Prioritising: Eisenhower and Eating Frogs

We are all busy. We have many things competing for our attention all the time. In this week’s blog, I want to introduce you to the techniques that I use to help me to prioritise all the things I have to do. They really work!

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix or Grid. It’s often drawn in a different configuration, but I always think of it this way, like a graph!

The idea is simple. You make a simple grid with four quadrants, as in the image above, and you place the tasks on your to do list in one of the four quadrants according to how urgent, and how important, they are.

  • Quadrant 1 – urgent and important: DO NOW. Items in the top right corner of the grid are the most important and the most urgent. They need to be done right away and they cannot wait. The aim is to work smart to make sure as few things as possible end up in this quadrant, by doing them in plenty of time so they don’t become urgent. But sometimes, stuff happens, and it needs to be dealt with right away!
  • Quadrant 2 – important but not urgent: WORK IN THIS ZONE. This is where I try to spend most of my time. Here, you are dealing with things that are important, but not yet urgent. Spending time in this zone should prevent things moving into quadrant 1 where you get panicky as the deadline approaches. It’s also really satisfying to know that you are spending your time on the stuff that matters.
  • Quadrant 3- urgent but not important: GET RID. This is stuff that needs to be done but you don’t really want to spend time in this quadrant. Get this stuff done as quickly as possible – or, if you are lucky enough to have someone else around, get them to do it for you!
  • Quadrant 4 – not important and not urgent: DON’T BOTHER. If it’s not important, and it’s not urgent, don’t bother! Just be careful that the thing you’re not bothering with now won’t actually become important later – otherwise, it might suddenly pop up in quadrant 1 and send you into a panic!

When I first came across the Eisenhower Matrix, it was in a work context. I have used it ever since to help me prioritise my work as a teacher, a school leader, and as a Headteacher. It’s become so ingrained in my mind that I have found it also spills over into other parts of my life as well! Sometimes, the most important thing to do is spend time with your family, or go for a walk, or to take some exercise. Prioritising those things alongside work is essential for my own wellbeing. Over time, I think I have got better at weighing up which I need to prioritise and when – but nobody’s perfect and we’re learning all the time.

Which leads me to my second technique.

Eat the biggest frog first

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Mark Twain

I first came across this quotation from a colleague Headteacher, who shared it with at an event she was leading. It really stuck! What Mark Twain was saying is that, sometimes, we have unpleasant things to do. Things that we don’t want to do, but unfortunately we have to. In those situations, it’s best to get them out of the way as soon as possible. And, given the choice of two things you could be doing, it’s best to get the most difficult and horrible one out of the way first.

I’ll be honest, I don’t always follow this advice. Sometimes, like anyone, I’ll put off that difficult and horrible job and tick off a few simpler and easier ones first. But I know I’m delaying the inevitable and that, sooner or later, I’m going to have to eat that frog. So, wherever possible, I try to follow Mark Twain’s advice and get on with that difficult, horrible job first. Get it done, get it out of the way, and after that everything else seems like plain sailing.

But don’t actually eat a frog. It’s a metaphor. You knew that, right?

Getting your priorities straight

I have found that these two simple techniques really help me keep my priorities straight, and make sure that the important work of running a school gets done. Students could apply these techniques to their school work and home life priorities; maybe even some of the grown-up readers of the Headteacher’s Blog might find them useful too? Let me know if you did – or let me know how you prioritise and make sure you get stuff done. We’re always learning!

Strategic Priorities for Churchill

When I took up post as Headteacher, the Governors gave me 100 days to look at, listen to and learn about the Academy in order to plan the next steps. As part of that process I met students, staff, Governors, families, and representatives from the local community. I summarised all this in my post What Have I Learned? at the end of March.

Since then I have been working hard with my colleagues to plan for the future of the Academy. We already have an outstanding Ofsted report, a track record of success, skilful and dedicated staff, and hardworking and motivated students. What next?

The answer was to get down to the basics of what we need to do to ensure that the Churchill formula is sustainable, and that being a truly great school runs deep into every aspect of our practice. So, first of all, what is it all for?

The Aims of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

The aims of the Academy are laid out by the Governors, and they are linked to our four core values. They are:

  • Care: To provide outstanding care to safeguard all members of the Academy and secure their well-being
  • Inspire: To provide outstanding teaching and opportunities for development for all members of the Academy
  • Challenge: To set ambitious goals for achievement, progress and behaviour for all members of the Academy
  • Achieve: To secure outstanding academic results and celebrate the wider achievements of all members of the Academy

Everything we do at the Academy is dedicated to achieving those aims. Underneath them, I wanted to put some detail into the priorities we now have as we move beyond our Outstanding status to become a truly great school.

The Priorities of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

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The Strategic Priorities for the Academy

Each of these four priorities will govern our planning over the coming years. Achieving these priorities will unlock the potential of students at the Academy to achieve the very best outcomes from their learning. You can find the details of the plan in our Strategic Priorities document, and I have summarised the key points below.

Care: to promote the welfare of students and staff

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Care

This priority is fundamental to the success of learning at Churchill. Students are only prepared to take risks with their learning and push themselves forward if they feel safe, secure and cared for. Staff who are similarly cared for, nurtured and given the opportunities to grow will continue to give of their best, day in, day out.

Within the priority of Care, we aim to provide access to personalised pathways through the curriculum, and access to appropriate support, whilst promoting welfare. This means building on the strong foundation of the House system to provide first-rate pastoral care, and combining that with access to tailored academic support. It also means ensuring that the Academy continues to feel like a family, with a sense of belonging and enjoyment which comes from celebrating success in all its forms. Above all, it means remembering that every member of the Academy, student or staff, is an individual, and that we must, in the words of Daniel Pink, “treat people as people” in everything we do.

Read more about Care in our Strategic Priorities document.

Inspire: to develop the very best practice in teaching, learning and leadership

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Inspire

Teaching and learning is our core business. We already have exceptional practice across the Academy, so my priority is to ensure that exceptional becomes the norm. This involves learning from others, sharing our own best practice, and developing a culture of innovation in teaching and learning. Above all, though, it means empowering students to lead their own learning. Our teachers will always teach well, but only the students themselves can learn. Ensuring that they understand how to learn effectively, that they have a hunger for learning, and that they take responsibility for their own progress and development, is vital.

Read more about Inspire in our Strategic Priorities document.

Challenge: to develop a growth mindset across the Academy, so that learners embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to success

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Challenge

“Learners” in this priority refers equally to students and staff, and the growth mindset approach means that we all share a belief that intelligence and ability are not fixed, but can grow and develop with effort, practice and determination. I have outlined growth mindset ideas on this blog before, in How to grow your brainYou can learn anything, and The power of praise (amongst others!). What it means in practice is that learners focus on the process of learning, over and above the final product. They see each lesson, each task, each event, as an opportunity to learn, and continue to seek challenges to help them grow. You can hear and see some of the research behind growth mindset, and the implications for schools, in the video below:

Committing to this approach will ensure that attending Churchill Academy will embed positive learning behaviours for life. It won’t be easy – but that’s why we hold “Challenge” as one of our core values!

Read more about Challenge in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieve: to set consistently high expectations so that all learners achieve exceptional personal and academic outcomes.

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Achieve

This priority came out of the discussion: what is school for? Is it just about exam results? Or is it about more than that? I felt very strongly from my discussions with staff, students, families and governors that Churchill’s strength lies in the balance it strikes between academic outcomes – exam results – and the broader personal outcomes that ensure our students become good citizens with character, resilience and a set of skills valued by employers.

Academically, our aim is simple: year on year we want students at Churchill to do better here than they would have done in any other school. We want them to make more progress and achieve more than similar students do elsewhere. When families choose to send their children to Churchill I want them to know they are getting the best possible chance of success.

More broadly, it is about balancing that academic success with opportunities in the performing arts, sports, outdoor education, student leadership, community activities, volunteering and participation  which will broaden and deepen students’ skills, understanding of citizenship, and sense of belonging. Within all these activities, curricular and extra-curricular, we expect consistently excellent attitudes and behaviour for learning, to embed those approaches in everything we do.

Read more about Achieve in our Strategic Priorities document.

Sustainability: the Academy will ensure sustainability in achieving these priorities.

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Sustainability – investing in the future

These are challenging times for all public services. Demands on our limited resources continue to increase. Our final priority is based on prudent and effective deployment of those resources so they have the maximum impact on learning, reducing waste, and ensuring that whatever we do is sustainable over the longer term. It means valuing the work/life balance of our staff and ensuring that they have the time, energy, expertise and resources they need to do the best job they possibly can. It means exploring collaborations with other schools to share resources where we can. It means redeveloping our site, buildings and grounds so that they are environmentally friendly, efficient, and fit for 21st century learning. And it means building an approach which is not a flash-in-the-pan but which can be sustained over the years to come.

Read more about Sustainability in our Strategic Priorities document.

Achieving our priorities

These priorities are the aspirations of our Academy over the years to come. We are already planning what we are going to do to change, develop and improve our work to move ourselves towards achieving them. It’s an exciting time! We can’t wait to get started…