I have blogged before about our Kaizen network of schools, a small group of primaries who share common beliefs about education and learning. We began to work together about six years ago to improve the learning experiences of our pupils, we weren’t funded by any external agency and followed no external agenda but grew ourselves from the ground up, following our own instincts about what our schools needed. Within our network we agreed from the outset that as Headteachers we were privileged to be able meet and work together on areas of common interest. We support each other and challenge each other benefitting from such collaboration. We share common Inset days which provide all staff with the chance to meet up with peers in partner schools and work together on mutual areas of interest. The sharing of costs and resources has enabled us to move all our schools forward through a collegiate and supportive model of sustainable and relevant professional development. Recent shared Inset with the likes of Tim Rylands, Zoe Ross, Lane Clarke and others has been extremely well received by staff who are then able to build on what they’ve seen through school visits and joint working within the network.
This year we are once again taking advantage of ‘uncommon’ Inset days. This is when we put a working day aside for all our staff to get into partner schools to spend time in someone else’s class, working together, observing, taking in new ideas and approaches, and sharing good practice. Each school chooses a day when all the others are in full operational mode (not straight after a half term) and organises staff to visit one of the network, in small groups, to be let loose to spend the day being part of a different environment. These visits are followed up back at school with discussions and actions, further targeted visits and future projects. We have find these uncommon Insets to be invaluable. It is reported by McKinsey, that to improve teachers need to see best practice in an authentic setting, our approach gives staff the opportunity to do just that.
As we prepare for new working relationships without the traditional influence and sway of local authorities our school to school partnerships will become more important than ever. It was heartening to hear David Hargreaves his week talk about this kind of support. I am in a privileged position to be in a school that already benefits from active involvement in a number of networks and has plans to exploit these links further.
David talked about such relationships as family relationships, he referred to groups of schools as ‘families of schools’ and also explained that in the future we might belong to ‘multpile families’. I like this notion and see these kind of relationships as crucial in moving our schools forward. In such ‘family relationships’ trust matters: supporting each other, sharing problems and solutions and learning from each other inform improvement. David gave some great examples of how such a model has worked in industry, in silicon valley and with heart surgeons – he asked ‘can we learn the same way in schools?’
It is reassuring to know you are working along the same lines as a leading academic and authority on education and systems leadership and plans to further develop our CPD through one of our ‘multiple families’ would fit David’s vision for the future I’m sure.
As the Kaizen Network, we have worked closely with our local partner schools on various ventures to support staff and pupils. We have agreed common inset days and made the most of shared staff meetings and twilight sessions for a few years now, pooling our resources to mutual benefit, we have a range of teacher and pupil forums that enable ongoing dialogue, face to face meetings and online discusiion and these have cemented strong links. This year we are looking at things slightly differently. We have agreed one common inset day when all our staff will come together as we traditionally do, but our other days are all being taken at different times to enable staff to visit each others classrooms and schools to see them in operation. Our previous visits have generally taken place when the children have usually left and we are conscious of how little opportunity teachers have to get into each other’s classrooms when learning is happening and childen are present. Our plan is to create the time and opportunity for all staff in each of our schools to visit each other, to observe practice, share ideas and work together. To benefit from what David Hargreaves calls ‘reciprocal knowledge transfer‘ and ‘joint practice development’. Such an approach to CPD costs little and the rewards are potentially very powerful and long reaching, impacting on practice in a way few courses could.
As stated earlier, such a relationship requires trust, it requires leaders to be interested in the success of the system, not just of their own school and it requires a commitment and shared belief that learning is reciprocal between schools and beneficial to all. The future is exciting and we are enthusiastic about developing new and more effective ways of working together with our ‘families of schools.’