Alexa Cutteridge reviews ‘The Coaching Habit Say Less, Ask more & Change the Way you Lead Forever’

Alexa Cutteridge, Head of Curriculum PE and Assistant Head of Year 7, gives a short review of ‘The Coaching Habit Say Less, Ask more & Change the Way you Lead Forever’ by Michael Bungay Stanier


“We live in the world our questions create.” (David Cooperrider)

“The minute we begin to think we have all the answers, we forget the questions.” (Madeleine L’Engle)

“Get comfortable with silence”

“Without a good question, a good answer has no place to go” (Clayton, Christensen)

As a PE teacher, I have spent most of my professional career practically coaching on the sports field, but I have been on a journey to bring coaching techniques to my leadership roles, and apparently, I am not alone! As noted in the book, Daniel Goleman (psychologist and journalist who popularised the concept of emotional intelligence) suggested that coaching is one of the six essential leadership styles, but is one of the least used as many leaders claim to not have time to practise it. Stanier guides you through easy ways to change your leadership behaviour, to incorporate a coaching style in a way that you do ‘a little more asking people questions and a little less telling people what to do.’ Stanier considers that it is not initially an easy concept to increase questioning and so he helpfully outlines how to change, before looking at what to change.

The seven coaching habit questions are:

  • The Kickstarter Question – ‘What’s on your mind?’ the way to start any conversation in a way that is both focused and open.
  • The Awe Question – the best coaching question in the world – ‘And what else?’ This works as a self-management tool for you, and as a boost for the 6 other questions.
  • The Focus Question – ‘What is the real challenge for you here?’ This question helps you slow down so you can solve real problems and not just the first problem.
  • The Foundation Question – ‘What do you want?’ This allows you to identify the needs of an individual and get a better understanding how you can support them.
  • The Lazy Question – ‘How can I help?’ This helps cut right to the request and additionally it stops you from leaping into action unnecessarily.
  • The Strategic Question – ‘If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?’ This allows the people you are working with to be fully committed to their yes and aware of the no’s which will create the space and energy for the yes to happen.
  • The Learning Question – ‘What was most useful for you?’ This works with the Kickstarter question to make the Coaching Bookends. It helps to ensure that everyone finds their interactions with you even more helpful.In the educational arena, applying the coaching habit and the simple, yet powerful seven questions, has the potential to positively transform the leadership of Teachers, Heads of Departments, Pastoral Leaders, Senior Management or even pupils on Student Leadership Team. After reading this book, it is important to highlight that I do not think we need to do away with the leaderships styles we already have, but merely bring the coaching habit questions into the mix, in a way that works for us. How does that sound?

SLT Aims for 2020 – Part 2

In this week’s edition of WimLearn, Lizzie, Lucy, Annabel, Eleni, Robin and Eloise discuss their aims for the year in their roles on the 2020 Student Leadership Team.

Lizzie (Music Rep):

My biggest aim for music at WHS this year is simply to do as much music as possible, given the immense ongoing difficulties that coronavirus safety measures have created. Very excitingly, many music clubs are still running in small, socially distanced groups or within year group bubbles, so please get sign up to any music clubs that interest you as, from personal experience, they are very fun and rewarding!! However, music is so important to everybody in the school, not just those who are regularly involved in music clubs. The music department is working to make music made by students as widely available to enjoy as possible, for example by recording concerts to be viewed by staff and students online afterwards. My aim is for everyone to receive as much enjoyment from music this year as possible, whether it is through making music yourself in formal or informal settings, or through listening to others play.

Lucy (Environment Rep):

I have many aims for this year but one of the most important ones being leading the eco – committee in pursuit of our silver eco-schools award. At the end of last year, in spite of the virus and online learning, we managed to obtain our bronze award! In order to achieve this silver award, we now need to widen our environmental aims to the school community as well as this embedding environmental sustainability into the school curriculum. I also wish to raise more awareness around our schools’ environmental impact and get every single girl from Wimbledon High making changes to their everyday routine in order to make a difference.

All things environment is discussed and decided by the eco- committee which contains girls from all different years bringing their ideas together. The eco- committee contains 5 different teams; Biodiversity, Communications, Energy and Utilities, Healthy Living, Litter and Waste. Each of these teams has their own individual aims of what they want to improve in their own area. And these aims will often be updated on firefly. I am so excited for the coming year and making as much of a difference as I can in my role!

Annabel (Co-curricular Rep):

This year as Co-Curricular Rep I strive to emphasise the critical role that clubs play in school life. After the absence of any real presence of the co-curricular programme throughout our time during lockdown, I know that many keenly felt the impact of a lack of extensive socialisation that comes along with school life. This is something that clubs offer by virtue of their existence and our wide range of opportunities to get involved in at WHS prove there really is something for everyone regardless of your interests. I’m looking forward to making sure everyone feels their out of classroom time is spent enriching their passions and getting time to interact with other students, something that was certainly lacking during our time out of school. I encourage everyone to get as stuck in as possible with what we have to offer and the variety of virtual and in person clubs on offer means we are all spoilt for choice. I hope that this year will be one of the most diverse years for the co-curricular programme not only in location of our clubs but also in the opportunities they provide.

Eleni (Head of Senior Peer Counselling):

Above: Peer counselling training session with the Digi Sisters, 2019

After an isolating few months, the Senior Peer Counselling team will be putting a huge focus on communication this year. Having teamed up with the subject leaders, we want to encourage girls to ask difficult questions, discuss, debate and reach out. We hope to achieve this by encouraging girls to form stronger connections with their separate PC and SL teams so that, as a school, we can “own our space.”



Robin (Head of Junior Peer Counselling):

This year in the Junior school we will really be working on the presence of the Peer counsellors, with sessions focusing on topics relating to each year group to help them with any skills or queries about going through the Junior school such as; friendships, homework, and for Year 6 moving onto the secondary school. It’s such a great opportunity for the younger girls to gain a stronger connection with girls from the Senior school and means that the Juniors always have an older student that they can talk to should they have any problems.

Eloise (Academic Rep):

This year I am really excited for our newly introduced Peer Support Programme which combines both academic and pastoral support: instead of just a Peer Counsellor being responsible for a form, there will now be a Subject Leader too. I know all of the Peer Counsellors and Subject Leaders this year are briming with enthusiasm and will be willing to go above and beyond to support their forms so I can’t wait to watch this new program develop. I am also thrilled to be jointly responsible for WimLearn this year and have been so impressed by the calibre of articles I have already received. It would be great to see girls follow their passions and research topics that extend beyond the confines of the curriculum and I think WimLearn is a great vehicle through which they can do this.


SLT Aims for 2020 Part 1

In this week’s edition of WimLearn, Malin, Ariana, Alice and Hannah discuss their aims for the year in their roles on the 2020 Student Leadership Team.

Malin (Sports Captain):

As sports captain for this coming academic year, I am absolutely thrilled to be back as a sporting community. In terms of the aims that I (and the P.E department) have, we really want to place an emphasis on instilling a strong sense of camaraderie between everyone. Excitingly, despite the tightened rules and regulations, we will be back into teams and squads (e.g. netball, hockey, rowing, swimming etc…) which I’m sure will be very fun for everyone involved (albeit that no external fixtures will be taking place).

The only bad aspect of playing sports at school is- I’m sure you can agree- having to wear the smelly and unpleasant sports bibs. This will no longer be an issue! Not only will bibs we washed frequently, but equipment will also be thoroughly disinfected. I hope that everyone is as excited as I am to be back playing sports with friends, and if anyone has any questions feel free to reach out to either the PE department, me, or any of the new sport specific captains!

Ariana (Admissions Ambassador):

As Admissions Ambassador my aims for this year include: improving the buddy system by getting the new girls and the girls present in the school to write interests and pair the girls using similar interests, have more conversations with girls about to go into year 12 to help them prepare for the jump from GCSE to A Levels and set up a society for girls joining the school to help them feel more comfortable in their first few weeks at WHS.

Following on from this I want to improve the inter-year bond between Year 11s going into Year 12 and the year above them by having more meetings (either online or in person due to COVID-19) when they know which form they are going to be with in order to help them adjust quicker.

Lastly, I would like to try set up a virtual tour for Wimbledon High School so that we can accommodate the COVID-19 situation allowing new parents to tour the school online as well as hopefully encouraging more prospective international pupils.

Alice (Editor in Chief of Unconquered Peaks):

As Editor in Chief of Unconquered Peaks, it is my aim for this year to publish articles that both inform and challenge readers. In the age of the Instagram infographic, which has become particularly ubiquitous in the wake of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, nuance is more important than ever. It is important to be up to date with current affairs, but equally vital to understand issues and question things instead of taking things at face value.

My wonderful team of writers and I will endeavour to inspire critical thinking and a desire to explore. As well as offering interesting perspectives on the issues of the day, we will also be writing about things that we’re passionate about, from exciting areas of academia to our favourite books and films. I hope that Unconquered Peaks will keep everyone inspired and amused during this strange time!

Hannah (Charities & Partnerships rep):

The world as we know it has been turned upside down, in unimaginable ways over the past 6 months. Major charitable events (including the London Marathon and Glastonbury!) were cancelled, causing thousands of charities around the country to lose millions of pounds.

However, despite this adversity there is always hope. This year we will continue to support our partner charities, particularly Faith in Action, following the catastrophic increase in homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an unimaginable situation not having a roof over your head, or not knowing where your next meal will come from, and our alliance with London homeless charities is something I am keen to strengthen.

My primary aim for the coming academic year is to achieve this ongoing support; by raising awareness of individual causes both within school and our wider communities, encouraging everyone to get involved and take time out of their week to help others, and increasing our fundraising output by working towards the new charity targets.

This year, more than ever following the global pandemic, there will be more and more people in need, and we will strive to make this the best year yet for both fundraising and strengthening our partnerships here at WHS.

What role does the House system play in a modern school?

Miss Hannah Johnston, Head of Houses at WHS, examines why the House system is as important in the modern world as it was in the famous tales of Mr Chips and Harry Potter.


Mention ‘Houses’ in the context of a school and for a certain generation it is hard not to be instantly transported to ‘Hogwarts’ and all the connotations of the sorting hat. Originating from boarding schools where students lived in a ‘house’ the inclusion of a House system is popular among schools, and, thanks to J.K Rowling and those 4 most famous of Houses there is more awareness than ever of the advantages the House system brings.

While we do not rely on a sentient hat, each year we have the ‘Stepping In’ ceremony where our new girls are warmly received into their House, a pivotal moment in their entry to senior school. As girls and staff cheer from the side-lines, the initial ties of camaraderie and identity are being formed.

The Specialist School and Academies Trust (SSAT) found that in 2008 16% of Year 6 students did not feel ready to begin senior school. They advocated the House system as a way of ensuring students felt supported by their peers from the beginning; “Ensuring students feel comfortable in their new surroundings and making them feel part of their new environment as quickly as possible” (Garner, 2008). By dividing the school into 4 smaller groups (Arnold, Hastings, Meredith and Scott) we allow students to develop their sense of belonging quickly and help to remove the fear of ‘small fish big pond’ that can often follow, particularly if a girl has joined from a smaller primary school environment.

Above: Year 7 Stepping In; 2019


One of the main strengths of the House system is giving students of all ages the opportunity to work together, creating a truly cohesive environment and ensuring that age is not a barrier to friendship and collaboration. This reflects the life that we are preparing our girls for outside of WHS, nowhere beyond the confines of a classroom will they be required to work / interact with those only of their own age.

As David Tongue (Head, Brighton College Bangkok) said of the value of the House system; “camaraderie and solidarity is second to none and the benefits of this vertical interaction, where the young look up to the elder and where the elder look out for and support the younger, are profound”. We see this throughout the year in WHS but perhaps nowhere is it as evident as during House Drama. Watching the Year 7 and Year 12 students plan, rehearse and perform is one of the highlights of the Winter term. The dedication shown by all involved and the support given by fellow House members at each performance is wonderful.

Of course it is not only students who are allocated a House, staff are also involved. The sense of community that pervades throughout the school would, arguably, be incomplete if students were not given the opportunity to interact with teachers beyond those they see in the classroom, thereby encouraging stronger relationships between adults and students” (Green, 2006). Our recent ‘Connections Fortnight’ highlighted the importance of celebrating the relationships formed in school. Where better than to see this than through our Houses, small communities within the larger whole formed on shared interests and challenges.

Above: House Drama 2019


To talk about the House system and neglect to mention competition would be foolish. Potentially it is the competitive element of the Houses that people think of first. The all-important termly round up where the current leader is announced to great fanfare, the selection of mini competitions each term and, of course, Sports Day. Competition is good, it drives our students to improve, improves collegiality and teaches how to fail.

The House system is first and foremost inclusive of all learning types and interests. We have sporting (swimming, netball, hockey and sports day), artistic (Big Draw, House Music and House Drama) and cross-curricular (Robot Wars and the upcoming Spelling Bee and House Escape) events.

As was seen in a study between engagement and performance the sense of belonging provided by House membership, and the opportunity to enter into competitions with your peers can have numerous academic benefits as well as the social-emotional (Lee, 2014). Those who feel comfortable and supported enough to participate in House events are more likely to feel able to commit themselves fully to academia.


Above: Current House Captains

The House system allows for the promotion of student’s responsibility, “giving pupils the chance to learn and develop leadership skills is an outstanding benefit” (Tongue, 2016). The House Captains hone their leadership skills in the role, managing not only their peers but also learning how to ‘manage up’ among the staff body.

In another case of preparation for life beyond school, our House Captains rise to each challenge set, developing impressive time management and delegation skills.

In the upcoming House Robot Wars, the Captains have delegated the training sessions to those in KS4 that they have identified as having leadership qualities and the necessary Computer skills. Events such as House Music promote team work and communication. It takes a small army of girls to form the small group, organise whole House rehearsals and teach the choreography, yet everyone throws themselves in with dedication.

While we have our 4 House Captains there are opportunities throughout the year groups to take on smaller leadership roles, recent House Jigsaw saw students in Year 9 take charge and each inter-house sports team has a captain.

Above: House Masterchef

The House system searches for ways that students and staff can feel more connected to and involved with the community around them. It facilitates discussions between the most junior and most senior of school and fostering friendly competitive spirit along the way.


Garner, R., 2008. State secondaries urged to bring back the house system. [Online]  Available at:

Green, D. G., 2006. Welcome to the House System. Educational leadership: journal of the Department of Supervision and Curriculum Development, N.E.A, p. 63.

Lee, J.-S., 2014. The Relationship between Student Engagement and Academic Performance: Is It a Myth or Reality?. Journal of Educational Research, pp. 177-185.

Tongue, D., 2016. The House System: a typically British educational institution. [Online]
Available at:

Being Head Girl at WHS

Front of WHS

Jasmine, Year 13, describes what her role as Head Girl entails and gives a brief overview of the initiatives for the year ahead

I’m delighted to be Head Girl for Wimbledon High School this academic year! My role as Head Girl entails a lot of different things, most of it being meetings, talking and organising things so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what goes on behind the scenes and our aims for this year.

Head Girl Team
Saskia, Jasmine and Ella – the Head Girl Team at WHS for 2019-20

I work with Saskia and Ella, the Deputy Head Girls, to lead the Student Leadership Team, coming up with new ideas for whole-school events such as the annual WHS Pride Week (taking place just before half term to celebrate our recent Stonewall Bronze Award!), the school birthday (taking place after half term) and a range of new initiatives that we feel would make the school a better place for all of us. One of our main initiatives this year is PAWHS, standing for Pause at WHS, where we want to recognise the different ways in which students just relax and wind down, without forcing any specific methods on them because we understand the same exercises and activities don’t work for everyone.

We also run school council and have worked closely with Mr Turner, Assistant Head Pastoral, this year to “re-invent” our school council. It now has Year-reps and specific committees with representatives from each year so younger girls can really be involved in leading the school and getting their ideas heard. We also chair student parliament and feedback all the students’ comments and suggestions to the Senior Management Team.

Last year we came up with our overall pastoral theme of Connections, as we felt we wanted our focus to be on how we connect with the wider world, our school and the people in it, and of course how we connect to ourselves. We pitched this to the Senior Management Team and Head of Years and they liked the idea; it is now our pastoral theme for the year. Our aim for this year is to create an environment where students feel connected to each other but also the world around us. Our other aim is to connect to our school, looking at its history, present and future in light of our 140th school birthday, and we are organising a massive school celebration day called “Year-to-Year” to focus on this (linking to the opening line of our school song), which will hopefully be great fun and a memorable day not just for all of us but also for the school in years to come.

Our pastoral theme for 2019-20 – connections. This theme was chosen by our Student Leadership Team.

Being part of the Student Leadership Team is a large responsibility but it is a great opportunity to make even the smallest difference to our amazing school. It is the responsibility of a leader to serve the people around them, to include everyone and their ideas, to set an example and stand up for what is right. I may not have Priyanka’s poise and teacher-like authority, Jessie’s seemingly effortless organisation skills or Ava’s fierce intellect and extensive vocabulary,  but I’m learning that’s the beauty of being a Head girl, or any leader, is that you make it your own; for me I think it’s all about being a friendly, approachable face in the corridor, welcoming every girl as she steps in to Wimbledon High.

Wimbledon High Junior School: Reflections on 16 years of Junior School Leadership

Ms Kate Mitchell, Head of Juniors, retires at the end of this academic year after 16 years as Head of Juniors. Here she explores some of the changes that have occurred that have enabled the WHS Junior School to go from strength to strength.

Above: From here…
Above: …to there!

Wednesday January 8th 2003: from this, my very first day, I wanted so much to get it right and be the best Head I could possibly be. Who would have predicted heavy snow? Not everyone made it into school that day and nothing could have been considered to be normal for those first few wintery days of my first term. What a very strange way indeed to begin to get to know your staff, parents and girls. I got to know them very quickly, as we played outside, built snowmen and had lots of fun together. What did I learn? The great Monty Python mantra which has stayed with me throughout, ‘always expect the unexpected’!

The very first Year 6 production I saw was ‘Bring Dad Home’. Performed at The Polka Theatre, the girls had the weekend to rehearse in the theatre and it was performed twice on the Sunday – matinee and evening. I then brought things ‘in house’ and for a few years, we used the Junior Hall for our shows, until the Rutherford Theatre was built in 2007 – hurrah for that!

In 2003, hockey, cross-country and tennis were not on the curriculum. The girls simply played netball throughout the autumn with rounders and athletics in the summer. Our only strength was in swimming. My first meeting with parents concluded with them asking me to address the perceived mediocrity that existed in sport. I’m not going to describe to you what you know exists today (take a look at our many recent triumphs detailed in High Ways) but you can see that we have come a very, very long way, in terms of variety and excellence in sport.

Referencing sport leads me to reflect on how the House system has changed. At least in the Junior School, we had a House system; it wasn’t introduced to the Senior School until 2005. Named after four famous women, the girls meet fortnightly, compete in lots of different arenas including sport, music and chess, raise funds for chosen charities and generally make inter-year friendships that last throughout their time in Juniors. A great development in recent years is the cross-fertilization with the senior school where we have the same colour house days and house captains lead house assemblies together. This has become a major part of our vision to create a truly unified school where the playground is not the metaphorical divide between seniors and juniors.

I can’t emphasise enough how important residential visits are in the lives of children. The range we offer to the girls is, as you would expect, carefully matched to the taught curriculum but more importantly, the girls are learning the skills of being away from home. From Year 3, these are stepped up age appropriately in length of nights away from home as well as distance! I included Bushcraft knowing that it is a truly formative experience for all involved – including staff. This complements the recent introduction of the Outdoor Ed programme in Year 6 which leads to national certification. In addition, for Years 5&6 we offer a biennial ski trip and we are about to launch, in the alternate years, and in response to parental demand, a sports tour open to all.

It is what goes on in the classroom that is fundamental to girls’ learning. However, when I meet ‘old girls’ who are now beyond university, it is all of the above that they recall fondly and speak about, rather than the day they learnt their 6x tables.  Why is this? I believe co-curricular activity relies on the strength of the human relationships which inspire the girls to develop and grow their confidence and creates happiness from within. Of course, none of this could be achieved without the dedicated staff who are prepared to try new ideas, give their time and support the myriad of opportunities open to the girls; and it is through the strength of these relationships that deep learning takes place.

I too have been on a learning journey which has been rewarding, fulfilling, exciting, sometimes scary and above all great fun. As I now prepare to stride out I know that I am leaving behind a Junior School which is in truly great shape. I feel privileged to have been at the helm for 16 years and am very proud of all that we in the Junior School have achieved together.

Happiness Festival 2018: Peace Edition

Wimbledon High School Happiness Festival 2018

Ava (Head Girl, Y13) talks about the latest of Wimbledon High’s annual Happiness Festivals, discussing what makes such an event special and uniquely Wimbledonian.

Last Friday marked a truly extraordinary day in Wimbledon High School’s calendar: Happiness Festival 2018. From start to end, the day served as a wonderful reminder of all the warmth and support ever-present here within the walls of WHS.

When the Student Leaders and I sat down to start the task of planning the event some months ago, we thought long and hard about the properties of happiness we wanted to focus on. For us, we decided that happiness could be explained through a combination of inner peace and global peace and subsequently decided the theme of this year’s event would be “Peace”, providing a perfect tie-in to concurrent celebrations of Remembrance.

The day itself provided many opportunities for contemplative reflection, along with moments of pure fun and laughter. Our inaugural FeelGoodFest opened the event, a combination of effortlessmusic performances, beautiful poetry and heartfelt messages read aloud by students from all years. Particularly prominent in the morning’s proceedings was a lovely sense of friendship, provided not only by girls themselves thanking their friends for supporting them through thick and thin, but also through a heartwarming rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve got a friend” from Louisa and Anna (Year 13).

Later in the day, as part of our “Laughternoon” festivities, students and staff were treated to a very special performance from comedy duo Harry and Chris, who have appeared on The Russell Howard Hour and sold out three consecutive Edinburgh Fringe shows. This was a real treat indeed, with giggles heard all across the room. Harry and Chris ended their performance with a funny yet touching message of self-love, encouraging everyone to remind themselves that they are “a ten” every once in a while.

A huge thanks must of course go to The Music Department, House Captains and Music Rep for the fabulous House Music event in the afternoon, which may or may not have included a whole-school dance-along to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, a firm Wimbledonian favourite. It was lovely to see students of all ages putting themselves forward to compete on behalf of their houses; a special mention goes to Meredith for winning the House Song category, and to Arnold for their win in the House Ensemble category.

Overall, the day left me with a real sense of the enduring nature of “Wimbledonian Spirit”, with girls smiling through the wet weather and wholeheartedly engaging in the entirety of the event. A final thank you goes to the staff and sixth-formers who led sessions on Inner Peace and Global Peace throughout the day, and to all those who contributed to the organisation of the event, a real WHS team-effort!

I have to agree with the smiling Year 7 who left the school gates on Friday Afternoon with a resolute “well, that was fun”. I couldn’t agree more.

What’s next? Moving on from ‘Growth Mindset’ – 19/10/18

I am sure we all have engraved in our minds the excitingly named Strategic Objective 3.1? It’s ok, this isn’t a test, and I will not be asking for answers on a GROW card… Mr Ben Turner, Assistant Head Pastoral, looks at the next steps in our pastoral programme here at WHS.

The answer –which of course we all knew – is: “Developing a growth mindset across the school”. Ever since Dr Carol Dweck published her paper about the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence, the education community has been clamouring to implement her findings in schools across the globe. Another well-known theory, Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations, depicts the process by which an idea is adopted over time within a community. As Everett’s ‘Laggards’ grapple with how to implement Growth Mindset in their schools is it time for us, as at least ‘early adopters’ if not ‘innovators’ ourselves, to move beyond Dweck’s original research and ask; what’s next?  


As we all know too well, the world is rapidly changing, and the landscape for which we are preparing our students is constantly shifting. A recent Oxford University study estimates that 47% of current jobs are “at risk” of being automated in the next 20 years.[1] The subjects we learn at school are mostly static, two plus two will always equal four and the Battle of Hastings will have always been fought in 1066. Complexity theorist Sam Arbesman[2] argues that facts like these have a ‘half-life’ of utility. Even coding, often touted as ‘the language of the 21st Century’, was first taught using the coding language of BASIC which is now defunct, and today Python is the most popular but will likely not be a decade from now. The challenge for students and educators is putting less value on what we know and more on adaption and improvisation.

Should the next focus then be on what we do with what we know, not what we have learnt or how we have learnt it? Laszlo Bock[3], formally the senior vice president of people operations at Google –  i.e. the guy in charge of hiring the talent for one of the world’s most influential and successful companies – notes that test scores are a worthless criteria for hiring and predict nothing. During Bock’s tenure, the percentage of Google employees without a college education rose to as high as 14% on some teams. What then did Bock value in a candidate? Of course, one cannot dismiss ‘good grades’, many jobs at Google require maths, computing and coding skills but the answer does not reside just in STEM and they certainly have their eyes on much, much more. The number one trait that Google looks for? Cognitive ability – the ability to ‘process on the fly’, to pull together disparate bits of information in order to work on and solve a problem.

Interestingly the other key skill sought by Google? Leadership. This is not the traditional leadership of captains and presidents. It is the leader, who when faced with a problem while a member of a team, at the appropriate time, steps in and leads. And, just as critically, steps back and stops leading and is able to relinquish power. This humility and ownership is an intrinsic part of leadership; to have stepped in with a sense of ownership while having the humility to step back and embrace the ideas of others in order to achieve your ultimate goal of problem solving, together. Perhaps the most telling of Bock’s lessons? The least important trait, so called ‘expertise’ – why would you hire someone that has done something ‘100 times’ before – what genuine innovation is there in repeating the past?

So, where then do these examples leave Strategic Objective 3.1?

I am sure that much of this will not be a surprise for most, but in evolving our thinking, it does raise pertinent questions.

  • What is the difference between embracing challenges and persevering through them and seeking out those challenges as opportunities?
  • When obstacles arise, our common response is grit and resilience but can we do more to shift our thinking to look for opportunities and possibilities; what do we do with what we know once they occur?
  • Innovation is not about ‘thinking outside the box’, it is about creating opportunities inside the box you already have; our hard work and effort are continuous, but as a school, how can we look to make time to create new solutions and ideas?

We proudly embrace failure but we cannot afford to be passive or linear in our thinking. Failures and challenges do not simply come in a procession, one by one; the most successful yet humble human beings are the ones that seek the highs and have experienced the lows and have come back for more regardless. Computers will never replace the agility of thought offered by people who can empathise, communicate and collaborate. It is that we want to engrave in our new Strategic Objectives but more importantly, instil into our girls so they can stride out and lead on the challenges facing us in the 21st century.


[2] The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date, Samuel Arbesman, 2004

[3] Work rules! Insights from inside google that will transform how you live and lead, Laszlo Bock, 2015