KISS: Rules of engagement

Written by: Howard Jackson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The management technique Keep-Improve-Start-Stop – or KISS – can be used as an effective leadership tool to deliver powerful results, says Howard Jackson. He explains how it might work in an education setting

A great school leader can inspire a school with a clear vision for the future – but to succeed it is vital that the strategy not only remains relevant but also has the full engagement of the entire team.

There are many challenges to realising the full potential of a school. Constantly changing guidelines on a national and local level mean that even the most comprehensive plan of action must be revisited and revised in light of changes and new directives. Beyond these top-level developments, however, one of the most influential factors in achieving success is the effective execution of the action plan. This requires the buy-in of all those involved.

Securing this crucial engagement means giving the team a voice so that they fully support the process from the beginning. So whether you choose to run focus groups or invite feedback on the initial draft proposal, this active involvement, which includes being seen to listen and value opinions, will engender a real sense of ownership and drive positive results.

While inviting this level of feedback is essential for professional growth, it can be a daunting prospect for any school leader, particularly dealing with potential criticism. Maintaining an objective and constructive approach is vital if the process is to succeed. This is where the leadership tool KISS can be used to help provide a solid framework.

Ask the right questions

Credited to Phil Daniels, a psychology professor at Brigham University, the KISS process is a simple series of questions designed to provide practical insights on what is working well within the school and encourages suggestions for what could be done better. It enables the leadership teams to refocus on those activities that contribute most to the overall vision for the school, while also supporting team building, collaboration and engagement. KISS comprises four simple questions.


What are we doing well and need to keep doing as a leadership team/governing body in order to achieve our vision?

In every school there are certain activities which must be carried out in order to achieve set objectives – these must clearly be identified and remain in place. But this is also an opportunity to recognise the things the team is already doing which help to achieve valuable outcomes. In fact, this initial stage is deceptively important because, even though it doesn’t necessarily lead to change, it reinforces awareness and relevance of those activities which must continue.


What are we already doing that could be improved to make us an even more efficient team?

This step prompts an evaluation of the procedures and processes already in place in order to see where improvements could be made. Programme plans for individual subjects can be reviewed and analysed in terms of effectiveness, allowing problem areas to be identified such as curriculum design, lesson delivery or perhaps student motivation and achievement. Video taping of lessons for teachers’ own viewing and peer observation could also be established, while comparing examination papers across different years or schools may yield useful information. Consensus can then be reached on which areas need to be addressed and the most effective way to achieve improvements.


What do we need to stop doing – either because it no longer contributes to the overall school vision or is no longer effective?

A recurring problem in executing a plan effectively is an unrealistic number of goals. If every-thing is a priority, then often very little is actually accomplished. With this in mind, it is important to reach agreement on what is the most urgent and then allocate resources accordingly. By asking the question “what needs to stop?” – i.e. which practices are counterproductive and reduce overall effectiveness – the team will remain focused, empowered and motivated.


What do we need to start doing that we haven’t been doing or that other leadership teams/governing bodies do with a greater level of success?

The feedback to this last question points to gaps in current performance. To move forward and improve, it is important to carefully consider feedback from colleagues on what they think the school needs to start doing.

This can be an extremely energising process for the team but may require careful reflection on the part of the school leader in terms of their own performance – do any of the suggested tasks, projects or behaviours prompt a feeling of failure or anxiety? Effective leaders should recognise why they haven’t addressed these areas in the past and what they can do to overcome a possible reluctance to start.

Revisit and revise

Approached openly and collaboratively, the KISS process can create a genuine sense of purpose and commitment to the overall vision for the school. Change can be a positive force within an organisation, especially if it is organically grown from within.

It also needs to be supported with a series of corresponding actions within an agreed timeframe, otherwise motivation and the opportunity for positive progress will be lost.
Regular progress meetings will ensure the plan, and the team, stay on track.

  • Howard Jackson is founder and head of education at finance specialist HCSS Education.


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