“If something is discernible, you can discern it – you can see it, smell it, taste it, or otherwise tell what it is.” (www.vocabulary.com)
It is probably true… that effective leaders and exceptional teachers have the ability to deliver discernible difference (improvement). It is this ability and awareness to focus in, move to action and deliver a discernible difference that stands these people out as great leaders and teachers. They have the ability to rationalise, prioritise, simplify, see the important, dismiss the clutter and move effortlessly and quickly to…
…secure meaningful improvement in areas that will leverage the most impact and improvement… triggering and delivering change that is both discernible and sticky…maybe even irreversible.
Perhaps… we should seek to tell stories and build narratives of improvement in identified areas or on trails where we deliberately place bets to transform practice and deliver discernible difference.
Which begs the question… what does it take to deliver discernible difference? How can we be more deliberate and focused on singling out the key levers of improvement; executing these changes, building a story and telling a narrative of improvement around the few things that matter?
What if… achieving discernible difference requires prioritisation of what matters? and that this takes thinking time and a careful consideration of what will leverage the greatest improvement? What if… we considered the following phrase when identifying where to play and achieve the discernible difference that we seek…
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” (Gary Keller)
What if… great leaders and teachers understood that what you do not do, what you de-prioitise (the omissions) are as important as what is actioned? …that ability to place bets only on what counts and the mindset that reduces crippling complexity and workload?
What if… we realised that trails and areas requiring improvement are often obvious and rarely require deep evaluation to be understood?; seek the trails that matter…
What if… we spend too much time evaluating and applying QA to the whole population or provision instead of moving more quickly to action on the areas that require improvement; seeking discernible difference?
What if… we also realised that in any population there are outliers, bright spots and positive deviants who have that answer or exhibit behaviours that have the ability transform? …achieving discernible difference and improvement will often be within the population… seek the wisdom and grow it…
What if…we were more aware of the fact that we can get over-excited or be prone to complacency when we measure and weigh stuff? That feeling we get when we complete the SEF, a round of observations, work scrutiny, achievement meeting, re-writing our to-do-list etc. – often confuses us into thinking we have achieved impact or improvement?
What if…we are prone to believing that things will just improve, or that if we apply a strategy more, or if we weigh stuff more, that we will achieve a different end point?
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Albert Einstein
What if… we only focused on the key trails and moved to action. What if… we are not quick enough to move to action (to start stories) and as a consequence rarely achieve the change that we desire and others need…
What if… we do not continue to commit to action during the implementation dip or when it is easier to go off and measure something else or when we can duck the difficult conversation or action?
What if… we were in the habit of telling stories; and building a narrative of improvement? … around those areas that we have prioritised, that will have the greatest impact and deliver discernible difference?
What if… a self-improving education system or academy or teacher has the ability to understand the brutal truths of the situation and embark on a set of deliberate actions that together tell a story and provide a narrative of improvement?
What if… these stories always have a start, a middle and an end…
What if… we are good at opening up stories, but much weaker at building plot and poor at writing great endings (happy or tragic)? What if… we do not stick around long enough on a story or move to action quick enough to realise the twist or truths or barriers to improvement that exist?
…stories motivate people to achieve more. They show what is possible and trigger other unintended improvement.
What if… milestones are a key aspect of delivering discernible difference? That these chart progress, point to the desired destination and importantly provide ongoing motivation to overcome implementation dips and secure discernible difference … perhaps even irreversibility (Barber).
What if…this ability to place bets on the stuff that matters is born out of an acute awareness and a lack of organisational blindness achieved from beyond our present context (Academy, classroom, MAT, region…)
What if… delivering discernible difference has everything to do with execution, execution, execution… only this delivers transformation… and possibly irreversibility…
What if… we…
…ensure that the choice architecture, nudges and culture provokes and rewards individuals and teams to chase their own narratives of improvement, growing the ability to tell stories of discernible difference.
Maybe then… leaders would have pride in telling their narrative of improvement – their motivating stories of the difference that they have made. Maybe then… leaders and teachers can point to examples of discernible difference as evidence of impact on others and students.
Maybe then… leaders and teachers would move to action more quickly on the few things that matter – placing bets on the one thing(s) that make a discernible difference. Maybe this… level of focused action has the ability to add far greater value than blunt, catch-all, self-evalution.
What are your trails? where is your discernible difference? what stories of improvement can you tell – where have you achieved irreversibility? Has this become the lens through which you seek future improvement?
After all… the measure of our own impact should be judged through the stories of discernible difference that we can tell.
Dan Nicholls @DrDanNicholls