The 7 Sandhurst Questions Every Teacher Needs To Know

In an effort to improve standards and safeguard against mishaps, strategies used in the military are increasingly being explored by education professionals.

Major General Paul Nanson’s book Stand Up Straight is a book worth plonking into any staffroom or CPD library.

Why? It’s full of life lessons from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and what he has to say applies to personal and professional lives beyond the army.

One of the areas this book focuses on is being prepared. The Army have to be battle ready and with that comes gold standard planning and preparation to cover all bases and every eventuality.

When we plan for “whatever may happen” then we give ourselves a fighting chance and that doesn’t just apply to the battlefield. We might be planning a holiday but just how much preparation do we actually do?

The would-be officers at Sandhurst are taught a proposed course of action using a technique know as ‘The Seven Questions’ and I think teachers could easily tap into this to make their own planning and preparation more effective. One thing is for sure – teacher training colleges and universities don’t teach this but they should.

The Seven Questions are:

1. What is the situation and how does it affect me?

2. What have I been told to do and why?

3. What effects do I need to achieve and what direction must I give to develop my plan?

4. Where can I best accomplish each action or effect?

5. What resources do I need to accomplish each action or effect?

6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?

7. What control measures do I need to impose?

It seems to me that when we plan we don’t go deep enough and make sure we have planned for whatever may happen. Can you honestly say that when you have planned for a big event such as a school trip then you have “a fundamental understanding of a situation”?

The risk assessment process is normally well-considered and signed-off with the best of intentions but how much of a detailed understanding has every scenario been put under scrutiny? Are all potential problems and possible solutions on the table?

Clearly, like a battle, you cannot plan for the way life unfolds in a classroom but we can plan for every likely and unlikely scenario as close as we can imagine different situations to be.

The questions are agile and flexible enough to be tweaked in the moment. This is a an ‘estimate’ of what could happen, a logical sequence of reasoning and thought, providing a systematic approach to problem-solving.

We have to plan with thought, consider a variety of factors and plan for them accordingly. It makes us better decision-makers. As Nanson says,

The Seven Questions exercise, or ‘Combat Estimate’ as it is sometimes called, is used to provide a logical handrail to aid better decision making.

Why use this?

The 7Qs are really very useful for 4 main reasons:

  • It helps overcome difficulties encountered when under pressure and when you may be tired and frightened.
  • It provides a record of hard thinking and justifies your planning to others.
  • It provides a measure of reassurance that you have adopted the most effective solutions to possible situations.
  • It allows the dynamic evaluation of a plan in light of a change in the situation.

We can’t rely on our instincts when it comes to planning which is why a methodical problem-solving model like this is so valuable because it aims to consider everything so that no factors are overlooked.

From a teacher training perspective, this combat planning tool has many added advantages. For example, trainee teachers can be encouraged to undertake and present their 7Q estimates to their mentors and this can provide the sound basis for discussion about ‘what ifs’.

This seven-question estimate, provides a concise structure by which many aspects of planning can be considered. It should help teachers in their approach to complex teaching, learning and assessment situations.

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