During a recent school study tour in the Midlands a common trait for success emerged – collaboration. Each school on the tour had a unique story with differing contexts that increasingly made school performance challenging. I was impressed with the principals’ vision and core values but even more so with how they seeked opportunities to collaborate in order to improve their schools. They engaged with staff, listened carefully to the community and established influential links with businesses. Collaboration was at the heart of their school turnarounds. You may go fast going solo but you will go further working as a team. These schools proved it and they are flying.
The most valuable and expensive resource and intervention to students’ learning is the teacher. Yet it can be easy when times are tough to close your office door and take a more directive approach to leadership. SLT can become inward thinking which may lead to uninspiring change that can quickly become a source of friction with staff. This was not the case with a school in Castle Vale whose new principal opened his door to staff on day one. He engaged, he listened and he made decisions which were seen as transparent and honest that won hearts and minds. Change was quick. Staff felt supported and free from fear. Lesson observations became a coaching tool, risk taking was encouraged by SLT and regular challenge fostered a culture of collaboration and healthy competition. Staff were thirsty for more and are driven to develop themselves to do best by the students. Impact? Improved outcomes.
The role of the community cannot be understated. We, as a school, are here to serve the community not for the community to serve us. It was clear from parents that schools need to listen and work with the community and not against it. One parent I met said we will support the school because we know teachers have a hard job but we must be included. He added that he had to put his kids in an after school club to tell us that because he wants to support the school in which he said would not have been the case before last year. The schools I visited achieved this, they opened their doors and listened. Parents are welcomed in school at any time, community events are sponsored by the schools and additional capacity was added to meet the needs of students and support for parents. Community collaboration has strengthened trust and made change easier and quicker. Impact? Improved community relations, increased student intakes and attendance on the rise.
Making links with businesses is regularly discussed and encouraged, however, its priority usually moves quickly down the list in school improvement. This was not the case for some schools I visited. Working collaboratively with businesses featured high on their list and the benefits were evident. Students were exposed to professional events, business settings and dialogue that is not easily accessible in their communities. Even at primary, high level collaboration between the school and an international law office included career guidance in addition to lawyers leading on lessons and reading programmes. Aspirations were high and the students were overwhelmingly articulate in their current progress and future plans. Impact? Exposing students to professional opportunities raises student aspirations.
The study tour reaffirmed many of my views but also inspired me to think broader and more strategically about school improvement. The experience flag-posted the value and impact of collaboration from inside the school building, to reaching out and listening to the community, and building strong relationships with businesses. School improvement is not a solo act, don’t be an island, we need to do it together.