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Now this … This is our kind of book.

We love clever, witty design, we love illustration and we love anything that challenges us to think. ‘My School Improvement Doodle Book’ adds one more masterstroke — doodles.

In our experience, doodles have too long been the preserve of staff meetings — afternoons lost in a scribbling reverie of triangles, clouds and stairs (“Sorry? What? I was listening… It just helps me concentrate…”) In ‘My School Improvement Doodle Book’, Ben Keeling takes the humble doodle and turns it into a thing of wisdom. The above quote by Charles Mingus is so pertinent to ‘MSIDB’. The most effective logos, typefaces, stories — whatever — are so often the simplest ones. And yet, to try to start from scratch and convey an idea using a handful of lines or a limited number of words is incredibly hard. In pulling this off, Ben Keeling demonstrates he is clearly a talented thinker as well as designer.

Apart from the foreword and two-page introduction, ‘My School Improvement Doodle Book’ contains few words. Each facing page has a title (often slightly cryptic), followed by three Post-It notes containing doodles. Simple? Yes, but so so thought-provoking. Here’s our favourite…

What would have taken other authors hundreds of words to convey, Ben Keeling manages with 9 words, 3 Post-Its and a doodle of an empty jar. It’s such a positive message and because it’s so simply done, it becomes more effective. This one wouldn’t go amiss above your desk in your classroom — as a reminder to never write pupils off.

There are fifty sets of three Post-Its in ‘My School Improvement Doodle Book’, covering subjects ranging from our role as teachers to leadership and a school ethos. Not every page is immediately obvious, but that adds to the effectiveness of the book — its power comes with the thoughts and questions it provokes.

For example, here’s a set of questions we came up with to go with the ‘Life lessons’ set of doodles.

Big questions, big themes. Now imagine the sorts of discussions that could arise in an whole-school INSET session or SLT meeting by displaying enlarged versions of those Post-Its and getting staff to come up with questions to answer. Or involving the whole school community, from caretaker to dinner supervisors, getting them answer the question ‘What are the life lessons we want to send students away with?’ Or having class discussions on what life lessons pupils would value the most (We’d imagine that this book would work really well in a class situation). From three doodles, a school ethos could arise.

At the back of the book are several pages of blank notes, for the reader to invent their own doodles (in fact, on Ben Keeling’s website there’s a neat little tool to create your own online). Inspired by this, we had a go at our own set of three notes on the subject of Sparky Teaching…

They took forever to come up with and yet they’re not witty, topical and probably won’t make you think! Including the blank Post-Its is a masterstroke by the author — it serves to prove just how much thought has gone into the book. The word ‘simple’ features heavily in people’s comments (and, indeed, in this review), but in some ways this does Ben Keeling a disservice. As long-time admirers of Quentin Blake, we understand how much effort and skill is involved in distilling a theme into it’s simplest form. Edward Tufte (we have to keep citing other people — there aren’t a whole lot of words in the book to quote!), once said “Good design is a lot like clear thinking made visual.”

On the surface, the doodles in ‘My School Improvement Doodle Book’ may look simple.

But we’d rather describe them as clear thinking. Made visual.


As a footnote and on the subject of simple designs, here’s one of our ‘Caution! Minds at work’ posters. If you’d like a copy of it (and 25 others) for your classroom, click here.

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So, what do you think?

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