Jeff Bezos needs little to no explanation. For those of you who don’t know, he’s the Amazon man – not the rainforest, the app we all swear by. Amazon is where I directed every single student when it came to ordering their books. Why? Because every time one of them would say, ‘Miss, the delivery didn’t arrive on time’ the rest of the class and I would laugh and rinse them for even suggesting Amazon had failed at the very thing they do best. Amazon has made their core values and culture abundantly clear to the world. To be honest no matter what some of us may think of the E-commerce and cloud services giant, it’s a pretty exceptional service, which seems routed in their core values, principles and culture.
I have always advocated that before anything, establishing the culture of the classroom and school comes before any curriculum, lesson or seating plan (hate them). I also started to refer to Amazon’s leadership principles every time I got bored of teaching kids to ‘write to argue’ or an exemplar essay.
After reading an article in Forbes on Bezos and Amazon’s culture, it reminded me what should be at the heart of schools to make them successful – their values. Like Bezos’s advisors say, for any organisation to be successful, its members (students and teachers) need to live and breathe those values.
There may be some schools doing this already, but if school is an institution, it should and needs to be consistent across schooling globally.
Let’s take a look at 4 of Amazon’s core values and see how they might work for schools:
At the centre of everything Amazon do is their customer – they make our lives ridiculously easy and I am one very satisfied customer.
As teachers, we need to obsess over our students. We need to obsess over everything and anything they want to learn. We need to put them at the centre of the word learning and create their learning journey (UX journey, whatever you want to call it) in as intuitive and seamless a way possible, so that they never give up on it.
Leaders, you need to obsess over your teachers. You need to obsess over creating the best possible workplace culture (not just the odd postcard in a pigeon hole mantra) that makes your staff want to embrace your values – they will want to live them, they’ll never want to leave them. And in turn, they will nurture wonderful students who will keep the legacy of learning going.
LONG TERM THINKING
We need to curate a curriculum beyond the A level and degree. Teachers need to stop scouring TES and Teachit and start connecting and collaborating with your network (LinkedIn is a wonderful tool) to serve the long term success of your students (NB: there is a place in my heart for Teachit and TES resources, they’ve helped me many times before a lesson I forgot I had).
Leaders, what if we reconfigured and redesigned our approach to GCSEs? what if we taught kids what they needed to pass a test in the short term (hopefully not for too much longer, Gavin) and spent the rest of our time learning with them about adulting and the professional life skills landscape? School would be a very different and desirable place if we did.
EAGERNESS TO INVENT
Embrace change. Like Gavin McCormack says, change is at the heart of education. Students and teachers need to unlearn the phrase ‘reinventing the wheel’ and think, I want to invent and innovate every single day that I am in and out of the classroom, not just teach enough for students to pass an exam - and school leaders need to make time for this too.
High expectations of leaders, staff and students. Those teachers that make lessons feel like a breeze, those students who make every piece of homework and every exchange a pleasure – they’re working damn hard behind the scenes because they take the utmost pride in what they do.
This level of ‘personal success’ applies to every profession and the companies we admire, like Amazon, make sure every single person in the organisation embodies it. We should expect nothing less of any student, leader or teacher, and let’s go full circle…we need to create a school culture that enables it.
Schools intend to do good, we know this. But I have met many school leaders, teachers and students who do not exhibit these values. In fact, I was always unsure what their values were and their staff and students were too exhausted to tell me. It’s a double edged sword, which like Bezos and his team say, can only be addressed from the top.
Time and money in the education sectors are a problem, I agree. But, what is preventing any leader from starting from scratch with a blank piece of paper, to readdress budgets, timetables, structure and culture – even if hypothetically?
What is stopping students from going beyond the classroom and searching for ways to enhance their learning in the classroom? What’s stopping teachers from politely nodding at the deafening echoes of staffroom briefings, closing their classroom doors and creating an exciting culture of learning for them and their students? We all know there are barriers, social, economic, political and your average ‘blocker’ in a staff meeting…just ignore them and work towards changing it.
Here’s a vision: create schools that function better than Amazon with the mission to harness a culture of learning that never stops.