The power of why

EE028306-2BFC-4C86-9720-134738364C74.jpeg“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford

I spent the first 10 years of my working life frustrated. (Partly due to the hubris of youth.) Time and again I saw decisions being made and justified based not on reason and evidence. Instead, so often it was based subconsciously on bias, historical precedent or personal preference. Even worse, at times these factors were used consciously to make and justify decisions. I vowed to do things differently whenever the opportunity arose.

At the very cornerstone of Kensington’s ethos is ‘why?’ The power of this question has transformed the way we work and, subsequently, what we’ve achieved. It continues to drive us forward. It ensures what we are doing is relevant. We combine it with Pareto’s principle of 80/20 to use our limited time and energy efficiently. This helps focus us on what makes a real difference for our children.

Instead of something being done because, ‘that’s what we’ve always done’ or because of a joint ‘collective wisdom’ that this is what ‘schools’ do or this is what we have to do. At Kensington we are obsessed with asking, why? Why are we doing this? What difference does it make for our children? Is there a better way?

N.B. Of course, with this come the perils of ‘continual change’, which can be disruptive and counter-productive. Managing this level of change will be discussed in a future post.

At Kensington we often talk about ‘think’ (or THINK). This is born of a belief that organisations and individuals can disengage their brain when making decisions. This is lazy decision making. It is replacing logic with supposition and bias. One of many examples:

A: How are we setting targets for our children?

B: We’ve tried so many different ways but the children never refer to them.

A: What if we do x, y and z?

B: That could work but it will mean a lot of work for our teachers.

A: Ok. But the children have to have targets.

B: Fine. Let’s do it like that then.

You can read about our views on the efficacy of targets and what we’ve done about them in a future post.

This is just one example. I’m sure you have your own. There is no question about whether having targets is an effective way to improve children’s learning. Or what weight should be placed on these in terms of using teacher’s limited time and energy. There is a supposition that ‘we have to…’; often justified with the insertion of ‘OFSTED’ – the ender of all discussions. We try to have a different conversation:

A: How are we setting targets for our children?

B: Why are we setting targets for our children?

From here can flow meaningful discussion. What works? How do we know? How well does it work? In the day-to-day of what we’re doing, is this where we want to focus our limited time and energy? What will work in our context? Is that the same in Nursery as Y6? If not, what is different?

Of course it would be exhausting to have this level of conversation on every possible area at every possible juncture. So we started with what makes the greatest impact on our children’s learning: identified by what we see and know, as well as looking at the latest research from the likes of Professor John Hattie and the Education Endowment Fund. In this, we also looked at those areas which took a disproportionate amount of our teacher’s time.

We’ve looked at: marking; the implementation of growth mindset; assessment; language development, and planning.  Subsequently, we’ve moved onto CPD and our children’s needs outside of the core curriculum.

There’s always more to do. We now want to carry out a fundamental review of our curriculum, as well as reviewing how we support children’s behaviour and the purpose of our displays and environment. In the meantime, undoubtedly we will continue to question those areas we’ve already reviewed.

Asking ‘why’ is a challenge. It’s a Pandora’s Box and you need to be committed to it. You also need to be very careful how you manage this change. (Too much ‘why’ can definitely be a bad thing.) However, used circumspectly it can bring about true, meaningful change, which will improve outcomes for children and ensure staff are focusing their limited time and energy on what truly makes a difference.

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3 thoughts on “The power of why

  1. Pingback: Pareto’s principle | The head blog

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