult but rewarding. We fail at it a lot which provides us with opportunities to learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Engaging with research is an accelerator that can challenge the way we think about teaching and in turn move our practice forward. So lets strip away the novelty gestures, rinse our cottage cheese and get better at understanding what works.
On Thursday 22nd May I presented some ideas at #TMCOOP about how to raise attainment at KS4. Below is a summary of my presentation.
Raising attainment at KS4.
I’ve noticed in my relatively short time of being a teacher that one of the overwhelmingly strongest indicators of how well a student achieves is effort. This may sound obvious. It is. Angela Duckworth discovered this in her research on GRIT (persistant effort towards a long term goal). If we want to do well at something that’s difficult it will require a huge amount of effort. How often do students not realise this until it is too late… “I wish I’d put more effort into revising.” When I look back over the past few years and analyse why some students have performed well at KS4 and some didn’t, the main differentiator is effort.
During last two terms I have attempted to build an ‘ethic of excellence’ in my classroom. I want all students to aspire to achieve the very top grades and I want them to know it will take a huge amount effort. I also want them to know that I will match their effort by supporting them through rigorous marking and feedback. Students aren’t always the best at following instructions from adults but they can be extremely good at mimicking behaviours.
An ethic of excellence.
Having read Ron Berger’s remarkable book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ I was motivated to get my students working their socks off. In the book Berger talks about how he spends a lot of time ensuring that the work he asks his students to do is as close to a ‘real life’ as possible. He also discusses how he built a culture in his classroom whereby students only received one of two grades for their work – ‘Excellent’ or ‘Not finished yet.’ What a powerful system. I decided to give it a try with a GCSE class that were about to start a 10 week coursework project. Target grades ranged from A to E.
Do target grades have an adverse effect on effort? If a student is targeted a D/E grade, is it possible that they might see that as an opportunity to adjust their effort to reflect the low target, i.e. not try very hard. To test this hypothesis I started by setting a default expectation of all students in the class: A*. Was I confident that all students would achieve this? Realistically, probably not as there are many factors out of my control (attendance being one of them). But I was confident that this strategy would help everyone achieve or exceed their target grade (something that I hadn’t managed to do in the past).
Talent isn’t born.
I spent sometime explaining to students about the David Beckham’s and Jonny Wilkinson’s of this world and how much effort they put into practising. At the beginning of most lessons we would watch a short clip that actively demonstrated how high levels of effort matched with deliberate practice can lead to very impressive results. I found the work of Daniel Coyle (and his book ‘The Talent Code’) particularly helpful in shaping my thinking around this. In his book, Coyle explains how he spent almost two years scouring the world researching groups of talented people – from teenage Brazilian football players to young musical prodigies. A recurring theme was shared amongst all these successful groups. Lots of effort coupled with deliberate practice that was guided by a master coach.
Students were beginning to understand that the more effort they put in, the more they asked for my advice, the more they thought about their work the better the chance they had at achieving an A*.
This is where the effort manifested itself in the classroom. I introduced Berger’s idea of grading work as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Not finished yet.’ Berger describes the art of re-drafting brilliantly in the video ‘Austin’s butterfly’ which is about a young boy who is asked to draw a butterfly by copying a photograph. You can see the difference in quality from the first attempt to the final attempt.
I attempted to build a culture in the classroom where it was typicality that all students would re-draft their work. Students were asked to re-draft their work several times which often led to a small incremental increase in marks between drafts but a huge difference by the time the final draft was submitted. Students also learnt to take a bit more pride in their work which appeared to come about because they had put so much effort into the redrafting that when it came time to submit a final copy they wanted it to be as close to perfect as possible.
Feedback – no grades.
The re-drafting was helped along by precise feedback in which I gave no grades. Instead I opted to simply tell students how many marks they were away from an A*. I then broke the mark scheme down into very small specific chunks which when added up would give full marks. This helped me move away from phrases like “Explain more” and enabled me to give really precise feedback to students. If a student was 15 marks from an A* they were able to tangibly see where they could add those marks to their work. With a potential A* on the line they were happy to continue to re-draft.
I’d like to say a class full of A* grades but that was not the case. However all students did either achieve or exceed their target grade with no student scoring below a C and four students securing an A*. It wasn’t just the grades that pleased me but also the students attitudes towards their work. In class they were more focused and keen to give me work to mark. The students were proud of what they had achieved and I was extremely proud of them.
What I have described in this post is by no means an exact science and I’m certainly not telling you to change what you’re doing, but this worked for these students.
And remember… “Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.” I think this applies to us all.
GCSE Computing revision materials.
This is a work in progress. This post will be updated regularly over the next few weeks to cover the OCR GCSE Computing syllabus. The resources can be easily adapted if needed. Feedback welcome!
1. Computer Systems
Self-reflection[PDF] [.DOC] | Chunked revision booklet [PDF] [.PPT] | Multiple choice questions [PDF]
4. Data representation
Ever felt like giving up on something? A project, a run, a blog post, organising an event, revising for an exam? If the answer to this question is ‘No’ I applaud you. You are either an extremely ‘GRIT-y’ person or perhaps you haven’t found a real challenge yet. If you answered ‘Yes’ then you have experienced the ‘Dip.’ In this, the first in a series of posts that explore motivation, GRIT, character strengths & growth mindset, I’m hoping to summarise what I have discovered from reading a series of books on these areas and what potential impact I believe it could have in the classroom. This first post looks at the bigger picture and addresses the general myth that successful people ‘never give up.’ In Seth Godin’s short book ‘The Dip’ he looks at why some businesses, organisations and people are successful and why some are not. Over the timeline of any successful project he argues that more often than not there is a ‘Dip’ where things get hard, more effort is required and the honeymoon period of the initial idea ends. The dip looks something like this:
The Dip is the point in a project whereby people leading make a decision. Is the outcome worth the extra effort and resources? Successful people are able to make the tough decision to either persevere because the outcome is worth the extra effort and resources or quit and invest their time, effort and resources into something that will be truly remarkable instead. Being able to successful make that decision at the point of the dip is tricky, risky and requires some experience, clear bigger picture thinking and the confidence to quit. Godin suggests the ‘Dip’ is the secret to success…
…the Dip is the secret to your success. The people who set out to make it through the Dip – the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip – those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because, instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they’ve got, they embrace the challenge. For whatever reason they refuse to abandon the quest and they push through the Dip all the way to the next year.
If something is worth doing then it will probably involve a Dip. But not always. How do we know it’s time to quit something? Have a look at the curves below:
Godin talks about knowing when to quit if the project curve looks like a ‘Cliff’ or ‘cul-de-sac.’ The cul-de-sac is described as…
…a situation where you work and you work and you work and nothing changes. It doesn’t get a lot better. it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.
Godin describes the ‘Cliff” as…
…a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.
The main problem is knowing when you are on either of these two paths. It would be quite easy to mistake the Dip for the ‘Cliff” for example. Having a clear goal, starting with the end in mind will help you determine what path you are on. Revisiting the purpose regularly, reflecting and being brutally honest with yourself will also help – sometimes it may be easier to continue a project (even if you suspect a ‘cul-de-sac’) then quit and devote your time and resources to something will make a bigger dent in the universe.
I experienced the Dip recently whilst organising a teach-meet. After the initial buzz of announcing that I was going to host a teach meet for 200 teachers I was hit by the never-ending list of things that needed to happen in order for the event to be a success. Coupled with a full teaching timetable and responsibilities within my department – there was a point (if I’m being honest) where the thought of quitting crossed my mind. My goal was to put on a truly remarkable event and if I didn’t have the time and resources to do that, perhaps I should focus my time and resources into something else. However the end of goal was too important and I instead decided to lean into the Dip and persevere (something I’ve learned from ultra running). Having attended other teach meets I knew how inspirational these events can be and how much they make teachers think, re-focus and offer opportunities for teachers to take ideas that can have a positive impact on students.
Links to teaching.
As a teacher I’ve certainly had many moments where I’ve felt like quitting something because the outcome didn’t seem worth the time and effort. There have been times when I’ve powered through the Dip and had some truly amazing lessons, CPD sessions, e.t.c. There have also been other times where in hindsight I would have been better off quitting earlier and re-focusing my time and effort. But still I learnt from those experiences so all is not lost. From reading Godin’s work I will definitely be thinking of the curves mentioned earlier in this post when planning new department and school wide projects. It has also made me think about planning lessons. In a lesson or scheme of work when will students experience the Dip? What will students be thinking during the Dip? What action should I take? I believe this is where GRIT, character strengths and the growth mindset model fit in. These habits can be used to help navigate through the Dip. In my next post I’ll be exploring these habits and how they can positively influence learning.