Watch any sports contest where one team are being put under intense pressure and what collapses is their team signposting.
The clarity of communication between the players drops. Passes don’t go to hand, players over-run the ball, calls are made but not heard, two players go for the same ball. The game plan dissolves. The anxiety gets worse; the team becomes more emotionally dysregulated.
As we saw in my last piece, emotional dysregulation must be contained before people will be able to follow the signposts. That is why excellent team captains gather their players round not to berate their errors, but to reassure them that they, as whole team, are bigger than any current crisis.
But having reassured the team, the leader must set out clear signposts. What people need next is clear, direct instructions.
Clear, direct instructions are particularly important in this stressed situation because, again, they reduce anxiety. People’s stress has been shown to lower when they are given a simple, achievable task; it focuses their mind and directs their neural traffic away from the neurochemical flood. When they succeed in the first task, it builds their sense of agency that they can overcome the next obstacle. Their actions, thoughts and emotions start to re-align positively again.
Clear, direct instructions are important for a second reason. They provide a predictable route forward. Predictability has been shown to be the most important contextual experience for an adolescent’s social-emotional health. Imagine driving along a road and seeing a 30MPH speed sign; you slow down, only to pass a 50MPH sign 50 yards later, before hitting a STOP sign 75 yards on. The signs are chaotic, confusing and stressful. They haven’t helped you predict how to drive.
Sometimes, leaders are guilty of inconsistent or unclear signposting in times of stress. Under pressure, some leaders hide; they retreat to their office when actually, they need to become more visible and audible. Directions must be clear. Some leaders become reactive, throwing out this, and then that, command. The overall direction is confused and confusing; people lose confidence and trust in what they being asked to do.
Clarity of signposting is about being able to say ‘We are going in this direction, and here are the reasons for it’.
By explaining the reasons, you align people’s will, reason and energy behind the direction.
Thirdly, clear, direct instructions unite. Travelling together as a group is always more effective, and more enjoyable, and is likely to bring the best out of each other.
It is often said that a good decision is one made for the right reasons, even if it achieves the wrong outcome. We can never know the actual outcomes of any decision we take; we can only make a decision on the information available at the time. Therefore, evaluate the direction to go in, set the signposts, call people toward them, and stick to the goal until new information arises.
How does STEER’s AS Tracking help you achieve this with your pupils?
AS Tracking was designed to provide consistent signposts for your pupils. Often, pupils receive mixed messages from different staff in a school; this is profoundly unhelpful. By writing considered AS Tracking action plans, all relevant staff can be informed of the consistent, precise signposts- messages and opportunities- they should be giving to a pupil.