I was very taken with this graphic when I saw it on a post of one of my LinkedIn colleagues. It seemed to perfectly sum up my conception of a school as a collaborative organism.
I addressed this theme in both Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success. The secret to sustainable improvement in schools is to harness the power of the expertise you already have in the school in collaborative ways. Having worked in and with schools in special measures, and in high performance, the thing that struck me was that the main differences promoting success was not uniformity of effort, but creating an environment where each member of staff was able to contribute to defining and achieving the common goals.
Too often, in secondary schools, in particular, the hegemony of the subject department means that content and not learning process dominates development time. Ironically, as learning organisations, schools are often woeful in promoting learning between staff.
This leads to the standard INSET day being a series of stand-alone events, rather than a development process of internal sharing and focus. Often this is most apparent in the implementation phase of new learning technologies and software. A technical wizard often shows what the buttons do, without addressing how the new tool or software can enhance the quality, range and depth of the learning on offer whilst enhancing the productivity of the teacher. This was the experience with learning platforms and interactive whiteboards and explains why neither technologies were able to drive school improvement in the ways anticipated.
An improving school needs to create collaborative time so that teams can work together to reflect on and in practice as to which approaches are successful in engaging learners and promoting successful outcomes. These approaches should be enhanced and those which do not work should be abandoned. In this way, success becomes a shared capital, and is not invested in individuals, but is the property of teams.
The real killer of progressive improvement in schools is ‘in-house’ variations in progress. Too often this has been laid at the door of the ‘weakness’ of individual teachers, rather than structural impediments to improvements. Too much energy has been wasted on remediating failure, rather than promoting success.