The postman delivered High Performers – The Secrets of Successful Schools by Alistair Smith this week. For anyone who’s not read it, the book contains bucket loads of wisdom and tons of practical advice on every single page. To tell the truth, I feel a little breathless about all the good stuff contained therein. Alistair took it upon himself to visit 20 high performing schools up and down the land and try to distill what it is that makes them successful. Predictably, he found that there is no ‘one size fits all’ silver bullet which can make schools outstanding but he has gleaned all sorts of juicy tidbits which are certainly worth digesting.

Rather than debating the worth of the book as a whole, I’m just going to spread out some of my favourite snippets for you to chew over and mull at your leisure.

Good leaders will:

  • stop the school and staff doing good things to make time for them to do even better things
  • kick out something old to make way for new initiatives
  • say no to new initiatives which don’t further the school’s core purpose
  • ask for feedback from staff – three things they do well and three things they could improve
  • don’t try to change human behaviours when people are tired and at their most vulnerable
  • look in lessons every period, every day
  • give authority to teachers at the point of need
  • give teachers the freedom to fly
  • support staff rather than try to catch them out
  • find ways to involve the staff in the future direction of the school without creating any extra work for them
  • make the point that the school is and always will be a safe haven for learning
  • do whatever they can to attract talent and retain it
  • keep what’s already good and works well
  • put people before policies
  • speak positively to each and every member of staff at least once every week
  • Strip out every demand on teachers except that they prepare for and teach to the best of their ability
Good teachers will:
  • go the extra mile
  • ask good questions and listen to the answers
  • make it safe for students to take risks and fail
  • ban pointless classroom activities
  • know the names of all the students they teach
  • teach the skills of peer and self assessment
  • avoid unhelpful comparisons between students
  • catch children being good and being successful
  • tell every class they are the best you’ve ever taught and that they will beat all previous records
  • use an agreed checklist of what constitutes great learning to help plan lessons
  • become a scientist and investigate their teaching
  • orient classes to learning rather than performing
  • consider the social, emotional, physiological and cognitive dimension to preparing students for exams
  • use technology in service to learning, not for its own sake
  • think beyond inspection criteria
Good middle leaders will:
  • support but also challenge
  • encourage staff to take risks
  • talk up and take pride in their team
  • keep themselves physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually attuned to the rigours of their role
  • take a responsible and realistic attitude to financial spending
  • put effort into planning for the short, medium and long term
  • be resolute when necessary
  • stay up to date and professionally informed about new approaches to and understanding of learning
  • encourage colleagues to do the same
  • model high standards in their own teaching
  • be strategic in how talent is deployed
  • know the students
  • shift the culture on observing lessons and giving feedback
  • make it easier for others to do their job
  • be supportive of the leadership team as far as possible
  • be positive and have consistent values
  • communicate regularly and clearly
  • be on top of performance data
  • involve others in the decision making
  • contribute to the life of the school
  • never ignore a misdemeanour
  • challenge mediocrity
This is just a taste. The book is packed with lots more sound advice and these, and many other ideas, are explored in detail. I didn’t agree with everything but it was all worth reading, if only to test whether my alternatives are robust enough. If you work in a school, whatever your role, this book is worth buying.

For other recommended reads, look here