Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Tag: The Multiplier Effect

Lead like a ‘Multiplier’

People often talk of knowledge or skills in education as if there is a battle between them with no resolution in sight. As I sat in Chapel on Monday morning and listened to the guest preacher, I focused on a word I have not heard in a long time (certainly at school). Phronesis. Loosely translated, it means practical wisdom and this was the focus for a talk I gave at the weekend.

On Saturday, I travelled to Bristol Grammar School to be part of the Pedagoo South West event. The main thrust of my workshop seemed to be one just on great leadership using the ‘Multipliers’ model we use at Berkhamsted. Yet it really stemmed from a discontent about the lack of wisdom in schools, on Twitter and in blogs when discussing education. The origin was a series of tweets from a revered Senior Leader on Twitter when they were at the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference on the 22nd March.  As this person sat in the conference hall and listened to Elise Foster, they tweeted this:

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In one sense, this seems like a fair question. However, they tweeted this a few minutes later:

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I wondered what they were really trying to do. Where they really interested in what Elise had to say or had they made their mind up already and asked a question they already had an answer to?

I have been reading (or re-reading) a lot of Stuart Hall of late and what keeps me going back to his work is his drive to understand the world in its complexity so that he and others could intervene effectively. Asking questions for Hall was not a quest for Sophia (theoretical wisdom), but there was a practical aim (Phronesis). The goal was wisdom, or to be exact, practical wisdom. To gain such practical wisdom, one has to ask questions and more specifically, the right kind of questions. For Hall this was a lifelong struggle which brought him in to conflict with Marxist theory, the traditional method of political critique. For Hall, orthodox Marxism was not enough and in recounting his struggle against this group and the ideas they had, Hall likened it to

…wrestling with the angels – a metaphor you can take as literally as you like.

I framed the talk/workshop as something akin to this as I would be going against revered tweeters/senior leaders/bloggers on Twitter and would not use the usual suspects to help make my case. No Willingham, Bjork or other bloggers. Just good old fashioned reading, thinking and doing (the work) to drive what I had to say. Simply put, it was an exercise in Phronesis. If Socrates and Pierre Abelard agree that wisdom can be gained by asking questions, I asked what questions the following leaders asked themselves in the situations I flashed up on the screen. The Headteacher who arranged a mock Ofsted inspection without apparently telling anyone (not even the Senior Leadership Team). Then Stephen Munby, Head of Comberton Village College who stated:

Tight values, loose control: get the values right, get good people, find opportunities and let it go.

What type of questions (if any) did Steve Fairclough, the Head of Abbotsholme School ask when he stated in a public meeting that teachers should ‘fear failure’ as it was a good thing. Were these the same type of questions which Caroline Hoddinott, Head of Haybridge School asked when she declared, ‘we keep really focussed on core purpose’? I then referred to the question asked by the Senior Leader on Twitter and their subsequent response. I suggested that in this instance, the questions that exemplify poor leadership were poorly formed.  Alternatively, they were the result of ‘disciplinary questions’ where the person asking the question already knows the answer they are looking for and uses the power of the question to exclude people or ideas (or to be so sure that they do not check themselves). As a school leader or educator interacting with other Twitter/Blogging/Teaching folk, I suggested that this was a very poor way to understand and intervene. I went on to identify a second type of question, an ‘authentic question’, where the person asking seeks to genuinely understand, dig deeper and gain the wisdom to intervene in an effective way. I suggested that an ‘authentic question’ is what a ‘Multiplier’ approach to leadership can foster and that it affords us the capacity to intervene effectively in a complex world because our business was with human beings, not things. For me, being a ‘Multiplier’ starts with the key question: are you the genius or are you the genius maker?

In the ‘Multiplier’ books, they identify types of ‘diminisher’ – the people who do not utilise the intelligence of the people around them.

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As interesting (and cringeworthy in terms of recognition) as these ‘pure’ types are, they are not genuinely ‘human’, so I suggested that they were not really the problem. It was the more human ‘Accidental Diminishers’, the ones who thought they were helping but did not realise the effect they were having on those around them, that were the problem.

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I highlighted two of these. The first was the ‘Always On’ person. This person would go to conferences and events like Pedagoo, TLAB14 and TeachMeets and come back with new ideas. Then they would go to another conference and change their mind. I mentioned Senior Leaders are guilty on this especially when it comes to technology.

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The problem with switching every week is that leaves colleagues in confusion and so people shrink around them. One way to overcome this problem was to ‘Play Fewer Chips’ by giving yourself a budget of ‘poker chips’ in a meeting with each chip representing a comment or contribution. They would be used wisely so you say fewer things, but being more effective in what was said.

Another way to overcome the ‘Always On’ persona was to give someone else ‘51% of the vote’ whereby you would hand responsibility to someone else and say they had ‘51% of the vote’ but 100% accountability. I mentioned that at Berkhamsted the academic cluster group meetings are chaired in a rotating fashion by the HoDs and they decide the agenda and run the meeting. I also mentioned our ICT strategy group which includes mostly senior management. It is chaired by a HoD.

The second ‘Accidental Diminisher’ was the ‘Rescuer’.

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This is the person who would step in to remove burdens that people brought them. The problem with this approach is that by taking away responsibility, you weaken the reputations of the people who you have helped and people come to depend on you. One way around this is to ask people when they present a problem what the solution is. They usually have an idea yet may not feel able to express it.

If you lead like a ‘Multiplier’, your school/colleagues begin to grow and it attracts others.

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I did mention that this sounds like a nice idea. I then asked the delegates to answer the questions below in relation to someone at work they really get on with.

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Once everyone thought about this and then discussed it, I asked them to think about someone they did not necessarily like or get on with. This hard task is central to being a ‘Multiplier’. It is only when you ask questions to comprehend the complexity of the world/your colleagues, that you earn the wisdom to utilise their intelligence and skills at the highest point to achieve great things.

Finally, I gave an example of the appraisal system in use at Berkhamsted. No one was really happy with the system we had so we decided to change it. After working on the framework for a while, we gave ownership to a group of HoDs who refined, changed and then ultimately convinced the other HoDs to adopt it. We are still in the process of refining the whole process but a detailed series of posts on it can be found here.

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I then introduced the delegates to Mr Baer from ‘The Multiplier Effect’:

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I also used Pierre Abelard’s words to suggest, once again, that questioning was they key to wisdom:

PedagooSW copy.033Now, I am not sure of truth claims but questioning leads us to a better place. I ended the presentation with challenge/question for Monday morning. Are you the genius or are you the genius maker? If we really seek to comprehend the world around us and to make it better, why just rely on one brain? If we are in the ‘human business’, maybe we should follow Woodrow Wilson’s advice:

PedagooSW copy.034 After a few questions, I returned to the idea of diminishing questions in terms of the ‘Where’s the research’ question. I showed them a version of the ‘Multipliers’ research design and asked them check it out for themselves in the book.

I want to thank Mark, Robert, BSG, Rachel and all the delegates/speakers at PedagooSW. I also need to thank Threepwood for being a ‘good egg’ and refining many of the ideas.

The original presentation can be found on Slideshare.

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Pedagoo South West – Lead like a ‘Multiplier’

I am presenting at the upcoming Pedagoo South West event (#PedagooSW) on the 14th June in Bristol. You can sign up for the day by clicking here.

My workshop is based on the ‘Multipliers’ idea from Liz Wiseman and the book ‘The Multiplier Effect’. The outline is below is adapted from the book:

Do you work in a school/interact with people online who are smart but shut down the smarts of others? These ‘Diminishers’ are  idea killers and energy sappers. They are the ones that desperately need to prove they are the smartest person in the room. But for them to be big, others have to be small. These teachers/leaders/bloggers consume so much space that they leave little room for others to contribute. They create stress and pressure that can shut down good ideas…on the other side of the continuum are leaders/teachers/colleagues/bloggers who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. People get ‘smarter’ around them because they are given permission to think. These people are ‘Multipliers’. Learn how to be more like a Multiplier in your school with some practical ideas and a few tips to deal with Diminishers too!

I’ll also be talking how the recent use of the words ‘research base’ is a diminishing effect and how to deal with it. I’ll see you on the 16th!

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#TLAB14 22nd March – update #1

After working on the conference for a while, I am very pleased to release the details for #TLAB14. The theme  is ‘Multipliers’ – tapping the genius inside our schools by working with students/colleagues.  Essentially, it is the idea that when you work with a ‘multiplier’ or are one, the capacities of those around you are significantly enhanced. Based on the work of Liz Wiseman who wrote the original Multipliers’ book and the education focussed version ‘The Multiplier Effect’ with Elise Foster, it provides a positive setting for a stimulating day of discussion and learning.

The real bonus for us is that Elise has agreed to open the conference and will be leading a workshop on educational leadership. Closing the day will be Dr Andy Williams, Head of Holmfirth High School.

We also have a range of workshops led by excellent educators from around the country and from different sectors. Speakers/workshop leaders include:

  • Cognitive neuroscientist Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore;
  • History teacher and textbook author Dale Banham;
  • Kevin Brown, Head of Menorah Grammar;
  • Dr John d’Abbro, Head of New Rush Hall Group

A list of current workshops can be seen here:

We have also taken on board the feedback from the last conference and have a few new things to offer including a crèche and the day has been adjusted so there are two keynotes and three workshops with the latter being extended to allow more thinking/learning time.

What we have not changed is the size of the conference and the belief that everyone should have a great time. Despite selling all 250 tickets and requests for more, we always wanted to create something that felt comfortable and not too large.

The price for all of the above plus breakfast, lunch and refreshments is £50. Once again, the event is not-for-profit and sponsorship is invaluable to running the event. We would like to thank Rising Stars for their initial support. If you or your company would like to support #TLAB14 via sponsorship, get in touch.

Tickets are not on sale yet so if you would like to register your interest, please email If you are considering the crèche, please supply the age of the child as this will help us tailor our offering to you.

I look forward to seeing you in March for what will be a very exciting day!

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CPD development #1

Now that this has been shared with staff, I can publish the twilight inset programme we are running this year at the school. Many of the sessions are being led by colleagues and a few will be provided by Dragonfly training. The sessions were created for a number of reasons but they boil down to a few key points

  • The sessions fit identified needs in the school;
  • They are applicable and appropriate to our situation;
  • It reduces the need for inset sessions outside our quality control process;
  • It introduces the ‘Multipliers’ version of leadership throughout the school by colleagues leading sessions and hearing about the idea.


Alongside these sessions, staff will also be able to apply (as usual) to external courses. Of course, this does not measure the impact. Stay tuned for a another post shortly…

We also launched the Berkhamsted Action Research Project in partnership with Expansive Education.

Comments, as always, are welcome.


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At Easter I took over the CPD at the school and created a plan to make it meaningful and effective. As Dan and Chip Heath suggest, I looked around for people/schools that had successful programmes and adapted them to our context (particular influences are Cramlington and their CPD programme which was firmly lodged in my mind after my visit there years ago and the work of Shaun Allison). It also fits in with the ‘Multipliers’ form of leadership at the school.

Below is what we have running next year for staff at Berkhamsted. Comments are welcome!

Twilight Courses

The idea is that it will be a mix of formal and informal training with more things tailored to the needs of staff. This will be offered to all colleagues on a voluntary basis and advertised at the start of the academic year and at the start of each term. The length of the sessions will be an hour to an hour and a half. The dates are already in the calendar for next year.

The sessions will run on the following dates with about six ‘courses’ running concurrently. Courses would be repeated through the year to make sure colleagues had the opportunity to attend the course of their choice.

The courses will cover four main areas:

  • ICT
  • Pastoral
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Additional skills/attributes and wellbeing

Under each broad heading, there will be a variety of sessions covering basics as well as building capacity over the year. The sessions will be led by colleagues, parents, teachers from other schools and professionals outside of teaching. Examples include:

ICT (suggested courses below)

  • Effective use of iPads
  • Effective use of iSams
  • Using Tracking Manager in iSams
  • Using web applications in class and for prep
  • Using Google Apps

Pastoral (suggested courses below)

  • Counselling young people
  • UCAS Guidance
  • Mentoring
  • Effective tutoring
  • Preparing for a pastoral leadership role
  • Investigations and interviews with students

Teaching and Learning (suggested activities below)

  • Effective appraisal (HoDs)
  • Lesson observation
  • Differentiation
  • Using data to support improvements in learning including SEND
  • Using assessment criteria to set improvement strategies
  • Improving literacy across the curriculum
  • Improving numeracy across the curriculum
  • Effective peer assessment strategies
  • Preparing to become a HoD
  • Understanding Midyis and Alis Data
  • Effective behaviour management

Key behaviour/skills and Wellbeing (suggested courses below)

  • Negotiation skills
  • Time management
  • Assertiveness training
  • Effective communication (including presentations and emails)
  • Wellbeing and dealing with stress

Career route CPD

Each major role would have a three year career route plan of internally provided CPD to make sure they were prepared for the role and the next step within the school/promotion elsewhere. Normally running from the point of entry into a new post, colleagues already established in the school can choose either a personalised programme of twilight sessions or join one of the routes.

The main routes are:

  • GTP
  • NQT
  • DHoH
  • HoH
  • 2nd in Dept
  • HoD (Links to ISQAM)
  •  SLT

Career Route CPD will involve the twilight sessions, away days as well as informal mentoring/coaching sessions and more formal mentoring/coaching sessions provided for participants. It also links with the Independent Schools Qualification in Academic Management (ISQAM) which is running with the help of the Institute of Education.

Research Projects

Up to five bursaries are available to carry out a project on Teaching & Learning. The project would be school based and focus on developing an innovative approach to Teaching & Learning in their subject or across a department/faculty area. The following broad principles would guide the work:

  • Be clear about the learning problem your work focusses on – why did you feel it was important to develop something in the area you are showcasing? Share the ‘Big Picture’ so colleagues can clearly see the problem you are trying to address;
  • A clear focus on classroom practice and learning with what helps children progress;
  • Ensure that there are key ‘takeaways’ from the work.

Colleagues awarded the bursary would be expected to present their work during inset and help mentor other colleagues the year after they conduct the work. Research projects would be collated and be part of the CPD library at both sites. We will be working with the Institute of Education as part of Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton’s Expansive Education network to support this work.

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Date for #TLAB14

I found the day to be well structured, thoughtful and thought provoking. I very much enjoyed the day and would like to congratulate the organisers. Even the catering was good. Please thank everyone on my behalf.


Totally and utterly inspirational. I loved it. I am so grateful you put the event on and I am bussing my staff in next year!


The best CPD one-off day I’ve been to.


81 different schools, 3 HE providers and 4 Education Consultants attended #TLAB13.  Nearly 70% of schools were from the maintained sector and colleagues came from as far as Belgium for the sold out event.

Next year we aim to improve and we have listened carefully to the feedback.

I can confirm the date for next year’s conference is the 22nd March 2014 (so no rugby conflicts!) and we have a few tweaks/special guests planned for the day. I am very pleased that Elise Foster, one of the co-authors of The Multiplier Effect, has agreed to give a keynote. More information will be forthcoming in September.

Look out for the #TLAB13 iBook next week!


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