Making collaboration make a difference

[First published by Headteacher Update magazine June 2014]

Top Tips: How to ensure Collaboration & Partnership make an Impact where it matters most


If “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, then you must play your part, to ensure that our profession is seen as more than just the data that we report on…
Across our networks of schools[1], collaboration has been consistently climbing higher and higher up the agenda. With the Education Select Committee having recently published a report which goes as far as recommending funding should be made available to support it,  schools are increasingly seeking out networks, to benefit from what Andy Hargreaves would call our shared Professional Capital[2].


Yet there remains an irony in primary schools; that whilst the expertise of the profession is very much within our schools, we are, as a profession, much more reticent about self-proclamation.


Usually, this is because with limited capacity to be able to visit other classrooms, let alone other schools, teachers and leaders often mistakenly assume that others are also displaying the same innovative practice, or applying the same research informed strategy. That’s usually not the case! There are so many amazing, inspiring things taking place in schools across the country, and many of us who have the privilege of visiting different schools every day, are able to see this vast collation of professional expertise; sometimes literally bursting (!) out of classrooms, school buildings and outdoor spaces.


As such, the role of national networks and indeed the more localised work of Teaching Schools, is increasingly about sourcing innovation and inspiration and disseminating it across schools in creative ways. For example, we have seen phenomenal demand for places at free-to-attend twilights such as TeachMeet and Speed Learning. This is perhaps in part because it is not supply cover or budget dependent, and perhaps also due to the quality, breadth and depth of practitioner sharing now known to be available through this model. Unlike many professions, teachers respect and trust each other and see opportunities like these as a unique and easy way to benefit from that collective expertise.

Arguably, reflecting a gradual increase in confidence as a profession.


True collaboration, rather than professional development dissemination, is a non-hierarchical activity. Collaboration is about looking at a problem or idea together. It’s about planning, discussing, debating, reflecting and a shared ownership of implementation. As such, collaboration for our profession is about all 250,00 people within our professional workforce connecting together; (albeit not all at the same time!); looking beyond school data and Ofsted outcomes, designations and statuses, and instead communicating effectively together to work towards raised outcomes.


But for many schools, particularly those who are located remotely or tackling different challenges to nearby colleagues, identifying which schools to connect with and brokering those relationships can be difficult. One of the many ways to approach this is through using publicly available data – such as Edubase which includes filters and information to be able to refine down to a few schools with the most in common in order to make connections and discuss practice.


The key theme amongst all of these kinds of activities is connectedness as seen in the informal social online world, and across user and consumer communities. In other words connecting with purpose. Collaboration is fundamentally based on two way communication, and mutual benefit. Collaboration is successful where individual people communicate about something that is personal, relevant, timely, sustainable, achievable and motivating.


With this in mind, how often do we openly discuss strategies for professional communication and collaboration within school? For example,


  • How often do you, as a leader, engage in discussion with your staff about the specific skills involved in collaborating (or communicating professional ideas to others)?


  • How often do you scaffold (rather than just encourage) your staff to openly and pro-actively share their successes and strategies?


  • How often do you actively encourage your staff (not just the high performing leaders and teachers), to share a single aspect of their practice, with others?


  • Thinking about the opportunities for collaboration, networking and partnership available – what could you share into these, and what would you hope to benefit from them? (Ensuring that you undertake the professional and moral responsibility to both give and take!).


These important elements of professional learning are as central to professional collaboration as they are to the collaborative learning of the children within your classes. Can we really expect one without the other?


So, reflect on the questions above, and stop being so modest! You, and your staff, have so much to share with each other, and beyond your school walls. Try a few of these ideas this term:


  • Build an ‘idea of the week’ board in your staffroom to add post-it notes to. Informal, Simple and great for catalysing conversations between staff.


  • Hold a staffroom Learning Lunch with staff volunteers sharing a five-minute input on a research project, research finding, or research question (and all bringing in a plate of something tasty to share!)


  • Run a Thinking-Thursday where staff take turns to pose a challenging question on the staffroom noticeboard and engage colleagues in thinking about and discussing a key issue. Great for trying ideas out, reflecting over the weekend, planning for the week ahead and returning energized on a Monday morning!


  • Collate a Good Ideas Scrapbook with staff each contributing a 1 page article on their own classroom actions. Celebrate these collations in the same way that you celebrate children’s end of project outcomes.


  • Join in with Teach Meet or Speed Learning to share a practical idea around a table with other teachers – great for building staff confidence in sharing their classroom actions, and for sourcing new ideas for your school.



But most importantly, find a way for all your staff to celebrate their own achievements and share in one or more of the ways that you choose. In our classrooms we don’t just promote the work of our high attaining children, and neither should we do that with our staff. Instead, keep the idea sharing small and practical – everyone is good at something and no-one is good at everything.

Then build in progression; enabling your staff to share a simple classroom idea or whole school activity through local networking events or or case study contributions. These provide a wider audience to build more confidence in your staff as professionals, and this starts them on the journey to sharing locally, regionally and nationally.

That continuum, is how we practically start making our wider workforce contribute to our wider professional capital. It doesn’t mean losing your staff to the wider world; it means challenging them to seek out and bring back new ideas and reflections on their own practice.


So stop being so modest, and stop your staff being so modest.

Our profession should stand up, be seen to celebrate itself, and be seen to share practice readily and confidently.

What will you do next?



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