Do Something Different at School

Taking Do Something Different into classrooms with fantastic results

Posted Apr 26, 2014

My blogs on Psychology Today normally discuss some aspect of the psychology of change (or non-change, as is often the case!) and the way in which doing new things – rather than trying to change thinking – can help break negative cycles.

In this blog I thought I would try something new and present the results of a couple of projects done in UK schools by one of our Do Something Different partners. These are real-world projects done in real schools for very pragmatic reasons – they are not research projects.

The Do partner is Martin Bailey who is a trained social worker of 20 years experience with a particular expertise in communicating with children and engaging with parents who are resistant to work with the national child protection agencies.

Martin has recently completed two Do Something Different projects with very different objectives.

The first of these was at a school and targeted 13-14 year olds pupils in a high or secondary school who were identified as in danger of exclusion from school because of their behaviour.

The second, run in an elementary or primary school, involved 23 teaching assistants, and was designed to help them to embrace changes being made by the new head teacher and some issues identified in a recent government (OfSTED) inspection.

Martin says that the Do Something Different approach is hugely effective in schools because it easily accommodated within the timetable and is genuinely different to anything pupils or teachers have ever seen before.

Martin explains: “I use the Do Something Different programme with its online diagnostics which tailors the programme to the individual. Do’s are then delivered by text message as the main agent of change.”

“I then run brief one-to-one or group sessions with the Do-ers once a week or once a fortnight. We talk about how they did their Do’s, what happened, and about the habits that get in the way of them doing new things. It’s amazing how excited people get when they start to realise how all the little things are slowly adding up to big changes in their lives. Instead of school staff confronting pupils behaviour, Do Something Different gets pupils to confront their own – and this is part of the change process.”

Pupils’ respond positively
Martin says that watching the 13 year-olds respond to their Do’s is amazing: “These are children who are not generally engaging properly with lessons and have persistent behavioural problems. it was amazing to see one pupil backing down from an argument with a teacher on ‘Give Way  Day’ and another coming in with a new haircut and polished shoes on ‘Smarten Up Day’. These show the power of Do Something Different. Even the most disruptive or resistant children seem to respond to something that is delivered by technology and has a real sense of fun.”

A big reduction in disruptive behaviour
Once the programme finished, pupils were invited to complete the online diagnostic again. This allows the school to see what has changed for the pupils overall. Martin explains that there were significant improvements for all the pupils who completed the programme.

“We saw improvement in anxiety and stress. We saw increases in confidence and optimism. But possibly the most important assessment came from the children’s teachers. They said that you could see these children changing in their attitude to school. Something had shifted. Of eight children who were at a significant risk of exclusion before the programme began, five were thought to be unlikely to be at risk of exclusion at the end.”

Head Teacher, Mrs Upton told the pupils: “The changes we see in you are amazing. I wish I could do the programme myself”.

Teaching staff embrace change
Meanwhile, back in the staff room at the elementary/primary school, the teaching assistants also responded positively to their Do programme. Do’s prompted positive interaction between staff as well as encouraging new and exciting ways to engage with students.

‘Learn Something New Day’ led to children engaging with making paper airplanes with great thought and creativity. ‘New Way Day’ led to an exciting history walk in the local town. ‘No Moan Day’ saw staff praising children more readily. Head teacher, Mrs Collins says, “Instead of talking about the children, the staff now talk to the children “

A positive step towards an improving school
At the end of the programme, there were really positive shifts in lots of behaviours:

  • Confidence levels up 27%:
    “I have thrown myself into my Do activities and grown in confidence”
  • Able to enjoy change increased by 12%:
    “Some changes were hard but then I started to enjoy change and what it can bring in school and life outside of school.”
  • Feeling positive increased by 9%:
    “As Do Something Different has gone on, things have got better.”
  • Open mindedness up 11%:
    “I stood in line with the children waiting for lunch rather than jumping to the front. Chatting to the children and having a catch up with how they are doing was nice.”
  • Able to deal with problems up 10%:
    “I procrastinate less and feel better about myself and life in general.”

Return On Investment
Since the teaching assistants completed their Do programme, the senior leadership team (SLT) was asked to rate each member of staff for efficiency (struggling; satisfactory; good; very good). The SLT feel that 21 of the 23 staff had made significant improvements. Three staff made 50% improvements in work standards/efficiency and three more made 33% improvements.

Martin calculates this equates to a significant return on investment (ROI): “Based on the initial investment and ONLY calculating efficiency uplift for low paid, part time staff, we calculate that the programme pays for itself within three months and doubles its ROI by the second term. Of course, there are all of the benefits for the children they teach enjoying better quality teaching on top. It pays to Do!”

We use a multitude of Do Something Different programmes extensively in schools nationally with both staff and students to change behaviour, raise aspirations and lift general wellbeing.

It is also worth noting that Martin has embraced Do Something Different in his own life. One ‘Do’ on a Do Something Different programme lead him to co-write a book and another to eating fish and meat for the first time in 25 years.

Interested readers download a pdf about another Do Something Different case study on teenagers can be found at


About the Author

Ben C. Fletcher, D.Phil, Oxon, is a professor of psychology, a behavior change expert, and the author of Flex: Do Something Different — How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

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