The Habits of School Improvement

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shutterstock_283193141 habits word written on wood block


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What overriding habits exist that result in school improvement?

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ~ Henry Ford.

The invention of the Quadricycle marked an important innovation (1896) as a proto-automobile that would lay the foundation for the future, with more practical designs to follow. The Ford Quadricycle was the first vehicle developed by Henry Ford. It was the first car to use a simple frame with an ethanol-powered engine and four bicycle wheels mounted on it.

One could argue, that Ford lay the foundations of a ‘working-ethic’ (or habit) for future improvement.

Sustained Improvement:

In a post, The Power of Habit in Schools written by @steveadcock81 (Deputy Director Academies, United Learning), he posed the following question:

 … where in our schools might we find keystone habits through which we can leverage sustained improvement?

Adcock offers his take on the good habits formed by successful schools and his post has provoked several reflections on the work we are doing in the school in which I work; currently graded as ‘Requires Improvement’.

  1. Classroom doors are open and it’s perfectly normal for teachers and school leaders to wander into their colleagues’ lessons.
  2. The programme of study in each subject is published so that teachers can plan ahead, students can read ahead and parents can ask informed questions about their child’s learning. This also encourages curriculum continuity and stability.
  3. Senior leaders are visible: at the bus stops, outside the local shop, in the furthest reaches of the school field, up and down the corridors.
  4. Classrooms and offices are tidy, reinforcing a message of pride and order.
  5. Doors are held open.
  6. Students are greeted on the gate as they arrive each morning.
  7. Question-level analysis is routine, in all subjects and all years, so that teachers and students are familiar with breaking down their work into smaller chunks and identifying where they need to improve.
  8. There is pride in students’ work: old exercise books are stapled to new ones, folders keep work in good order, displays showcase the best work.
  9. They collate and share good practice. They don’t presume that middle leaders know how to run a meeting, that senior leaders know how to line-manage a department, or that heads of year know how to withdraw a student from a class without causing further disruption.  These nuggets of expertise are collated, refined and shared.
  10. Teachers talk about teaching and about their subject.  Leaders seek ways of providing time for this.


My key reflection is:

shutterstock_303508625 Melbourne, Australia - August 2, 2015: hallway within the Arts Faculty in the Robert Menzies Building on the Clayton campus of Monash University. The Menzies Building has typical 1960s architecture.

Do your school corridors appear empty and lifeless?

Image: Shutterstock

Habits or outcomes?

From the list of factors (or criteria) that Adcock has described, there is nothing above that we are not doing. In my 20+ years of teaching, I have seen this evident in all-but-one of the schools I have worked in; even then, this school was graded ‘Good with Outstanding’ features.

Therefore, why the difference in inspection outcomes?

Regardless of the questions and habits listed above, describing what teachers and school leaders do every day, I pose the following question to my readers.

In my opinion, the overall quality of teaching is the apex of everything that exists within a school.

Teacher quality, habits and classroom routines; open doors and a visible presence around the school echo the high expectation set by every adult in the school, and for every single child. If this is not high enough, or is not maintained by just one colleague, then the entire values and aims of the school are undermined.

If habits are not formed in unison, it is critical that we start again, only more thoughtfully for each other.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. Henry Ford

shutterstock_242289589 An 1896 Ford, a gasoline-powered motor car, which its maker, Henry Ford, called 'Quadricycle.'

Ford sold his first Quadricycle* for $200 in 1896. He later built two more Quadricycles: one in 1899, and another in 1901.

Image: Shutterstock


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2 thoughts on “The Habits of School Improvement

    1. It is suggesting that it is available in some format to others: teachers, parents, schools. e.g. website.
      It has been recommend by the DfE that schools use ‘off the shelf’ schemes of work to help reduce workload.

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