Celebrate & Course-Correct
Improvement work is often a long-term endeavour. In the messy middle, our teams can lose track of the progress they are making and the lessons they are learning. In this episode, Simon explores the importance of setting up a regular rhythm of celebrating and course-correcting.
Well, if you’re on any educational improvement trajectory, you’re probably already pretty aware that whilst planning is really important for clarifying your thinking and making explicit your theory of action and building a shared sense of where you’re going, once that plan hits reality, you gotta be ready for things to, well not go according to plan as you get into the work. One of the most important capabil capabilities to develop is this sense that on a regular pattern or cycle you’re gathering with other members on your team to engage in celebration and course correction. I wonder whether there’s something you’ve been leading at the moment. People are deep in the work, what I call being in the messy middle of the work, and they’re pushing forward and it’s pretty impressive that actually they need you at some point soon just to pause and say, Hey, what’s going well? And what are some of the small wins we’ve been able to achieve recently?
We’ve gotta take a moment to celebrate. And we do this beautifully. I think quite often in our classrooms and our engagement with young people, we’re often helping them stop no and see the progress they’re making, but we often don’t do it with the adults in the building. And so on an ongoing and regular way, it’s important just to pause and to celebrate and to notice and acknowledge. When I do this with people and we just pause and we say, Hey, what are some of the quick wins? Uh, what are some of the small wins? What are some things that you’re noticing, uh, that represent positive progress in this work? And we get everyone to write down two or three things over the last two to four weeks and then share it around. You can change the energetic state very quickly. The number one thing that people say to me is they say, oh, I didn’t, I didn’t realise we’d done so much. Adults are not very good actually at tracking and keeping score of all the meaningful things that they’re doing that are adding up in the direction that we’re heading. So as a leader, it’s crucial to build in a regular rhythm of celebration.
Well, the other thing to do, and that it might be about time to do soon with others that you are working on, is to open up an avenue for course correction. If things are complex and complicated. And whilst we’re trying to implement a plan, we also acknowledge that we’re doing that in a very human and changing landscape. And then we would hope that if we got into the work for a while and we’d made some progress that we’ve now celebrated, there’ll be also some insights about where we need to course correct. Now, course correction is a great frame, I think, because it’s not about being flippant. It’s not saying, oh, let’s jump to something new. And it’s not about rubbishing what we’ve done up until now, but it says, Hey, if we keep doing exactly what we’re planning to do now and what we’re seeing and we stay on that trajectory, are we gonna end up in the, in, in, in the outcome area that we want?
Are we on the right trajectory or do we just need to course correct a little bit? It’ll be a couple of degrees off. Do we need to adjust? And you invite people then into a conversation about tweaking, about upgrading, about adjusting. And it’s a really great language because it’s not about changing or fixing, it’s just, yeah, we’re in motion right now. This thing is happening. So how could we course correct? What are people’s ideas for how we might want to tweak, how we might want to upgrade, how we might want to adjust in the coming two to four weeks? So whatever improvement work you are leading, look for an opportunity in the coming week or so during an already scheduled meeting as a leader group of leaders. Or if you work alongside multiple schools, next time you’re with a certain group, before you get into the next things we need to do, could you create space to celebrate and course correct? Just a few minutes on each can help people acknowledge progress can build people’s agency. The fact that they can suggest alternatives and directions. That’s not about being negative about the original plan, but just saying, Hey, we’ve done more and we’ve learned more. And help people really get into that resourceful state of acknowledging progress and filling agency for adjustments and tweaks that might help them move to the next phase. Celebrate and course correct. It’s the ongoing work of leaders seeking meaningful improvement when you work in complex, messy places with lots of humans.