Schools creating a culture of shared-learning and collaboration.

Wednesday, 4th October 2017

Creating a culture of shared-learning and collaboration.

Having recently completed school-based research on creating a culture of shared-learning and collaboration across departments within a faculty, I wanted to share with you some of the main outcomes as to whether this style of environment does have a positive influence on teachers’ professional development, progress and subsequently improve students’ academic performance.

The evidence I collected and analysed highlighted the importance of establishing a culture that primarily focuses on the professional relations developed amongst staff and, secondly, between staff and students. However, as all school leaders know, this can only be achieved through significant, meaningful and authentic engagement at all levels of the school structure – from the classroom to departmental meetings; from line management discussions to the development of professional communities.

Within the research I undertook the academic performance of students who are taught by teachers who were collaborative across a wider faculty achieved higher levels of academic progression compared to those students who are taught by teachers that have less of a collaborative network. This probably comes as no surprise to the most effective school leader. Nevertheless, initiating and sustaining interventions such as these, requires hard work and commitment from all levels of a faculty.

My research demonstrated that a faculty can build a change on culture, thereby establishing continual improvement, but the change management processes need to establish a moral purpose. Establishing a culture that motivates and challenges people from inaction to action is fundamental. This can easily be achieved through interaction; the sharing of success, failure and uncertainties; and through the flexibility of leadership utilising a variety of leadership styles. The latter point was an essential one throughout my research. Providing a leadership style that aligns all stakeholders around a culture that improves student outcomes by increasing teacher effectiveness requires a significant change management effort. Applying an holistic mechanism to facilitate that change is an important one as it brings departments in line with the team faculty. However, using a variety of styles and approaches is equally as important, as this enables teams to shift and develop goals quickly, primarily those focused on student learning and the growth of student, parental and staff mind-sets.

One of the main conclusions within the research was that it is essential for senior leadership teams to review and choose their approach carefully if they are to develop an effective culture. The importance of involving all staff cannot be underestimated.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that this is not a linear process. Understanding change,  the successful building of relationships within teams and the importance of subject knowledge adds to the complexity of this journey. Creating a roadmap of all initiatives and strategically making decisions about priorities is important. Motivating teams and staff contributes significantly to moving from a culture based on compliance to one driven by high performance. Therefore, designate staff to track milestones, identify issues and assign the right people to implement the strategies. Determine what can be stopped or delayed based on resource constraints.

Those engaged on school improvement must place an importance on exhorting teaching staff to question and probe their surroundings, by looking for practice and attitudes that are barriers to developing positive education practices. Focusing on improving the culture of a department and school may be challenging for some, but the results generated within my research demonstrates that by focusing on this area, enhancing student academic performance can be achieved.

As Skinner (1965) discussed, when what we have taught has been forgotten, what remains will be the cultures and behaviours we experienced. The evidence within my research highlights that the importance of creating a positive and collaborative educational climate cannot be underestimated. It is important that teaching staff work together in order to achieve this collective purpose of learning for all and that consistency amongst staff is also important and the mechanisms of professional development within the classroom setting should always be placed at the forefront of school improvement.

If you would like a full copy of my research, please email me at dean@castleseducation.co.uk and I will be happy to share this with you.

Dean Thomas-Lowde
Partner – Castles Education
dean@castleseducation.co.uk