Embracing collaboration and leadership

Jill Berry

Following a 30 year career in education, during which she taught English and assumed different leadership roles across six schools, Jill finished as a full-time head in 2010. Since then, she has divided her time between studying for a Professional Doctorate in Education, working as an educational consultant and serving as an Associate within the International Division of the National College for Teaching and Leadership. She lives in the Midlands.

Follow @jillberry102

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article is based on a presentation given at Teaching and learning Leeds (#TLLeeds) held at GSAL (The Grammar School at Leeds) on Saturday 2nd July 2016. Collaboration was the central theme of the conference.

“Great schools rarely go it alone. The most successful schools are not isolated and separate from their local community and other schools but actively encourage and embrace interaction with others. This approach has led to complementary benefits.” (Buck, 2016)

"Schools which encourage collaboration can thrive."

Why is it important to look outwards, both as schools and leaders within our schools? How can leaders at all levels - middle leaders, senior leaders and heads - benefit from collaboration both within their school communities and across different schools? What can any teacher - as all are leaders of learning in their own classrooms – both give and gain from collaborating with others?

Collaboration is difficult, perhaps financially straitened times, when we feel under pressure from high stakes accountability measures, and when we are coping with rapidly paced change, can seem almost counter-intuitive. Should we not simply batten down the hatches and focus on our own schools, and, within those schools, on our own classrooms? Do partnerships, dialogue and sharing take valuable time and energy when our priority, perhaps as a school that Requires Improvement or is in Special Measures, should be our own practice? As Steve Munby, when he was Chief Executive of the National College, was fond of saying, “When the watering hole begins to shrink, the animals start to look at each other differently.

And yet schools which encourage collaboration and a broader perspective, which focus on making the most of the complementary skills of all staff across the organisation, and which are committed to both supporting and learning from those in other schools, can thrive. Collaboration can strengthen us, and, arguably, if we are currently constrained by an RI or SM judgement, that is when we most need to develop and grow stronger. It is also when we need to recognise acutely that, whatever the overarching inspection judgement, there will be plenty of examples of good practice in the organisation - strong departments, highly capable individuals, who have expertise they can share with others within and beyond the school, which can reinforce their sense of self efficacy and help others to grow.

As Dylan Wiliam has said, we need to focus on working AS a team, not just IN a team. Being clear about the potential positive contribution of individuals and groups across the school, and recognising areas for development and what we can also gain from what others have to offer, is key. In this way the whole of the team, and of the school, can be greater than the sum of its parts. And knowing that we have supported others, and expressing gratitude for help we have received, can serve to boost our confidence and help to address negative stress, as Alex Quigley explores in The Confident Teacher (2016).

Building on the positives can also take us further than fixating on the negatives. The principle of Appreciative Enquiry, a credit rather than a deficit mode of institutional improvement, encourages us to seek out the ‘bright spots’, focussing on and learning from what is going well rather than simply being preoccupied with what is broken and how we can fix it. This idea of finding the bright spots is at the heart of Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (2011) and it is also a key idea explored by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby in Making Every Lesson Count. When we plan collaboration and work in partnership within our schools and across our schools, an Appreciative Enquiry approach can take us far.

"There needs to be parity of contribution, as everyone has something to offer and something to gain."Collaboration across schools, sharing with and learning from others, has gained momentum in recent years with the development of social networking for educational professional development: Twitter, blogging and spin-off events such as TeachMeets and conferences. Often virtual contacts lead to face-to-face meetings and develop into even more dynamic, supportive relationships which have mutual benefit. As Bridges claims (2001), “People who share certain kinds of experience in common stand in a special position in terms of understanding those shared aspects of experience”, so meeting others at a similar stage of their professional journey (for example through programmes such as NPQML, NPQSL and NPQH, or induction events for new school leaders) can prove reassuring and a source of practical guidance and learning. Barber et al (2010) refer to the power of this “lateral learning”, as you collaborate with your peers. There needs to be parity of contribution, as everyone has something to offer and something to gain. As David Carter, the National Schools Commissioner, explored in his address at The Telegraph Festival of Education on the 23rd June 2016, true partnerships involve both partners giving and benefiting.

Those who use Twitter regularly may well be familiar with online chats: subject chats, and those for middle leaders (#MLTchat) and senior leaders (#SLTchat) which offer the opportunity to engage online with those in similar roles facing similar challenges and sharing opportunities, advice and salutary experiences. I remember one #SLTchat in October 2012 where one of the topics was Managing Challenging Conversations. After the dynamic exchange of experiences, advice, debate and reflection, it struck me that this could be the best possible preparation for any leader going into school the next morning to “eat the frog” of a difficult conversation. Benefiting from the virtual discussion of how such conversations could best be prepared for and conducted might enable us to ensure a win-win outcome whereby both participants feel more positive by the end of the meeting, and a constructive way forward identified.

Twitter as a collaborative mechanism may have its detractors, but I think of the advice that, “If you are the most intelligent person in the room, you need a bigger room.” It seems to me that Twitter is The Room.

So think of how you gained from collaboration within your school, and across schools, in the last academic year, and also consider what you have brought to the table, and how others may have benefited from your contribution.

How might you make even more positive, constructive and mutually enriching use of collaboration this year?

Thank you for reading.

Allison, S. and Tharby, A. (2015) Making Every Lesson Count Camarthen : Crown House
Barber, M., Whelan, F., Clark, M. (2010) Capturing the Leadership Premium: How the World’s Top School Systems are Building Leadership Capacity McKinsey and Company Report
Bridges, D. (2001) The Ethics of Outsider Research
Buck, A. (2014) What Makes a Great School? 3rd edition (Kindle Edition) Leadership Matters:
Quigley, A. (2016) The Confident Teacher Abingdon : Routledge

How will you embrace collaboration going forward? Let us know below!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"