Collaborative Learning Communities – making them work (pt 4 in a series)

Now that we have established the value of a collaborative learning community and the positive impact it can have on a school, we must examine what it take to ensure such a system can function.

The cart before the horse:

The collaborative learning community is built around the principle of moral capital. It is the glue that binds us together.  Without moral capital, sharing is a one-way street which will quickly lead into a cul de sac. We have learnt from experience that moral capital is hard earned and quickly lost. It must trickle down from the top of the CLC, with the leaders of these communities in particular role modelling it in everything they do.  This is not easy and sometimes basic vested interest and old enmities get in the way. In these circumstances leaders have a better chance of working collaboratively with their peers in the future if they are able to explain their situation to them. 

Thus, the first stumbling block for the burgeoning collaborative learning community is the creation of moral capital. Following this, leaders and managers must prove to their community that they are truly committed to the approach by providing enough organisational capital – the resources – to make it work. Here, dedicated time for staff to learn collaboratively and appointment of individuals to facilitate the functioning of the CLC is essential.  

If as a leader you are in doubt of how to apply  organisational capital in your specific situation, it is worth comparing the learning environment provided for students with that of your staff. At the isolated stage of a school’s journey towards being part of a collaborative learning community, the comparison can be harsh.  For example, on the whole your students will have been provided dedicated time, space and resources, certified and trained staff with subject specialisms and the national curriculum to follow, standardised testing, the list goes on.  The staff are not so fortunate. Responsibility for your staff learning is firmly their own. You only take responsibility for the varying impact on your students’ learning. 

However, at the integrated stage of developing a collaborative learning community there are no second-class students in either group and you take responsibility for ensuring the learning for them all. 

Building capacity:

One of the important initial issues that must be  addressed is that of manpower. Staff who would be best suited to developing and sharing knowledge with their peers, because they obtain the best performance with their students, are the very ones who could best facilitate the process of staff learning. These competing demands between teaching students and teaching staff have to be carefully managed.  To progress you have to find a way to do both but student learning must take priority. So use of the time allocated for staff learning is critical. Using it to dealing with administration issues or reinforcing roles and responsibilities has to take second place to providing time for staff to actually learn together in order to provide a better education for their students. This cannot be left to chance.  

These key staff are often isolated and are not practiced or skilled at sharing their knowledge and skills with their peers. This is why we developed the Olevi Outstanding Teacher Programme (OTP), which has been proven over many years and in varying contexts to be highly effective at breaking down barriers and building the capacity and the networks for them to play this critical role in CLCs. 

During the engagement stage of the development of a CLC, a systematic approach to staff learning is established, with coaching and mentoring where appropriate being used for knowledge transfer. The coaching and mentoring is brokered between staff using the concept of  learning links. These links connect those staff with best practice to those who need it most through a number of progressive staff links rather than directly. This is because we have found that small links in the chain of learning are more effective than big ones.  As often the gap in practice is too much to bridge in one link.  


Reflections

How would you rate the moral capital in your CLC at the moment?

Is it driving your moral purposeto provide for all of your students an education that represents the wisdom of the education community?

How far have you developed the capacity in your CLC to teach both your students and staff effectively?