Mutual Benefit

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Do schools work together?

Some schools work together with a ‘benefit’ mindset whilst plenty of schools like to keep themselves to themselves.

What do the most influential voices in education have to say about schools working (or not working) together?

Real Progress

A fabulous new book called Progress by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman, shares a few insights and in this accessible ‘Best of the Best’ title Professor John Hattie says,

“Competition between schools can lead to educational establishments isolating themselves. But collaboration is invaluable. Seek out opportunities to visit other schools and discover what creative solutions they may have found for issues that your own school is facing. You could set up a shared electronic folder, website or chatroom where colleagues from neighbouring schools can exchange ideas, resources and experiences, post images or video clips and discuss innovations.”

Sound advice indeed but how many schools pro-actively interact with a neighbour and share some sugar? It would be nice to think that schools are all working for the common good and extending each other CPD, tips, opportunities and sharing facilities but how commonplace is this?

Another contribution to the book Progress makes a similar point. Professor Andy Hargreaves urges schools to work with neighbours and competitors, team up, exchange and share best practice,

“If your fellow educationalists down the road have already invented the wheel, you may as well borrow their pattern and swap it for a ground-breaking invention of your own. Learners benefit when schools work together to pool their best ideas and collaboratively develop them even further; they can be disadvantaged when schools – through a sense of competition – insist on acting in isolation.”

What’s In It For Me?

Schools should be working together but often aren’t because they have a fixed mindset with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude and that amounts to #fail. There’s nothing wrong with protecting your assets but by not sharing our social, intellectual and practical capital we don’t do ourselves any favours. Doing others favours breeds a different mentality and a “What’s in it for us?” benefit mindset that helps curious and creative thinking to flourish.

A ‘Me, Myself and I’ school operates in a silo but schools aren’t supposed to be isolated communities. There are plenty of schools that plough their own furrow and stick to their guns because of ideology or stubbornness to change but ultimately they shoot themselves in the foot because they miss glorious opportunities to join forces and share expertise and facilities.  Andy Hargreaves suggests,

“Exchange or donate staff for a few hours a week to assist in areas where one of you is a bit further ahead than the other. If you lift each other up, you will lift yourselves up in the process.”

No school should be an island but there are island schools neighbouring each other literally side by side. Think about what message that sends out to the pupils. Does this create a ‘them and us’ attitude? Almost certainly. Does it create barriers and obstacles? Definitely. Does it foster mutual benefit? No.

What’s In It For All Of Us?

Having a network of support is essential and schools should strive to help each other and develop healthy relationships: state and state, private and private, state and private, cross-phase.

One great example of where this does take place is Schools Together, a site that celebrates and encourages partnership projects between independent schools, maintained schools and local communities. Schools Together is supported and maintained by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in collaboration with the Department for Education and the Independent/State Schools Partnership (ISSP).

It  showcases cross-sector collaborations and also provides advice about setting up successful partnerships and helps schools to find partners and ideas for future projects.

“There are many flourishing independent state school partnerships, all well established and offering a myriad of opportunities and benefits.”

With over 1600 projects, Schools Together showcases the power of collaborating – for some Dos and Don’ts then take a look at ‘Thinking of setting up an independent-state school partnership?’

Schools have such a lot to learn from each and share and failing to capitalise on this wealth means we fail to upgrade and uplift ourselves. Self-centred schools have to be outward looking and open to the rich trappings of collaboration or be seen by the schools next door as the neighbours from hell. Try knocking on the door of a neighbour and get to know them, touch base with them regularly and keep them in the loop. Keep the channels of communication open, invite each other over for CPD coffee and press the ‘share’ button – that’s Progress.

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. I am the teacher without a tongue. www.johndabell.com

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