Growing Together is our theme for this year, here at Faith Junior School and one of the exciting ways we started unpacking it was through a Collaboration inquiry / workshop in our January PD week activities. Led by Mignon, our entire staff (including teachers, Classroom LSOs, Administrative staff, and our ELC team) worked together to investigate “How can we create a culture of Collaboration at Faith?”. We began with a mindfulness activity which intentionally set the social field for open discussion, creative thinking and personal reflection. Individually we were asked to brainstorm what we felt were the barriers to us working collaboratively. We then shared, sorted and classified our responses according to common themes. These included:
- structural elements such as: lack of time, timetable/scheduling problems, no-one else in a similar role,
- content understanding – lack of knowledge about the topic, limited understanding /experience
- as well as social emotional factors including: lack of trust, not feeling valued, dominant voices, fear of letting go, unwillingness to change, not listening, lack of confidence in self
We then looked at Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and could see the links between our identified barriers and the left side of the U – with the voices of cynicism, judgement and fear.
Mignon introduced professional readings on Collaboration including Growing Deep and AITSL, and we used these to look at the purpose, benefits, enablers and barriers to effectively working collaboratively. Discussions linked this research and theory back to personal experiences and we shared these on a Dialogue walk.
After lunch, one of the parents within our school community shared her story of starting up her two latest business ventures: “Workspace, Barossa” and “Makers and Merchants Barossa”. She spoke of past experiences of how she was frustrated by working in an environment where new ideas weren’t valued, where workload became unmanageable and where hierarchy and a gender imbalance became barriers to team work. She was, in fact, so frustrated that she left, vowing to use these experiences in a positive and productive way to start her own business where members would be working in a different paradigm. Shelley shared in a truly authentic and inspirational way how she firstly built up her knowledge and understanding of business, and then what structural, systemic and HR processes she uses now to ensure collaboration at almost every level of her business. She identified enablers, barriers and the enormous benefits she has experienced by working in this way. Our staff were able to listen to and objectively see an example outside of an educational context, but with explicit and obvious links to how we work in schools.
Our discussion after this case study was amazing – staff said they could feel the energy that working collaboratively gave Shelley in the way she spoke. They identified with the behaviours and feelings she had felt when true collaboration wasn’t in place and could see the application of some of her enabling systems and processes such as systematic resource storage and using technology to communicate between team members, to our school context. There was an excitement in the room!
Discussions have continued well beyond the day, and we are currently looking at how we can implement some of these strategies in our everyday practice. A carefully crafted timetable which juggles specialist subjects to enable cluster teachers and our Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator to have release time together, as well as establishing clear team communication processes is just the start. Clusters and partnerships have been identified, even for admin staff and we are fortunate to be able to work those teams across both campuses for staff who are in roles which traditionally may have been in isolation in a primary setting. We have also set aside PD time to build stronger relationships between team members – therefore building trust, confidence and a solid foundation for genuine conversations to occur. As a bonus, we gave free coffee vouchers to each collaborative team to catch up together socially at a local café (with connections to our school). Strategically this café is next door to the collaborative workspace and ‘Makers and merchants’ businesses owned by our guest speaker Shelley, so the suggestion has been made for each team to visit and get the “feel” of the environment she was telling us about while they are there.
We will continue to work in this Collaborative inquiry with Mignon, and look forward to growing and working more closely together.
As I reflect as a leader I recognise the benefits of this type of workshop and some contributing factors towards its success:
- It allowed the genuine voice of the participants early in the day and acknowledged their feelings in a process of change
- It anchored practice to research
- There was a real life case study 1 step away from our context which allowed participants to engage without thinking it was about them personally
- Mignon facilitating allowed me as a leader to work alongside my colleagues as part of the team
- The pace allowed self-reflection and for everyone to “get on board’
- It is one of a series of on-going workshops – not a once off and then we move to something else
- Working modes varied
- It modelled good practice inquiry techniques which teachers can use in their own classrooms
- We had fun!
Michelle Keller, Head of Junior School Faith College Tanunda Campus