Driving Outstanding Practice: A Model for Inter-School Collaboration
The case for inter-school collaboration is strong and over the past few years the prominence of collaborative partnerships has grown. Inter-school collaboration creates new opportunities, raises standards, delivers economies of scale, breaks down barriers and improves understanding of different educational contexts and helps teachers work together in a mutually beneficial way.
In October 2012 I contacted a colleague to explore the possibility of building ties between the independent school I had recently moved to and the comprehensive maintained school I had left that summer. At the time, he too was looking to build a collaborative partnership between a number of schools to develop best practice teaching and learning. After a few phone calls to friends, acquaintances and old colleagues, a Saturday meeting was arranged at my home. The purpose of our meeting was to try and pick out the most successful elements of CDP in its various guises and come up with a solution that incorporated them all. Over several brews and a full packet of chocolate hobnobs the Driving Outstanding Practice Programme (or DrOPP) was born. The programme was launched in January 2013 through a local Teaching School Alliance with four schools hosting the half-day events. The initial cohort involved teachers from eight different local schools. The programme was successful and has since branched out to involve more schools and teachers. Since its conception, the principles behind the DrOPP have been used successfully in a range of contexts to help bring teachers together to collaborate and share their ideas and expertise in teaching and learning.
Each event would take a different focus on a key aspect of teaching and learning. These initial events were entitled Achieving Outstanding Teaching and Learning, Best Practice in Assessment for Learning, Driving Improvement Across Classrooms, Encouraging Successful Student-led Learning and Differentiation for Key Learner Groups. We allocated these topics to a school where there was a strength or a particular area of interest. Each event followed its own agenda depending on the nature of the topic or preference of the facilitator and held during a morning or an afternoon.
Before starting the programme with a new cohort we asked each teacher to produce a one-page profile of themselves, their areas of expertise and three things they hoped to gain from the programme. Apart from being a nice way to introduce the cohort to one another, these profiles were extremely useful in tailoring events and pairing teachers with similar objectives. In order to personalise the programme for each teacher the lead members of staff from each school, acting as facilitators, would get together to discuss networking opportunities, not only amongst teachers on the course, but between those teachers and the staff at the school they were visiting. In the past this has allowed us to a pair a newly appointed Head of Science with an established Science Faculty Leader, a teacher looking to develop the use of ICT in her subject with a teacher who effectively used a departmental blog and Twitter feed and teachers looking to introduce a new syllabus with those having taught the specification for several years. We were able to set up most of these meetings by asking the relevant staff to pop along during a free period, break or lunchtime. No matter what was the format or focus of the event we also tried ensured the following principles were always applied.
Whenever I go on a course, visit an exhibition or take part in INSET I want to come away with something. A free pen, or two, will often suffice but whenever the focus is teaching and learning I’m always looking for a new idea, a strategy or a resource I can potentially adopt. When I get the chance to talk with other professionals I also want to learn from their expertise. Therefore, each event would start with an opportunity for small groups to bring along an idea related to the focus of the event to share with others, very much in a teach meet style. As the events progressed these slots for sharing ideas and practice also focused on any actions or implementation from the previous meeting. For example, what the teachers tried and how it went. In order to ensure no one missed and idea or resource it also worked well to collate all of the ideas and resources via email following an event. At the end of the programme these were then shared as a bank of resources on a memory stick or posted on a sharing site. These resources build into an extremely valuable source of expertise that everyone can come back to later.
So much teacher training takes place without the pupils being around. Instead, we wanted our delegates to discuss teaching and learning and then experience it first-hand. In most cases we were able to do this with a series of short learning walks following a discussion, sharing of ideas or a demonstration from a facilitator. This gave delegates the opportunity to immediately observe and reflect. For example, after a session on questioning, delegates were able to observe a series of lessons with the purpose of identifying good practice techniques. Other approaches involved interviewing a panel of students about how they learn best, departmental tours with Heads of Department and receiving feedback on lesson plans from pupils. It is always a privilege to walk into another teacher’s lesson and see how others operate in a different context. The opportunity to do this was highly regarded by everyone on the course.
In each event we also found time for a bit of ‘sage on the stage’. This normally involved one or more of the facilitators presenting new ideas or a selection of teachers from the home school showcasing strategies in a carousel. Once again, this offers a great opportunity for delegates to take away new ideas. All schools deal with things differently and this presented the opportunity to invite middle and senior leaders to share whole-school policies and procedures and future plans.
From the outset the impetus of the DrOPP has been to get teachers having an impact and driving change within their own schools. In order to help teachers embed what they had picked up at each event we set a beyond event challenge. During the early event this would simply involve trying out a new idea within their own classrooms, but would quickly progress into coaching others, leading department training and developing a new whole-school initiative. These beyond event challenges also helped maintain enthusiasm following an event and gave delegates a channel to make improvements in their own schools.
For the final event of the DrOPP we allowed individuals and groups of teachers to share the initiatives they had developed within their own contexts through a showcase event. Apart from being a nice way to end the course, these showcases gave teachers the chance to see how the ideas they had previously shared had been transformed and adapted to meet the needs of others in a different context, whether that be subject, stage or type of school.
There have been times when I have wondered if an event will run as smoothly as we had hoped. Of course, some events work better than others, but the main thing that always seems to click is the people. Put like-minded teachers in a room, give them a stimulus, give them quality time and they will do the rest. The DrOPP is a common sense approach to CPD, but for any course to be effective there had to be a real commitment to release teachers for several days and give them the opportunity and platform to drive change.