Monthly Archives: September 2015

Values Driven

Hard work, trust and fairness

Our values permeate all that we do; they are not a gimmick and so much more than a strapline. They form the strategy to deliver our mission and are the backbone of every conversation we have with students. Our culture is mission-mapped (we will talk through this in a future blog), the values support the mission and the behaviour is derived from the values. At Trinity, our values are the same for the leadership, for all staff and for all students; we are all held accountable for upholding our values at all times, whether through our behaviour routines or our performance management. Our values are underpinned by the growth mindset we foster across the school which, again, we will come back to in a future blog.

We share our values like a common language, it is a way of being on the team. Lots of organisations get this wrong maybe because of the confusion that can emerge from the different types of values that exist within any structure. In ‘The Advantage’, Lencioni defines the range of possible values to generate clarity around what a core value really is. Core values are the two or three traits absolutely inherent to an organisation; they do not change over time and, in the hiring process, we should not be looking for employees who agree with the core values, but those with a predisposition for them. Aspirational values are what an organisation wishes it had; they require what Lencioni surgically calls ‘purposeful insertion’. Permission to play values are the minimum standard of behaviour expectations; they are generic things that are likely to be needed in any organisation. In other words, the core values should be more apparent in your organisation than a different organisation with different core values. If not, they aren’t your real core values.

Ours set a very high bar:

Hard Work
We never give up. We remain positive so that we have the strength to persevere with even the hardest work. We do what it takes for as long as it takes.

Trust
We are honest. We do what we say we’ll do and do not make excuses. We are loyal and have the courage to do the right thing.

Fairness
We play by the rules. We are respectful, polite and courteous at all times. We don’t take advantage of others and helping a member of our team is helping ourselves.

Our students need to work hard to overcome the disadvantages society will try to impose upon them; we need to make explicit to them just what hard work means. We use the metaphor of climbing a mountain to share this value with our students; we tell them that university is the top of the mountain they are climbing every day. To help this vision come off the walls and be more than rhetoric, before our students even start at Trinity, we take them to Leeds University to show them their future. Then, we take them to the Lake District in the first term of Y7 and climb a real mountain – every one of us. Hard work permeates so many of our decisions at Trinity, our no-hands-up expectation ensures all students work hard at all times, everyone ready to answer, no one opting out. We use DIRT to ensure that feedback is acted upon, there can be no lazy response if we each are going to climb our own mountain. If any student requires intervention, Morning Mastery sessions are scheduled from 7.30-8.00 am every day; we all work hard, we do whatever it takes.

At Trinity, we do the right thing because it is the right thing to do; part of being able to trust each other is being able to take responsibility when we make mistakes. Trust comes in the growth mindset of seeing mistakes as part of future success, in committing to this, we commit to a no grudges culture. Students can trust staff to deliver recurring forgiveness and staff can trust students to learn from mistakes. We have a no excuses culture.

To enable every one of us to live our mission, we must be rigorously fair, that means we must all commit to being on task each and every day. If we do this, we are playing by the rules which means students can learn and teachers can teach. Every student knows that team beats individual and that it is never fair to disrupt the learning of others. We over-rationalise everything to staff, to students and to our families – this is not a carrot and stick environment, we expect so much more than that. It is only fair that, given our high expectations, everyone understands the purpose to all actions. We have silent corridors to ensure our transitions are safe and orderly, conducted with pace and purpose. This means that all students can get to lesson on time and support one another; we know how to be fair.

Our values make real our mission – without them, we would still be struggling to basecamp.

Jenny Thompson
Head of Secondary

Many Minds, One Mission

“The academy ensured that all students succeeded at university, or a real alternative, thrived in a top job and had a great life.”

At Dixons Trinity Academy, our mission is ambitious; so ambitious, we will not be able to measure our success until long into the future – until our students come back and tell us they are living truly great lives. Our mission is our fundamental reason for getting up in the morning, it is our core belief. Everyone who works at Trinity is compellingly committed to this mission – but we didn’t come up with it by committee. As a start-up, our mission came directly from our Principal, Luke Sparkes; it is the pure, undiluted, crisp vision of one person whose moral purpose sets the highest expectations every day. When Ofsted came to inspect the school in January 2014, they could see the impact of such clarity, “the vision of the headteacher combined with the unrelenting commitment of other leaders and teachers, are crucial elements in the academy’s success.” It is because of Luke’s clarity that others are able to wholly commit.

Some may raise an eyebrow at the vow to ensure all students succeed at university, or a real alternative, – but this is a vision; this is where it is absolutely imperative to be brave. Ultimately, the only people who have ever taken issue with us setting such high expectations are those who have been privileged enough to go to university themselves. We will not make apology for believing in our students and their families are 100% in support. University is a tangible goal, higher level apprenticeships are tangible goals; this is about raising aspirations. Our mission is clear and unpretentious – grounded in really, really hard work.

Lots of organisations agonise over the exact wording of a mission statement culminating in big thinking squashed into academic language. At Trinity, we say it simply – but we spend a lot of time saying it. The best organisations concentrate on alignment to the mission not the constant drafting of the mission.

The big thinking needs to be made real by the clarity of the language. Our mission is about what we honestly want for our students, put simply. And we are willing to be punished for it. A truly inspiring mission should make it worth doing whatever it takes.

We have no doubt that the achievement-oriented culture at Trinity is the main driver of our success. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Of course, no school is better than the quality of its teachers; however, there is only so much that even the best teacher can do with students who have low aspirations and poor learning habits. Conversely, create a truly aspirational culture with extremely high expectations and all teachers can secure exceptional outcomes for all students. What we have learnt from the best schools is the power of a vision-led culture – it is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.

Being wholly committed to our mission is not that intellectually sophisticated, it is just common sense and we, as a team, need to have the persistence and humility to return to it every day; to sustain our routines and live our values over and over – the humility to commit is critical. As a team, we return frequently to the work of Patrick Lencioni; this year, we were talking with a group of American visitors about our systems and they made reference to ‘The Advantage’. The visitors thought we had based some of our systems on the logic laid out in the text. We hadn’t. We hadn’t, at that stage, even read it – but, when we did, it felt like a better explanation of what we strive for than we could ever have articulated. Indeed, the commentary on clarity felt written for us:

“alignment and clarity cannot be achieved in one fell swoop with a series of generic buzzwords and aspirational phrases crammed together… Clarity requires a much more rigorous and unpretentious approach.”

So, why is our mission in the past tense? In ‘Drive’, Dan Pink talks about how we generate intrinsic motivation; our mission is expressed as a single sentence; it is the lasting impression we want to leave on the world and it orients each one of us towards a greater purpose. Our mission is our motivation for every student, every day.

Jenny Thompson
Head of Secondary