Bridging the chasm–collaboration in schools with real people #blimage

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Rachel Jones tagged me in this #blimage post with the image below (source).  You can see the growing list of posts here. The challenge is to write about an image, linking it to education.

There are many ways in which I can interpret this image and link it to education, many of which focus on the paper and all linked to collaboration– which I’m assuming is blank:

The paper is a Scheme of Work or Development Plan.

Planning is vital – teaching really isn’t something which can be made up as you go along.  This can lead to jumping on bandwagons or using the latest resource or tool out of context – remember it’s not about lessons but sequences of learning.  Often, I speak to teachers who plan is isolation.  I would say that this is impossible.  Not only will the resultant work be limited to one educational perspective and be biased toward one set of tools and ideas, it’s just bloody hard work.  Creativity is best set free in a collaborative environments.  Of course, this may mean trying to work with colleagues that do not share your own point of view.  I say that this enriches the plan.  Often, the challenging questions are the best.

So, speak to your colleagues, you know,  the physical ones you could hug before the virtual ones as it’s likely that you are connected via social media to those that would agree with you.  In addition, these people will understand your context and therefore provide appropriate challenge.  Use a collaborative medium such as Google Docs to create living documents that have shared ownership – Schemes of Work and Development Plans should be adapted over and over by anyone that has a stake in them, including young people.

Questions to consider:

  • Is this plan consistent with what our school is trying to achieve?
  • Is the aspiration high enough?
  • Can all members of the team help to meet the aspiration? What support and challenge will be needed?
  • Does this plan / scheme just cover the curriculum or does it go further?

Main mistake: valuing the opinions of those online over those of colleagues in your school.  Just because it’s online by a ‘name’ doesn’t mean that it’s either new or actually that good.

Bridging the chasm: between yourself and colleagues, especially those that don’t share your own views.

The paper is educational research

I remember the summer before taking up my assistant headteacher appointment – I read a lot.  This was a mistake for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the literature is often contradictory.  It’s very helpful if one has a clear vision and understanding of the context one will be working in, but knowledge within a vacuum and without that big-picture context is pointless.  I was happy that I didn’t read many educational blogs on the subject though.  Secondly, I didn’t yet know the people or understand the community both within the school and the arteries and veins connecting the school to the surrounding area.

I am reminded of a conversation I once had when I was a FastTrack teacher around school vision – I argued that although one should have a strong personal philosophy of education and learning, it’s impossible to have a true vision of education without first having a clear understanding of the staff, young people and community within which the school sits.   On reflection, this could be an argument for internal headship candidates and against large academy chains enforcing a one-size-fits-all ethos.

A lesson learnt is that ‘on-boarding’ (the process of joining a new team / school) needs to be much much better.  If you can’t discern the ethos and vision of a school quickly, then there’s trouble.  Development and teaching plans are all well and good, but without the context and without being wrapped in the school’s ethos and values, they become meaningless.

Main mistake: Reading the research without understanding the school context and community.

Bridging the chasm: connect reading and ideas to the individual community and the bigger picture. Have an understanding and respect for the history of a place before making changes.

The paper is school leadership

If you’re not very careful, school leadership can be isolating.  I’m not a hero leader as I prefer to enable others (dynamic CPD it could be called).  That’s not to say that I wriggle out of accountability – taking the blame and owning up to mistakes is a major part of leadership.  However, leadership is also about noticing when people need a hug – even those who seem strong need the occasional hug now and again.  I’ve come to learn over the past two years that many think that senior teams are bonkers, when in fact they often have the best interests of the children in their mind.  This means that teams must be better at communicating the limitations that we operate within.  School have to allow individual wriggle room whilst building a shared ethos.

I would say to ignore the collective wisdom of the twitter verse, at least at first – it’s full of people who have an opinion but no leadership and those who champion aspects (such as wellbeing) whilst their own practice doesn’t match up with what they actually do.  Personally, I’ve felt like leaving teaching many times over the past two years, however  would that be taking the easy way out?

Main mistake: forgetting that people can reinvent themselves on social media – it’s a public lens rather than a true representation of what they actually are. Getting isolated as a leader.

Bridging the chasm: there really isn’t a ‘way’ to teach – it’s what works for the staff and young people.  Yes, blood will boil as a colleague uses a different way, but does it really matter if the organisation’s aims are being met?  Talk to people more and understand the school – this means getting out of the office.

 

In a nutshell –

  • collaborate and reach out to those around you.

 

So, here is my image for you to write about (my own photo):

Geography lesson in an Icelandic schoolhouse skogar museum

 

I look forward to reading your stories, and don’t forget to use the tag #blimage .

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