Learning from Success: Celebration with Purpose

Festive pies for a celebratory staff meeting
Festive pies for a celebratory staff meeting

Earlier this week , we held a whole staff meeting to reflect on the success we’ve enjoyed this year. In terms of examinations, it has been a great year for us with record results at GCSE and A Level and our best ever Valued-Added score at KS4.  But there is a sense in which things feel good, that we are doing the right things, whatever the points scores indicate. I wanted to use the meeting to be celebratory whilst giving us an opportunity to analyse what the ‘right things’ might be.  At this point in the term, I wasn’t interested in the ‘areas for development’; that can come later..  I just wanted the positives. Here was the agenda:

Agenda for the Mince Pie and Post-Its Meeting
Agenda for the Mince Pie and Post-Its Meeting

As a whole-staff meeting, ie where not everyone present is a teacher, this was not going to be focused solely on teaching and learning; it was going to focus on more general issues too.  Having meetings that involve teaching and non-teaching staff is really important for staff cohesion and it’s not something we do enough of.  Our catering team provided the mince pies and fabulous spicy festive non-alcoholic punch and we were off.

The groupings issue was something we talked about in advance.  It matters. If people choose where to sit, you get default groupings of similar people; often from the same department.  If you want a mix, you can tell people which group to go in but that always seems overly controlling – and people don’t like it. It’s feels like you’re being micro-managed.  So… the solution was simply to encourage people to mix up as they arrived which worked reasonably well.  This might seem trivial – but actually it shapes the dynamics of the whole session.

The brief was simple; record on post-its, anything you feel contributed to our success this year; then sort the post-its from each group into some kind of order.  After about 10 minutes, I asked groups to send out envoys to scout around the other tables.  After 20 minutes we’d finished.

Animated Group Discussions about Success Factors at KEGS
Animated Group Discussions about Success Factors at KEGS

There was a buzz of activity from each table, some taking longer to get going, some talking more than writing, but they all generated lots of interesting thoughts.

The post-its arranged into some kind of order.
The post-its arranged into some kind of order.

Once each group had their post-its organised, we all got up for a walk-about to look at what everyone else had said.  This gave people a chance to reflect before returning to their original groups for a final discussion, adding things and moving things around.

Everybody on a walk-about, reading the other groups' thoughts.
Everybody on a walk-about, reading the other groups’ thoughts.

After only half an hour or so, we’d finished.  It’s always good to finish early… especially in the last week of term.  Job Done.

The next stage was for me to categorise all the responses. My PA typed them all up and I then sorted them into categories. The interest really lies in the detail but this is what we got as an overview:

The responses from staff: Success Factors at KEGS
The responses from staff: Success Factors at KEGS

So, here is the really interesting part. What did people say?

There was a very wide range of factors that people felt contributed to our sense of success.  For many it was a specific curriculum development and strong examination results; for others, they focused on school ethos – we’ve had lots of great student-led assemblies this term.  A lot a CPD opportunities were mentioned, particularly the extent to which they can choose what they want to do.  People were very happy with some new systems we have put in place to monitor homework and behaviour (our strikes system) and the arrival of ipads in some areas.

A raft of comments were put forward that described the importance of relationships between staff and between students and staff; the opportunity for collaboration and a range of activities that promote staff well-being (from salsa classes on INSET days to cakes in the staffroom at break on Friday) also featured strongly.

The aspect that come across more strongly than anything else was the feeling of success people draw from their involvement with extra-curricular activities, trips and exchanges.  People were jotting down various activities that they are involved in that I didn’t even know we offered – we have War Hammer Club apparently – who knew?  All of this showed how much value we place on aspects of our working life that we feel is personal to us. These things matter – not just because of the opportunities they give to students, but because of the rewards they give to staff.

I’ll spare you all the details, but among the success factors there are a great many related to leadership opportunities, our Departmental Review system, opportunities for mentoring students and colleagues and a general sense of staff having a lot of autonomy to develop their practice in their own way in the classroom.

The results of this meeting will now contribute to our planning and evaluation process that begins a new cycle in the Spring.

Post-its and Pies.  A great combination.

The results, catalogued and organised.
The results, catalogued and organised.


  1. Possibly one of the successes of your school you’ve not mentioned specifically, though your list is incredibly detailed, is the fact that you are very transparent about receiving and sharing ideas both in and out of the school. I have suggested that teachers, and I think now almost everyone with a true educational mission, are knowledge brokers. This could come under collegiality but I think it also has to do with belief in what you are doing as a team i.e. others may borrow your ideas but they won’t necessarily apply the overall vision in the same way as you do collectively. That is the fascinating thing about human dynamics – the same solutions can arise through different approaches and contexts but all require quality thought and effort – a lesson for all students perhaps?


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