Collaborative Learning Communities – the journey

In my previous post I described the characteristics of the concept of a collaborative learning community that the schools at the Olevi International Conference were working towards.  Here we build upon that description and identify the developmental stages of these communities. 

The stages of development

As the slide illustrates above, there are four stages of development.  These are defined as: 

Stage 1: Isolation – The education a school provides is constrained by the knowledge of each of its teachers and leaders and there is no knowledge sharing or creation between them. 

Stage 2: Initiation – The school begins to rudimentarily share its knowledge and engage with knowledge holders beyond itself 

Stage 3: Engagement – The school systematically starts to maximise the use of its own knowledge and works with other schools to begin effectively sharing and creating knowledge

Stage 4: Integration – The school is part of an integrated learning community involving schools, universities and other appropriate organisations. Where the students are being provided with an education which reflects the wisdom of the global education community.

On the slide above, the school at stage one is illustrated with a hard boundary to indicate a closed knowledge community. It is isolated from the other schools but also the three sources of knowledge – relevant research, best practice and emerging effective innovation.  As the learning journey of the school progresses, its boundaries become softer as its connectivity with other schools and the three sources of knowledge builds.  By the end of the school’s journey, the boundaries are transparent as it becomes fully integrated with its peers and the three sources of knowledge to form part of a virtuous collaborative learning community.

The phases of learning activity

The stages described mirror the stages of knowledge sharing activity defined in the Olevi Collaborative Learning Model. The first stage of activity is the provision of information. This is the beginning or initiation of a  learning journey for the staff of an isolated school.  Nowadays, this journey will often begin via social media.  There is a lot of information to work through, of varying degrees of validity, to find what is useful.  From this point, staff start to improve their practice.  

After a period of time they realise that this level of activity is insufficient to resolve  key professional issues. They need to experience it to learn, signifying the second stage of activity.  To do this they need to gain the trust of staff at other schools, who will then in turn share their own practice.  Otherwise, as with many school visits, the episode will become more of a tourist activity than an exercise in improvement. 

However, though this takes the learner further down their  path to knowledge it is only when they engage in stage three activitycoaching and mentoring that real, embedded and integrated learning takes place.  

Condoned failure

Of course in reality things are not so clear cut.  In my experience some schools at stage one reject the evidence that demonstrates they can improve, even when it is contextualised. This I have referred to as condoned failure. “The education we provide for our students is the way it is because we all agree that they cannot be better, even though comparative information shows that we could.”  

This is a hard barrier to break down.  Over the years we have used a variety of approaches to resolve this, including immersion programmes, family of schools and the deployment of expert headteachers trained as coaches.  However, often the most successful approach has been to appoint key staff to the school who have been successful elsewhere in a similar context and to change the ownership of the problem by moving the executive responsibility to those more able to use it effectively. 

It can be easy to think from the slide demonstrating a  school’s journey that all the schools I have described at stage one are poor performing in national comparative terms.  However, coasting schools, those with attainment above average national attainment levels but with achievement below that of their contextualised peers are often at the same stage and here condoned failure is more entrenched, with the tools for transition less well researched. 


Reflections

How coherent is your approach to knowledge sharing internally?

Who are the key knowledge owners that you need to engage with?

Have you issues with condoned failure?

How are you building capacity to use the three phases of learning activity defined in the Olevi collaborative learning model?


Sources

The presentation The Power of Hubs which I gave to teaching school leaders from London as part of the Mayor of London’s Fund in 2015 references a number of the concepts described in this series of blogs. In addition they draw upon G. T. Berwick and S. John, ‘School networks, peer accountability and the brokerage of knowledge and expertise’ in P. Early & T. Greany, edit. (2017) “School leadership and education system reform”, Bloomsbury, London