I often sit back and reflect on the many things that go on in my schools. Particularly at the end of the term or when I’m gearing up to write a monthly newsletter. I’m constantly amazed by the extraordinary length of the lists of things going on – many of them new developments, or improvements coming about through either evolution or consolidation.
This led me to think about school improvement. So much of what I can see happening across my schools are “little improvements” that occur without needing to have been mapped out on a strategic plan. Although school improvement plans are still required to outline how the schools will tackle the key priorities for development or improvement, I don’t want these to be the “be all and end all.” There are so many other things that colleagues think of along the way and a whole host of other things that have been part of previous plans but now just continue to grow and develop through consolidation, tweaking and refining as they become more embedded and better established in our routines, expectations and practice. Put all of these extra improvements together and add in the refined and ever evolving ongoing work and the cumulative effect adds greatly to the sense of continuous school improvement. It makes school improvement more about process than outcome and refocuses aspects of it so that it becomes journey led rather than destination bound.
Sometimes there are just “interesting ideas to think about” or “things we’d like to try.” I trust my staff and so I take it as read that there’s a healthy dose of “reflect and review” along the way. But with so much “extra” improvement going on I wanted to find a way to capture it. And I wanted it captured in a different way to a dry SIP because this was a different sort of improvement. Something somewhere is asking me to make links to the theory of marginal gains and someday somehow I will be better able to draw that comparison. But for now I was satisfied to present our ideas and ongoing smaller improvements as “sketch notes” – a more accessible format for communicating what we were trying. A format that made sense to pupils, parents, governors and staff. And yet still a format that demonstrated a level of thought and a detail of the general direction we were heading.
And of course, I wanted to be able to do justice to the fact that so much “improvement” goes on without a formal plan directing it. Being able to draw this together has meant that the schools are able to celebrate the additional successes we have – but crucially, the sketch notes give just enough momentum to ensure that ideas which begin as staffroom conversations over a cup of coffee translate into meaningful action over the forthcoming weeks and months.
Does school improvement only happen when it’s on the School Improvement Plan? Is something only valid if it’s written into a chart or table? Do we value the creative ideas of staff who spot things to try along the way and then back them to do it with encouragement – and time, money and resources where appropriate? Even if it’s “not on the SIP”? I’d like to think that we’ve struck a healthy balance at my schools and come to the healthy realisation that meaningful school improvement doesn’t always have to be confined to the school improvement plan.