Why I love collaborative working… by @susansenglish

Collaboration: it underpins everything I believe is important in teaching and perhaps life itself. Now, that is a massive statement and some might suggest that it is slightly hyperbolic. However, if you think about it some of the things we value as individuals and as a society come about as a result of collaboration. While not all-encompassing; relationships or marriage, having children and friendships are three of the positive life benefits, which I believe derive directly as a result of positive collaboration.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Susan Strachan and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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This brings me nicely to: why collaborative working practices are so hugely important.

Sharing Resources

In our department I’d suggest this is a positive strength, as a team, that we have. This doesn’t mean it is perfect, like any other practice some embrace it more than others, but on the whole we do it well.

My first reasoning for sharing resources is mainly time based. If I can save time by using an excellent resource and not reworking the wheel then brilliant. Also it helps me as I can look at and adapt for my own purposes the PowerPoint or resource that has been sent around and before you know it I’ve shaved my planning time down and I’m happy as I’ve benefited from another member of the teams excellent work. It also saves me time with the thinking process as sometimes, you know where you are going and what would work, but just need a nudge in the right direction on how to achieve the next step. I cannot explain how grateful I have been in the past when I’ve just needed a prompt on where to go next, then in my in-box, pops a lesson that might need a tweak but just does what I needed next well. We can get so caught up in term time with the amount we need to do that we forget about this simple but effective time-saving and efficient use of each other’s expertise.

Secondly, I actually enjoy seeing how others plan and adapt lessons and the SOW to their own style. It can be a real wealth of CPD, as we all work slightly differently and teach in slightly different ways, but if you share resources I believe you are sharing a little bit of your way of teaching. Sometimes, I will get an e-mail with a resource and think “I’m not sure how to use this” which leads to a learning conversation about the thinking behind the resource. It has led me to reflect on my own practice and really consider whether my preferred methods of teaching need to be, could be or should be adapted. If the resources weren’t shared in the first place, these opportunities would be few and far between and I believe that would be a real loss.

Thirdly, I like sharing what I have done. Not in a narcissistic ‘look at me and how wonderful I am’ way, rather as an encouragement and help for others. We all have lives outside of teaching and if something that worked in my classroom can be used by others then fantastic. Also, we talk within the department about how useful it is to receive resources and to share these, so by doing this I’m not just talking it up, I’m walking the walk too.

Obviously, the downside to this is a plethora of e-mails at times! I know this is the bane of many teachers lives so I suggest if it is an e-mail about resource sharing that in the title of the e-mail, you should pop the year group/SOW that the e-mail relates to, meaning if it is going to be irrelevant the receiver can delete or file for future reference.

Discussion based collaboration

It may have come across a couple of times already that I love a chat. Collaboration based discussion is just a posh way of saying talk to each other. Many a time, I have popped into a classroom to have a chat about an e-mail or question for a teacher and then asked about the lesson written up on the board, as it looks interesting. Or, just in the workroom at lunchtime or break time, when we are sat innocuously around eating our lunch or grabbing a cup of coffee. We do chat about other things but I’m pretty loud and excitable as a person and if something went well or not so well I’ll tell people and they in return share what worked for them. It’s great and a department that can have these conversations is well on the way to good collaborative practice.

This also extends to discussions with teachers that I share classes with. A-Level is always split and these conversations about how and what and why the students are learning with my partner teacher gives me a real insight into what works with the students I have in front of me at the time. This form of collaboration ensures we are both on the same page, we both know what the strengths and weaknesses are for that particular group, what the gaps in knowledge are, again for that group and means we ensure that the students get the best possible experience from us and all because we talk to each other. Some might suggest this isn’t really collaboration but I think it is hugely beneficial and needs to be a common-place and natural part of any department.

Cross-curriculum Collaboration

We need to do more of this. It really is the crux in improving the consistency across school and developing best practice. We absolutely fall into the trap of being stuck in our own classes and department and being too busy to get out into the school and see what is happening in and around the other departments. Next year our CPD programme is changing and I believe this will give us the opportunity to reflect, share and develop stronger cross-curriculum bonds. I look forward to being a part of this with my cross-curriculum based Feedback team. @JoanneG91420101 is heading this up and has some fantastic ideas about how we can adapt our in school CPD to ensure we are sharing and collaborating well.

A recent experiment where teachers experienced being learners championed and led in our school by @Daveg5478, was interesting and an exciting collaborative process to be involved in. My experience was with another teacher who joined my Y9 R&J lesson as a student and it was really encouraging. As an English specialist with a Maths teacher in my class possibly the nicest feedback was “finding the quotes was really exciting just like a puzzle”. What better accolade than that? But truly, it was an interesting dynamic for me and the students to have another teacher engaging in my lesson as a learner and it made me conscious of several aspects of my teaching practice. Not least, how I am perceived by the students, what I am doing to engage them and how to engage a learner who is ‘new’ to the topic without losing the engagement of the other students. Obviously, this was less of an issue but it still made me think about this and consider how to engage the late starters, while still guiding learning for others.

Inter-school Collaboration

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take part in a ‘Growing Leaders’ course, which entailed visiting another local school for two days, observing lessons, talking to students and engaging with the school leaders to see what works and offer my reflections of the school. This was an excellent course, which again had collaboration at the heart of it. Obviously, the focus was on looking at how leadership works but it was collaborative at the core as teachers from local schools also returned to our school and engaged in the same programme. This may form the basis of another blog at some point but the power in seeing other schools in action cannot be underestimated.

KS4 leadership demanded collaboration

The title sounds daunting but it did and will continue to. This year has been pretty intense! Not least due to the changes at KS4 and A-Level but also as this was my first year as KS4 coordinator. We saw out the Cambridge IGCSE, while juggling the demands of the new Eduqas English Language and Literature GCSE and all the confusion that running two courses concurrently brings. I’m sure there are many experienced professionals,who have coped with an intense time of change in Education previously, who will know what this entails. As the first point of contact for the new GCSE’s, it was with some trepidation that I returned to school last September. Below is a copy of the teacher guide I put together for the new Eduqas GCSE courses as it was the first collaborative act I shared with the team. Putting it together gave me a very helpful and thorough knowledge of the new GCSE’s and meant that we could go forward as a team with a guide to what each section meant. It also, encouraged the team to come to me with any questions. At the start of the year the vast unknown of the new GCSE’s was like a chasm stretching out treacherously in front of us all. But, with collaboration we got through it, made headway with new resources, understanding of the specification and hopefully we all feel happier that we go into the new academic year better equipped with how to best help the students in the ever-changing landscape.

So, in the spirit of collaboration, which I truly believe in, I attach the Eduqas guide which uses mark schemes from the exam board and hope that it is helpful. I’m also always happy to share and collaborate and have found Twitter one of the best sources of CPD, since I managed to get my head around it.

Time to switch off again and head for a festival; at least the weekend has cheered up here.

Guide to 2015 GCSE WJEC

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