Gardening crops, Family dinners, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined once again by Craig Parkinson, to discuss doing less, better. How can schools deal with juggling agendas and content? Is it better to start with a ‘Why’ over a ‘What’? Plus, find out what the ‘80-20 model’ is.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
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Welcome back to another School of School podcast. We have us regulars. Robin, Andy, how you both doing hope you're well. You're well?
Good. Yes. Hi.
Well, to raise the level of conversation, Craig Parkinson's coming. Craig, how are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi Adam. Yeah, my name's Craig Parkinson. I start out my teaching career as a secondary maths teacher, discovered the joy of watching pupils get that light bulb moment was sort of unrivalled in anything else, then realised that the profession goes, goes through a similar learning process. So I moved into the training world. Started being a Maths — No Problem! trainer for six years. I've been a trainer and consultant for the visible learning plus work of professor John Hatty and his team. And I also work as a Clifton Strengths coach. I'm a certified coach in helping people to discover, rather than trying to do all things all the time, just try to find out what it is that needs to work and to do more of that.
I think picking up on that last bit, I think one of the things that I know we've discussed off air, if you like, that we're going to be talking about, is doing less, better. And I'm guessing that it might fall into all of those camps, Craig, but I guess certainly that last bit perhaps. Is that right?
Am I on the right track?
Yeah, you are. And I think it's really important to recognise the comma in do less, better because without the comma it means just do worse. And I don't think that's a good message. So I tried to take this long message of the Pareto principal. You know? The 80% of your success comes from 20% of what it is that you do, and trying to discover that 20%.
I think our profession's probably one of the most overburdened profession. And I've had 10 different jobs that I've done before I became a teacher in my thirties. And, I think we play bookaroo an awful lot in the profession where we just keep adding more and more things onto this beast of burden till it kicks off.
And, I liked the Netherlands principle of the abandonment policy. You know, before we introduce something new, let's make sure it replaces something. And I thought if we're replacing things, if there are things, things that we know that we can get rid of, what about looking at, before we add anything in, is there anything that we can do more of so that we do less of something else, but we get an even better return on our investment of time?
Yeah, I do my best for sure. Just thinking of that, Craig, I'm a mom of two and when I try to do too many things at once, definitely I am not doing my best. So here, here. I agree 100%. Doing less, better would be is something I have to keep at the forefront because I can get swept up in doing all kinds of things, and therefore, none of them effectively.
Yeah. That's a, the opposite mantra is to do more worse.
You know, nobody really says, "I'll vote for that one," whenever I propose this idea of let's try and find ways to do less, but better. People go, oh yeah, really like that. But when we ask people to make professional sacrifices, sometimes they don't know what to get rid of. So they just go, you know what? I'll do this and all these other things as well. Because we're not critical consumers of some of the pedagogical practises that we use. And I've done those lessons where I just think I'm going to do this and do this and this. And suddenly you've added so much to it that it's unmanageable, but stripping it back, trying to be quite Spartan with it, if possible.
So, here's the danger. This implies that everybody wants to do well, right? With whatever it is that they're doing. Which is a big assumption in my experience. Not everyone's motivated to do well. So do less comma better might be interpreted as just do less by some people. Right? And not necessarily up their game.
So it implies that people want to do well. I'm being really cynical here, but look, if you've ever worked in any organisation, what you come to realise is that not everybody has a high level of motivation. Right? And, so for whatever reason, maybe because they've just been beaten out of them because you've asked them to do too much. You know, you got to be careful. I mean, I think in principal, this is a great idea and I'm fully behind it, but you also have to be careful that you're just not just lowering expectations.
When you say do less. Right?
So I don't know. I don't know. How do you tackle that? So, Adam, you've been in a leadership role in a school. I mean, in schools, how do you make sure that do less, better doesn't just get interpreted into do less?
I'll tell you exactly how I used it. And, I think it was a really important thing. I didn't have a catchy little catch phrase, doing less, better though. I wish I had of at the time, but what I felt was I always thought of ... I think I've used this analogy before. I always thought of teaching like gardening. Yeah? So, you get one shot each year and there's certain things that happen at each year. And so if you don't get your, pruning of your tomatoes right, you can't just, oh, have another go. You have to wait. Right? So, you go through that year. And I always think that there's certain things that you learn as you go through the year and then you get another chance with a new cohort. Yeah? So it's like the next year of gardening.
And what I always used to think was really important, I initially just thought it was important for newly qualified teachers, but of course it applies to all of us, is that if you really nail down on the aspects of teaching that were going to have the greatest impact and make those habit, or make them as close to habit as possible. And I used to see some sort of teachers professional development. Then I have 12 different things, but there was no sort of prioritisation. It was kind of like we'll pick and choose. I'll do a little bit of this on Monday and a little bit of this and Tuesday and whatever else. But those big things that make, I think, significant difference, making sure that there's a focus on those and knowing that this is what's going to get really good.
There might be other aspects that did improve also, but if they don't in the same way, that's okay, because that might come next. That'll come as a result of making these things habit. And I used to find that with teaching, once we made those things habit, you had more time to think about something else. So my best lecturers ever, they came into their own. I reckon I'd been teaching about three or four years. And then some of the things they said made sense because I had to develop these other things first before I was able to utilise these other bits and pieces.
So I think just, just having that priority. And if something's done poorly about just focus on everything at once, like you said, Robin, I think it can be really difficult because it might be very difficult to then succeed at each of them. And so you kind of feel like you're a failure at everything. You know? That's one. But, I think that making things habit allow us to learn. It's the same idea with mastery. I suppose you learn one thing well, so you can access something new.
Right. So do we need a top three list of, oh, I'm going to focus on these-
... things? Yeah. It is impossible. So what are your tips?
And I think you can define it in a simple construct. And Robin, it's interesting, because this is exactly what you and I, and some of the others in the company, were discussing last week. If you look at any organisation, it could be a school, but it could also be a company. It could be a charity. It could be a family. It doesn't matter. Any kind of organisation. Right? What you'll find is, there's a lot of activity. And we become obsessed about the activity sometimes, but the activity has an output. And what you need to think about is a little less about the activity, a little bit more about the output. So what's the leverage of the activity that you're? So by that, leverage defined by the output that's produced by that activity. And then you should, as a general rule, figure on working on more high leverage things, as opposed to lower leverage things.
So things that have more output for the amount of effort that goes in, right? So that's one principle that you need to think about. This is like looking at it very much from an engineering point of view. So what are the high leverage activities out of all the activities that you do? Because you do a lot of stuff. What are the high leverage ones?
So in a family context, that might be sitting down and having dinner together every Sunday. It might be what you consider a high leverage activity at home, right? You need to do that because that's high leverage and that's more important. The low leverage of, I don't know, whatever. Doing the laundry. So you shouldn't sacrifice doing the laundry for having dinner together at home on Sunday, let's say. Right? Or, whatever. This is kind of a model for making decisions.
But in itself, output is not the most important thing that you should be measuring. What you need to think about is if you take that output, what is the outcome of that output? So what is it? What that output lead to? What is the outcome of that output? And focus more on the outcomes than you do on the outputs. So be aware of what the outcome is of the outputs that you create. Right? And stop focusing merely on activity.
So all too often, what happens is we worry about activity, like in the class, at school, we must do this, we must do this. We must do this. We must do this. We must do this. Blah, blah, blah. Sometimes you need to say, well, why do we do that again?" You know? What's the output of that thing? And does that output lead to the outcome that we're looking for? And if it doesn't, maybe we should stop doing it. Right? Or we shouldn't do as much of it. Right?
And I think that's kind of at the heart. Because the problem is, there's so many things to decide, right? As a teacher, because everybody wants so much from you. We need to teach all this huge amount of content and the kids need to learn all this huge amount of stuff. But at the other end you've got the other people who are taking more of a pastoral kind of lens on school and saying, "You have all these responsibilities," as well. And then somebody else is saying, "Well, we have to look at," whatever it is. The environment. Therefore we need to also put all this emphasis in school. And it very quickly becomes overwhelming.
It's like, well, sure. I got to worry about the environment. I got to worry about the pastoral care of the children, but I also need to teach them all this content. And how do I decide? Because there's all these conflicting agendas that come into everything that you have to do in the school day. Right? So then you have to look at activity, output outcome. What's the outcome? What's the desired outcome? What do I want as outcomes? What's the outputs that lead to that outcome? And then, therefore, look at the activities and say, "I can sacrifice that activity for that activity." Right?
You need some kind of model to think about it. And I think schools, when they talk, when they have their kind of staffing get togethers, there should be discussions at that kind of level as well. Not just discussing individual problems, but saying, "What is it that we want to achieve as a school? What are the outcomes that we're out to? Let's look at what the outputs are of the activities that we do and make decisions based on that." Maybe those kinds of models could be a practical application in the school. I don't know. That's how I would approach it.
What I'm hearing there, Andy, you described the logic model avenue. What are the outputs and outcomes that you're wanting and the activities that get you there? And I think that they're really useful. But, I don't know.
Well, I think I'm only proposing that as a method of deciding which activities are the more important ones.
Yeah. Which is the Pareto principle, isn't it? You know, a sports player, the 80% of your improvement comes from 20% of the exercises that you do. So you got to find out which are the high impact ones. When you talked about the curriculum there, I mean, you think about the Singaporean curriculum. It's about half the size of the English curriculum, for example. To do less, better is to say through the solo taxonomy language, build up some knowledge, sufficient knowledge, at the one of the many level, to then be able to make connections between them, so that pupils can then start self-regulating and become critical consumers of knowledge, as opposed to just being programmed with more and more things. So, what is the outcome of having the curriculum that we have, for example, is one of the questions that we can start looking at it. Isn't it?
But there's traps in that. So where you see sometimes in the world where curriculums are introduced, where there's teachers, please fill in the gaps, then what ends up happening is, you just end up with gaps, right? And, that's not helpful either. So then, you're getting back into this kind of paradox we were talking about before. How do you make sure that this well intentioned and good idea just doesn't end up being less? Not less, better, right? Because you're right. You know, so in Singapore, for example, I think the language that they used, they love their slogans in Singapore. They said, "Teach less. Learn more." Right? Which is great in principle, as long as it doesn't just get interpreted as just teach less, right?
Teach less with purpose. You know? So hat's the paradox. Right? That's the problem is. It's like, okay, so how do you end up deciding what are those high leverage activities in school? Because I think that the problem that a lot of schools are faced with is that no one would ever say that, oh, all this pastoral stuff is nonsense. Forget about it. Let's just focus on the content would not be a good approach to a school, but how much should you sacrifice content for pastoral care or for some other? Like, let's say the environment, for example. Or getting out and getting immersed into nature. How much curriculum are you willing to sacrifice for that? Well, if you don't know what the outcome is from going out into nature, then it's very hard for you to judge whether or not you should be spending an extra hour doing a math catch up lesson instead of having a lunch break, right?
It's Simon Sinek's work, isn't it? You know, start with your why. You know? As opposed to what you're going to do, why are we doing this? Which I think moves again into that qualitative phase of learning. The quantitative you know what to do. And the qualitative is why you do it and when you do it. And, if we programme pupils or adults just to act in a certain way so that they respond. When input A comes to them, they respond with output B. You know? We're not functioning as the fully formed adults that we can be. We just, what Keith Stanovich calls, we're the robots. But we're the robots that know that we're robots. We're the only robots in the universe, if we are robots, that know that we're robots. We can overthrow this by moving to the metacognitive side and self-correcting, and self-improving, as opposed to thinking that it's some external agent that makes me change.
The most authentic change and the most motivational change comes from within, which ties into the coaching work. I mean, fundamentally, the do less comma better is pretty much because I'm just a really lazy teacher. And, that me, we, you model. And I talked about this long time before I came into teaching. When I had a business in my early 20s, I trained staff up. And I went, first of all, you're going to watch me do it. Then we're going to do it together. And then you're going to do it by yourself. And it was this slow release model of agency that I had, that when I look back on it now, I just think to myself, oh, yeah. That was me instinctively developing a metacognitive approach to staff development.
Can this get into delegation as well? I'm going back to household chores. So if I want to do less, better, so maybe I stop doing so much laundry, preparing meals, and I delegate those tasks to others so that I can focus on the things that are most important. What do you think?
Higher leverage. Yeah. Higher leverage activities.
Higher leverage. Yeah. Exactly.
If you had your Clifton Strengths in front of you, Robin, I'd be more than happy to coach you through how you do that. So rather than you saying this or this, we'd look at what strengths you have and say, "Okay. So how would you use that particular theme there to help you to get this outcome that you want?" And it's a bit like when you've got a crossword to fill in and you've got an eight letter word, you've got no idea what's in there. And it could be anything. I've seen the clue. And I have no idea. And then suddenly, you get one letter in it. And you go, I know what it is now. Once I know what it starts with, I can answer it. And that's a bit like how it is with do less, better.
It's like find something that's a starting point. Could be your Clifton Strengths themes. It could be where you are in your learning. And move on from there. That definition of an amateur thinks everything's possible. And an expert goes of all the things that the amateur thinks. I know it's just a few things that are worth attending to. And that's where the do less, better comes from. Don't think that there's all this to do. Just narrow it down until you go, okay. Of what's remaining, this is what we're going to do with that.
Adam. I can see the wheels just turning. From a teacher's perspective, were you good at this?
No. Was I good at it?
No. I think that non. It was a learned skill. I think you try to do everything for everyone. And, I don't know if it's changing. I honestly don't. But when I first started teaching, it was almost like if you were taught something or you had a staff meeting on something, you were the expert at it tomorrow. And so it made you feel like you should be able to do everything incredibly well, straight away. And I think that's just a nonsense. And I think what Craig's saying about, like when you focus on those key aspects, and it's same as what Andy's saying, and yourself, Robin, about if you focus on those things that are going to make the biggest impact, then you know, you've got more chance of success. You've got more chance of things going well.
So I think that I don't know. The only thing that I would say is that the other thing that I've seen and experienced for teachers, and it doesn't matter whether they've been in the game the longest or not, but that tends to be when you first start something, is the knock on the door that I used to get with teachers that were really distressed is because they couldn't make up their mind what to do better. They found it really difficult to prioritise, and they just needed that ... so I think it's that sort of thing as well. Just understanding that, all of us, we're probably better off focusing on small things and getting those right that have the greatest impact. Because that's also rewarding for us. Right? It's what makes us get up to work and go back into the classroom, because we've just done something and the kids have loved it and learned, and everyone's smiling. And that may be because you focused on that one aspect and got it right.
So I think that cycle just builds. But, but I think I've always found is trying to be an expert at everything, be wonderful at everything, overnight, it's now it's a nonsense. It's bloody hard work. And you need to focus on the right things in order to get it right. Otherwise, you can be stuck.
Just for Andy, hand placement on a guitar, right? Learning guitar and not learning where to put your hand properly at the very beginning. Honestly, down the track, you're in a world of pain and you're not going to learn in the same way. Get these, the little things, right at the start. You know? I don't know. Do you agree with that, Andy?
Well, that's it. You know, so here's an interesting thing. Adam, you play guitar. I play guitar. So there's this kind of emphasis of positioning. But at some point, you go beyond that and you let go. And so it's interesting because I was watching this guy on YouTube, Rick Beato. He's got millions of followers. Amazing music teacher, guitar player guy. And he said, "Yeah, all that nonsense about keeping your thumb in the back of the neck when you're playing. Yeah. That's just utter rubbish. If you look at all the good guitar players, none of them do it. And they all wrap their thumb around and all this kind of stuff." And I was like, yes, thank you for saying that. Because at the beginning it's really important. Because you're at a different level.
It's hope for me yet. That's my level.
But then you can go beyond it at some point, right? Like the constructs, the fencing, right? You can take the fencing down now and you can explore a little bit outside and get into. So these kind of constructs that we build sometimes, they're stepping stones. They're not rules that we need to stay with forever. Right?
Yeah. But I think that comes back to this, right? If we focus on the right things at the right time, it opens up stuff to allow improvement.
And all sorts of stuff. Which is-
Yeah. And the key is knowing at what point you can let go of some of the constructs, right?
You know? That the journey, it's not linear and it's not always in the same direction. Right? Sometimes there's obstacles you got to go around or things you got to climb over.
I'll keep you updated on hand placement on the guitar.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
I'll give you an update.
I'm prioritising now learning the guitar. You've inspired me. Now I don't have to keep my thumb on the back. Yay.
I will say man, the guitar is, in my mind, the most fascinating thing that's ever been made by any human, because it's such a simple concept, but the levels of complexity that emerge from the way that it's laid out and all kinds of the subtleties and in techniques and stuff, I mean, I'm just fascinated. I think it's the most tremendous piece of art. What is it? The most fascinating art tool ever created is the electric guitar.
Oh boy, I think this is going to be another podcast topic. But Craig, I'd love to hear your final thoughts.
Well, that's going to be hard to capture, I think.
What were we talking about again?
Yeah. In terms of doing less, better, if we want to look after wellbeing of staff, we have to give a clear message that we're not just going to keep adding more and more things on either from a leadership perspective, asking people to do more, or as a practitioner trying to do more and more. I think just find a few things and pursue those to be intentionally excellent at those, and then start moving out into the other areas where you've got the capacity, capability, and bandwidth to do so.
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