How many times did you hear the word, or some form of the word 'consistent' at the start of this school year or any school year for that matter?
"It needs to be done consistently."
"These systems are in place to ensure a high level of consistency."
"As long as we’re consistent in our approach, we will be successful."
"Our language and actions must be consistent."
It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, particularly when we’re talking about behaviour during those training days in September. Here we are reminded of our values, our aims, the vision for behaviour. These sessions, when delivered effectively, leave us feeling energised, driven and inspired to make change happen, to be consistent.
Our children and young people come through the school gates and for the first two weeks we stand prepared, with our agreed audible and visible consistencies ready to be displayed for all to see, hear and feel.
Stoically, even the less experienced staff members stick to the agreed systems and routines. Corridors and staffrooms are charged with optimism, adults modelling the expectations and proudly recounting tales of positive behaviour to their colleagues. It’s working!
Two or maybe three weeks in, energy levels start to drop, some learners step out of line, some adults step out of line. Inevitably, as we begin to tire and those goals we were aiming for seem further from our reach than on day one, the ambition for consistency wanes but that doesn’t mean we should lose heart, although easier said than done.
It is undeniably an incredibly hard undertaking to keep pushing forward with behaviour, to persevere when difficulties arise. It is hard but not impossible.
If we’re going to have any chance of developing and sustaining a culture of positive behaviour, it is vital we do everything in our power to embed those consistencies so even on the last day of term, in the final hour of the school year, they are seen, heard and felt by everyone.
Walk the talk, not the shortcut
It’s difficult to measure if new approaches have had the desired impact over a short period of time. When we don’t see immediate results, it’s tempting to implement a quick fix because we want our children and young people to have the best possible experience of school, today. Yet these short-term solutions only create a mirage of success.
Despite our desire to already be where we’re going, we need to muster up the courage as a leader of a classroom and/or of a whole school to resist those shortcuts. By courage I don’t mean repeating positive affirmations on the journey into work, faking it until you make it or ‘digging deep’.
I mean building relationships, so you can draw on the support from your learners and colleagues during the tough times – everyone moving along a path of achievable, gradual steps day in and day out together – giving one another the energy to do all the things you agreed to do at the beginning of term, even when your efforts seem futile.
Swap artificial harmony for healthy conflict
Have you ever been in a meeting, politely nodding along to what’s being said then the second you stepped out of the room, aired all your concerns regarding the decisions that were made to a colleague in a quiet corner somewhere? A lot of institutions suffer from artificial harmony when healthy conflict isn’t embraced. People working in any team and in any sector, will inevitably disagree with one another.
It’s important to regularly create space for colleagues to share their thoughts and challenge ideas. There will be a frustrating number of obstacles throughout the pursuit of real consistency. Overtly discussing what these are as a team will help to shift everyone’s focus from the reasons stopping you from doing something, to the solutions that will enable you to do it.
Mark the mistakes
Anyone can create goals and commit them to paper with a fancy colour code and high-tech graphics. The goals are the ‘what’. When engaging with any type of change process, the ‘why’ is the key to longevity. It’s the purpose behind the goals that will drive you to where you want to be. Without purpose, goals are just illusions. When holding colleagues and learners to account, remind them of the purpose behind those visible and audible consistencies. Refer to the agreements and offer your support.
Just as we need to be holding each other to account at the same time, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, we have got to be celebrating each other’s small wins, the successes that happen along the way. Take those moments, highlight them, announce them in staff briefings and be persistent in your quest to find more.
From a school leader’s perspective, I genuinely believe that it is through supportive accountability and the relentless development of self-confidence that we can grow teams capable of accomplishing more than we could ever have imagined being able to achieve ourselves.
The best educators cannot pinpoint a single moment, event or situation when they became great. Their exceptional practice is a build-up of many small, sometimes tedious, repetitious acts which are of the utmost importance in the pursuit of getting better.
Faced with failure, a lack of results and that nagging voice that said: "Oh just leave it, it’s not working anyway." They drew on past successes, looked to trusted colleagues for support, addressed areas for development and carried on.