In recent years some hospitals have paid particular attention to supporting a culture of “doing no harm”. It might seem strange for places that we associate with healing and restoring health to have such a focus when their intention and motivation is to restore people to health and participation in life. In fact this “no harm” approach is designed to make them even more successful at healing by reviewing and reflecting on what might have happened in particular treatments that caused the patient harm or distress. Importantly “no harm” review is also a “no blame” review so that people feel free to identify ways that the work they have done can be improved. Making these changes has helped the hospitals get closer to fulfilling their mission of healing.

Schools could have a similar focus. No school sets out to harm or negatively affect a student or staff member but the very nature of our institutions and our culture can have negative impacts along the way. In health one of the hardest steps to take was to get Doctors to acknowledge that there might have been some bad decisions in a treatment. Establishing the no harm approach has required a change of culture within the profession. Similarly, If schools are to be able to address areas where delivery or engagement has not been strong, without redress, they will also need to have a climate that allows teachers to acknowledge that when they identify an area of their performance that could be improved there are no negative repercussions.

Identifying, reflecting and addressing changes within organisations is an important step in improving outcomes for everyone. Hospitals, schools, police or any organisation will benefit from this culture, particularly when people feel free to own their mistakes without major consequences.

In my experience it is not uncommon for teachers to resist this sort of process. I have wondered if it is because teachers spend their life assessing others that they find the act of being assessed quite challenging. Creating a climate where we can hear opportunities for development that make a real difference to people is critical for a healthy culture.  It does not matter whether it is a hospital or a school or service organisation the culture created by its leaders will determine whether people feel free to engage in personal growth and development through mentoring and feedback. Systemic change that engages everyone in supporting and improving an organisation is fundamental to excellence in schools.

Paul Ferris