On my desk or on my computer you will often find a “to-do list”. Sometimes very neat and ordered, sometimes scrawled on a notepad from when the idea strikes me sometime in the depths of night (If I don’t write it down, I know I will never get back to sleep).

These lists remind me in the middle of an “interesting day” when emails don’t arrive, meetings get cancelled, buses run late, etc. that there are “big picture” things that need to get done.

These lists cut through the noise of everyday “busyness”.

Lately, I have changed my practices and started making “Do Not Do Lists”.

There are two types of list I use here – one for the school and one for me.

For the school, the main topic on the list is simply “Do not get distracted from our core business – educating students at the best level possible.”

“One of the most consistent characteristics of high-performing schools is their ability to focus on student learning and limit the number of initiatives they undertake. The most successful schools and districts cited a clear mission and focus on increasing student growth and student achievement as their number one goal. These high-performing schools have stayed focused on their core mission, while at the same time remaining compliant with other external accountabilities.”

Leadership writer, Jim Collins, nominates over-reach as one of the prime reasons why successful companies fail – “It’s overreaching: undisciplined growth, undisciplined risk-taking.”

Good ideas come into my office everyday. My list reminds me that sometimes a good idea can lead to bad outcomes and even catastrophic failure if it distracts the school from doing what it was set up to do and has us trying to do things that we are not qualified to do.

The other thing that appears on the list is “Never assume that because we are successful now, we can sit back and it will stay that way.” History is littered with companies and schools that assumed that they were entitled to stop trying.

So the to do list that goes with that includes:

  • Support great teaching
  • Support great teachers
  • Stay current with community needs
  • Keep trying to be the very best

For me, personally, the do not do list includes:

  • Don’t pretend you know everything – hire the best and let them get on with their work

“One thing great leaders don’t do is pretend to be an expert! This can lead to disaster in so many ways. Knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does”. Peter Drucker

  • Don’t take myself too seriously. The success of this school is the result of great people doing great work, not the exclusive domain of the principal.

“Leaders who fail to prune their pride will meet demise. That’s not a guess, it’s a guarantee. With pride, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ we will fall, but ‘when.’ There are no exceptions.” John C. Maxwell

  • Don’t let the daily noise of “small” issues distract from the “big picture” of what the school was set up for and where it is going.

“Having the big picture in mind enables us to overcome the day to day routines that attempt to distract us from pursuing our dream.”

  • Don’t sit back and relax. Success and sustainability are moveable feasts and can also be very elusive if you take your eye off the ball.

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” Thomas Jefferson

To do list

  • Recognise and affirm the hard workers and positive thinkers
  • Listen to inspiring people and stay positive
  • Match prayer with action
  • Make what others think is extraordinary ordinary at SCAS