One word that underpins educational success

Consistency is key to achieving great learning outcomes – it means everyone knows what to expect, says Philip Mathe

Philip Mathe

Consistency is key in schools, says Philip Mathe - as he explains what they can learn from cricketer James Anderson

James Anderson is recognised as one of the greatest-ever Test cricket bowlers: 38 years old, 160 Test Matches, 34,326 balls bowled and 614 wickets taken.

You don’t need to know very much about cricket to understand that he must be particularly special to have played for that long, to that age, with that level of success.

But what makes someone achieve so much, for so long, in such a strenuous and demanding environment? As a PE teacher, you may think I’m going to say things like natural ability, genes or opportunity, but, in reality, one thing more than anything else has led him to the top of his profession: consistency.

What schools can learn from the consistency of James Anderson

Anderson has delivered, ball after ball, a consistency that is quite staggering. Over and over, Anderson places the ball on the same patch of ground, so that it bounces the same way, so his teammates can anticipate the outcome and react to it. Wickets fall, history is made and Anderson just keeps going.

This is a lesson that school and teachers would do well to remember – consistency is one of the key tools in the arsenal of achieving great learning outcomes. But what do we really mean by consistency?

By definition, consistency is an adherence to the same principles in a steadfast way. Doing the same things in the same or similar situations, reacting in broadly the same way, identifying things predictably and having a set of opinions and expectations with little deviation.

Doing this means that you develop routines and build relationships. It forms habits that become second nature and this allows those around you to anticipate a reaction and prepare for a response.

Why consistency matters 

This is especially vital in the world of education. In the 2017 book The Wiley International Handbook of Educational Leadership, Andy Hargreaves and Rebecca Lowenhaupt contend “that there should be consistency in educational leadership between the ends at which it is directed and the means by which it achieves those ends”.

Or put simply, people want colleagues who are consistent in their outcomes and the approaches they take.

After all, no one wants to feel that the likely outcome of an interaction is unpredictable. This is especially true when that unpredictability comes from those with responsibility for leading us. It is this risk of inconsistency that can drive the breakdown of a working relationship to the detriment of all.

Consider this in the context of your classroom: the last thing our pupils need is wildly unpredictable and incalculable teachers – or for teachers, unpredictable colleagues. The more emotionally stable we are and the more those around us can anticipate a likely response, the easier it is to build positive working relationships.

So if consistency is key, how can we maintain a more predictable approach to our professional relationships?

The good thing is that consistency is absolutely trainable and, as such, we can develop a consistent character that supports emotional and rational balance.

How to achieve consistency

Be Prepared – Know what is happening around you. Expect things, anticipate them and give yourself the time to prepare emotionally to respond. Do not be volatile.

Follow Through – If you say you will do something, do it. Schedule it, set yourself a timescale, build credibility and be dependable

Be proactive, not reactive – Don’t sit behind your desk and watch the world go by. Be present, in the moment. Wear the soles off your shoes. Get out and find out what’s coming your way before it does.

Start each day with a positive attitude We can’t change the past and we all have bad days, but don’t let them drag over into future dealings. Draw a line, learn and reflect, and move on.

Be emotionally stable Things annoy us. We get riled, our tempers boil over. Find ways to control your emotions and form positive opinions. Very few people are genuinely trying to upset you. Try and listen and hear their point of view.

Smile It’s amazing how much a smile can brighten your mood. Play music, listen to something short and fun, watch Year 1 play in their sandpits, do something that cheers your up. Then go back to whatever was troubling you, with a fresher and positive focus

Be open and explain – Finally, and most importantly, don’t be a closed book. People can make better assessments of you if you open up your thinking to them.

Why do you make the decisions you do? What is it they don’t know? What are the things that decided something for you? Sharing helps those around you to find their own way of building a positive relationship with you.

We have all worked with colleagues or pupils who lack consistency. They are tiring – it's hard work always trying to guess what reaction you are going to get. If we can all be just a little bit more consistent in our approach, then everyone around us will work that little bit better.

Philip Mathe is director of sport at Brighton College Al Ain in Abu Dhabi

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