Making Better Decisions

Making better Decisions

Making better decisions makes the biggest difference

There are many schools of thought on how we make decisions. Some people seem more rational, others seem more emotional. Some take a short-term view, others take a long-term view. Personally, I think we all do all of these things at different times. The problem though is when we make decisions in the wrong way in high-pressure situations with long-term consequences. There are very few decision points that change our lives. We need to equip our students with the tools to make the ‘right’ decisions under pressure. Here’s a guide on how we can teach our students to practise making better decisions.

How should we make decisions?

I recently read Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell, a former political advisor. In Winners, he explores the different ways that people at the top of their game (sport, politics, business, etc) behave, make decisions and form a ‘winning’ mindset, in order to achieve success. His main theory throughout, is that most, if not all of the people he studied were adept at formulating and operating the following three-part system:

  1. Objective
  2. Strategy
  3. Tactics

Set a clear objective

Students are given objectives all the time. They could be learning objectives, punctuality and attendance targets, predicted grades for assessments, obtaining entry to a good university, etc. However, many students don’t know what their targets are. At the risk of sounding like I’m preaching to the choir, sharing these objectives with students is crucial to raising achievement. Having the students write them down and reflect on them is a simple but effective way of cementing the objective in their minds.

For example, if a student wants to attend a good university then they need to write this objective down. They then need to be able to explain why this objective is important to them and what the pros and cons of setting this objective might be. Evaluating the objective helps the student to appreciate more fully why they are seeking to achieve it. Without this discussion, they risk falling into the trap of asking “why am I bothering with this?” when times get tough in pursuit of the objective.


How do we set the ‘right’ objective?

As usual, it’s a case of practise, practise, practise. Students (and the rest of us!) need reminding, each time we make a crucial decision, that we should step outside of ourselves and take a range of perspectives. That way, we avoid (or at least minimise) the risk of making poor judgements or of basing our decisions on the wrong factors. Setting the ‘right’ objective can save a lot of time and effort.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson says that if you have a good idea, then share it with as many people as possible. The upside is that by presenting your idea or decision to a range of people, you will refine it through debate. If at the end of your conversations you still want to make the same decision, then it’s probably already had the wrinkles ironed out – your decision will be the right one and will avoid many of the problems that an unexamined decision would encounter.

Define your strategy

Strategy is everything. But what is it? Isn’t it just the same as tactics? No. Strategy is a static idea which underpins your tactics so that they all pull in the same direction. An example of a strategy to achieve the objective of obtaining a good university place might be “demonstrate a high level of ability to admissions teams”. This might seem like a tactic, but it isn’t – it’s very broad and can be implemented in a number of ways. You’ll see the difference when I outline “tactics”.

Strategy should rarely, if ever, change. In Winners, the ability to stick to a strategy, nomatter what else is going on, is a key difference between those at the top and everyone else. Students need to be reminded of this. Give them examples of strategies you’ve employed in your own lives, to achieve success in your career, or how you were able to afford to buy a house, or how you completed a marathon. Alternatively take inspiration from top performers in sport, music, politics, etc. Students are much more likely to engage if they see someone relevant to themselves going through a similar struggle.

Making Better Decisions

Formulate tactics that support your strategy

Tactics are the individual actions you perform in order to uphold your strategy. In the example above, the strategy is “demonstrate a high level of ability to admissions teams”. There are a number of tactics that students can implement to help this strategy. Revision, attendance, enrichment activities, independent learning, work experience, responding to feedback, teaching others, maintaining a ‘growth-mindset’, writing a strong personal statement, etc. These tactics are all employed to implement the strategy.

Tactics are much more subject to the ever-changing conditions of the world we live in. Football managers often change tactics at half-time, or when they substitute a defender for an attacker. Tactics must be relevant to the individual situation and to the individual person. Tactics must always, however, support the strategy. If they do not, then a different tactic should be used. If unsure of what tactic to use, refer back to the strategy. When the strategy is implemented well, the objective will be met. Simple! (Just stick to the strategy!)

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Future Leaders – How to Prepare Them


Why do I need to know the difference between Plato and Aristotle? I’m not going to be a philosopher!”

Thus began my Friday afternoon a few months ago. A group of A Level students was finalising some revision for their final exam on Philosophy of Religion. They had been learning the content for months by this point and had no problem with the main points. However, now that the exams were almost upon them, the students were beginning to feel frustrated, scared and annoyed by the fact that they hadn’t quite mastered everything quite yet. Time was running out. Fear and frustration are commonplace amongst students and it often leads them to ask why they are studying the subject in the first place. I replied to them that I was teaching future leaders the skills they would need to change the world. Only I’ve thought more about it since then and there’s an issue: we don’t know what the future will look like, so how can we possibly prepare for it?

How do we prepare students to work in future industries?

When students reach a certain point, they choose a range of subjects to continue learning. This is either because they enjoy them, or because they see those subjects as valuable in helping them get a job in the future. But how do we guide our students to make good choices for the future when we haven’t a clue about industries that don’t exist yet? Not only that, but what if students pick subjects related to one industry, but then after a few years of employment they want to move out of that industry? Many people have been left high and dry due to a lack of alternative career paths related to their education and skills. We need to move away from that.

Below I’ve given the five areas that we teachers should focus on, in combination with high-quality subject content, so that our students are prepared for a variety of opportunities that will come their way in the future:

  1. Critical thinking skills
  2. Problem-solving skills
  3. Teamwork
  4. Project management
  5. Self-directed learning

Critical Thinking Mind

Critical Thinking Skills

Making wise choices does not come naturally to many students. They have neither the skills, the experience nor the patience, in many cases, to truly examine an issue in depth. This is a quality that is earned through practice, so we should try to give students as many opportunities to practice as we can. I find that beginning a lesson with an open question, such as “Assess how far…”, “To what extent does…” and revisiting the question every 10-15 minutes from a new angle, helps students to develop their critical thinking skills. Top tip – get students used to making a case for a viewpoint. Then have them argue in defence of it whilst other students pick holes in their arguments. They will love it and it will prepare them well for resolving conflicts in the future- a very useful skill.

Problem-Solving Skills

All successful leaders have problem-solving skills. That is how they succeed – they identify a problem that someone has and they provide a solution. Within their own organisations, they will encounter problems too, be it with processes, products or people. In lessons, I try to simulate scenarios where solving a problem is the main success criteria for the activity. It could be done as a role play, as a Dragon’s Den episode, etc – whatever works for your subject!


Most employees work in teams to complete goals. They usually have individually defined roles within their teams, but in order to work effectively, they must collaborate. This was a prominent feature of a previous post of mine – There’s no “I” in iPad. I build collaboration into most of my lessons in some way, shape or form. The crucial thing to remember is that each individual must know what their own role is and why they are collaborating. This is as opposed to working individually. Understanding the value of collaboration will only serve to help students adopt it willingly.

The Future

Project Management

A key feature of managerial positions in most companies and for independent entrepreneurs is the ability to manage projects effectively. But this isn’t usually a key feature of most curriculums so if we want our students to succeed further up the career ladder, then we should at the very least lay the foundations for them whilst they are with us. Tip: Set students projects that require a number of simultaneous tasks to be completed using a range of resources. This will help simulate the world they will enter in the future. Adding complexity to project management is also a particularly useful tool for challenging the most-able students in your classroom.

Self-Directed Learning

Learning doesn’t finish when you leave school. However, you typically won’t have someone around to teach you what you need to know once you’ve left. This is why it’s vitally important to be taught, whilst at school, the value of and some methods of independent, self-directed study. I try to implement self-directed study for each of my classes at least once a term. This is usually on something beyond their typical homework tasks. Examples have included:

  • learn from scratch how to create a movie trailer on an iPad
  • find a good YouTube video that teaches you about Asimov’s laws of robotics and assess what makes the video “good”
  • use to create a list of the best revision sites for studying and revising for your AS Religious Ethics paper. Use one of the sites to create a mini-revision guide for a topic of your choice.

I’ll be posting soon on how and why I think education systems require a revolution, to keep pace with an ever-changing world. I’d love your thoughts on this.

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