Managing a project – a route-map to success

Written by: Dan Walton | Published:
Photo: iStock

Middle leaders will often find themselves charged with driving a whole-school or whole-department initiative to raise achievement or close the gap. Dan Walton offers his advice on how to ensure yours is a success

My role is as an excellent skills teacher and leader in English at a city academy with a high percentage of Pupil Premium children – a situation which many middle leaders may find themselves in.

North Liverpool Academy is an exciting environment to work in; one where change and experimentation is encouraged in order to close the achievement gap.

It was with this spirit that I took my first intrepid steps into the world of the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme, after being invited to apply with a smile and a pat on the back from my principal.

“Dan,” he said, “we want you to join the programme and develop some strategies to boost the performance of pupils in English, as well as develop the team.”

“Easy,” I thought.

But was it? The truth is, no! But it is possible. Here is how I approached my initiative – to raise attainment in English – and some of the lessons that I have learnt along the way about how to go about running these kind of projects. I hope they will help you to make your project or initiative a success.

Big plans and first steps

The two-year Impact Initiative is the core of the Teaching Leaders programme, setting specific goals for pupil progress and how you will go about achieving them. Among all the daily tasks we all have to work through, I was actually being afforded the time to think of strategies that can directly benefit our pupils.

In carrying out my initiative, I have learnt that it is vital to set ambitious but realistic goals that are measurable and manageable. Change for the sake of change is time-consuming and doesn’t guarantee positive impact, but change with young people placed firmly at the heart of it is a powerful tool.

Below are some simple things that I did and approaches I took to ensure the work was as simple and effective as possible.

What do you do?

It seems basic, but look at what you can actually do. Consider your time, current responsibilities (and perhaps others that you may have in the future), and try to prioritise a small number of things that you can realistically have an impact upon. Some things are simply too complex, too large, or rely on too many other people – whereas if you select more specific areas of focus, you are more likely to be able to control them. For example, I decided on three:

  • Oral literacy skills.
  • Early exam interventions.
  • The team unit – making all members feel valued and motivated to participate.

Where to start

Pick a starting point and plan the flight-path. Measuring the progress towards goals and therefore the impact your initiative is making requires up-to-date data. I kept things simple by focusing on year 10, as I could monitor pupil progress over a two-year period and demonstrate impact more clearly.

Use the pupils

The best judges of a good initiative are often the pupils themselves. I had three key meetings with some of my year 10 pupils and we explored how the initiative could best support them. This was then balanced against what I knew was practical (the suggestion of “can’t you just do the exam for us”, for example, was not!).

Delegate

Delegation is important, but make sure you keep on top of things. The list of possible actions that you could take is almost endless. Simply put, you won’t be able to accomplish the initiative alone, and nor should you expect to.

You will doubtless have a team of people working around you and you should always include them and their skills in your plans. Look at what they do well and use these skills.

Hold small meetings to see what people think and then use this information to inform your work. This technique will also help you later down the line when the “buy-in factor” becomes vital.

Keeping the pace

After the initial excitement of launching an ambitious initiative starts to wain, and the day-to-day pressures start to take hold, you will need to keep revisiting your plan to keep it current, measure outcomes and also to amend and adapt as you see fit.

I treat mine very much as a working document that I can adapt as needs arise. If you see your initial outline as a limiting document you may find yourself being steamrollered down a path that does not best meet the needs of your pupils. Don’t be scared to change things. Change is good, as long as it is managed.

I hold regular meetings with key members of staff to keep the flow of information both informal and current. This helps to make the team feel valued and part of the bigger picture. Your most valuable assets are those around you. Use them well.

It may also be worth setting up a regular tracker (I use our management information system) so that you can keep abreast of the progress your groups are making. While you will probably do this daily anyway, you may have outlined a slightly different group to measure for your initiative that will require careful management.

After each stage of your initiative, try to gauge its impact. This may be informally via pupil/staff voice, or more formally with hard data. Either way, there is no point in wasting time, effort and resources on something if it isn’t working. Don’t be stubborn. Remember, change can be good!

I will finish with some general tips to keep on top of your initiative:

  1. Regular meetings with key staff to keep them in the loop, to hold you to account and keep up motivation.
  2. Read your initiative outline at least once per month – it is easy to forget the smaller aspects.
  3. Use someone outside of your team as (a coach or mentor if you have one) as an impartial set of eyes to keep you focused.
  4. Track your data and keep it current.
  5. Plan out all meetings and deadlines on one wall chart and set digital reminders. Cortana or SIRI can be invaluable personal assistants and they are free to use!

Celebrate the small gains

For me, my Impact Initiative was not only a vital chance to make a difference to pupil attainment, but also a great chance for me and my team to showcase our skills. The same goes for you too and my final tip would be to make sure that you shout your successes from the school roof top. After all, implementing such changes in school can be a big ask, especially when we are working in the most challenging of circumstances. You will have to work hard, but by keeping things simple you will be more likely to achieve your aims.

  • Dan Walton is an excellent skills teacher and lead in English at North Liverpool Academy in Liverpool. He is part of the 2014 cohort on the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme.

Teaching Leaders

Teaching Leaders is an education charity whose mission is to address educational disadvantage by developing middle leaders working in schools in the most challenging contexts. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk


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