Leadership approaches, support and ideas from Bristol Brunel Academy

High Performing Leadership #2 – Domini Choudhury, Assistant Principal

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One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt over the past year as a senior leader is in the power of using the right language. There have been numerous examples in the Academy recently where the simple switch from using complex but rather mediocre words to express an idea to using simple but well-thought through words and phrases has spiked momentum in many aspects of the school.

At Bristol Brunel, we call this switch ‘a nudge’.
“Nudges are ways of influencing choice without limiting the choice set or making alternatives appreciably more costly in terms of time,
trouble, social sanctions, and so forth. They are called for because
of flaws in individual decision-making, and they work by making use of those flaws.” (Hausman & Welch 2010, 126)
which we have taken to understand as
“A nudge is very simple idea, approach that has surprising leverage for improvement. It is low in energy and feels to staff very intuitive. It offers a different way or view without replacing or removing old ways. They are often located in the what and is a really good way to prompt improvement and change, without persuasion, resource or time.” (Dr Dan Nicholls, Principal of Bristol Brunel Academy)
Examples of nudges that highlight the power of language:
1. Senior staff modelling the use of the very simple phrase “We need to finish conversations because…” with students to de-escalate potentially confrontational conversations and reinforce to students the value that we place on showing respect through body language. While no formal work was done with staff to introduce this phrase, the snowball effect of modelling is being seen every day as I hear Heads of Year using this same phrase when students are potentially in conflict with a member of staff or each other, and the power these simple words have in de-escalating this conflict.
2. We have recently moved away from talking about KS3 progress in terms of levels and sub-levels to using the language of “months behind” or “months ahead” where the student should be in their progress. Informing a student that he or she is ‘5 months behind’ the progress they should have made so far at KS3 has much more meaning, and triggers a more emotional reaction, than saying to a student ‘You are 2 sub-levels behind where you should be.’ The power of months behind is in the way that everyone (staff, students and parents) can easily understand and process otherwise overwhelming data measures.
3. A core value that we try to embed into our Academy ethos is that effort = success. We have just begun to use this phrase with students in assemblies, reinforcing the idea that success isn’t borne out of luck but comes from determined effort and persistence, and a willingness to fail, repeat and fail again. The effort = success motto is a simple phrase that sticks and gives us the tool to describe to students what that determined effort actually looks like in practice in their academic life.
4. This one’s all mine – in my weekly Y8 assemblies (as I am the SLT link for Y8) I have been focusing on the idea that ‘lessons are for learning’. Initially, I was using it to tackle to students who repeatedly found excuses to leave their lessons. I have used the power of this simple phrase in other ways too, most noticeably, when I become aware of a Y8 student disrupting a lesson. Me: “What are  lessons for?” Student: “Learning.” Me: “Was your learning taking place when that happened?” Student: “No.” Me: “Was the learning of the people around you taking place when that happened?” Student: “No.” Me: “What were you doing that stopped that learning from taking place?” Student gives their answer. Me: “Why is it important that this doesn’t happen again?” Student: “Because lessons are for learning.” The power of the phrase is that it allows a discussion about poor behaviour of a student to focus on the impact they have had on their’s and others’ learning, rather than on the negative behaviour itself which otherwise just becomes an emotionally-charged unproductive conversation.
This brings me to my concluding point in this post: that using the simple stick (coined by Ken Segall in Insanely Simple: The obsession that drive’s Apple’s success) to thrash through the dense forest of academy processes is an important key to successful leadership. In our Academy, examples of finding the simple stick has taken the form of reducing our teams’ self-evaluation documentation to one double-sided sheet of A3, meaningfully used and regularly reviewed, instead of of the usual 64-page dossier of self-evaluation written once per year and then left to gather dust until the following year. Another example: in Academy data reports produced four times a year for students and parents  (in addition to written reports), words which hold meaning for parents and students have replaced numbers in describing their child’s attitude to learning in their lessons. Parents take more meaning from a shared understanding of the concepts of “Excellent”, “Good”, “Needs Improving” “Poor” better than they can understand a set of 1-4 numbers assigned in varying interpretations to abstract concepts.
Domini Choudhury, Assistant Principal
Twitter: @DominiChoudhury

One thought on “High Performing Leadership #2 – Domini Choudhury, Assistant Principal

  1. Pingback: High Performing Leadership #2 – Domini Choudhury, Assistant Principal | teachsociology

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