Collaborative Learning Communities – barriers and context (pt 5 in a series)

In this post we examine the barriers faced by teachers in implementing student learning, and focus on the main issues.

The barriers between the three main sources of knowledge and the students it needs to reach are numerous. In the slide we’ve rounded this into the six main issues, and of those, three will not always be present. School, teachers and parents/carers, however, remain a constant. 

Context dressed up as relevance can often be the main barrier to the transfer of appropriate knowledge from its source to impacting on student learning.  Our experience shows it is a misnomer that knowledge is only relevant if it comes from an identical context. I agree that this does hold true for specific knowledge.  However, this is not true for the generic knowledge of how students learn, which underpins the foundations of our learning communities.  

In the early days of developing our theory of action we focused heavily upon the  issue and devised a number of strategies to overcome it. We talked about developing a process that allowed educationalists from different contexts to decontextualise and then re-contextualise a generic approach to learning. A simple process for the programme was devised – 

Do you agree this is an issue you need to address? For example use of pupil data, questioning, differentiation – 

Here is our successful approach in our school – 

Here is how it has been modified in our context –

How could you modify it to work in yours?  

We devised an immersion programme and implemented it successfully in England and Quebec. The Olevi concept of DR ICE emerged from this work as a way of framing the generic issues all teachers face. 

Over many years working with schools in Sweden and Quebec, we have learnt a considerable amount, which can be split equally into affirmation that we are going in the right direction and the access of new knowledge. We have tried to understand the context to better help us understand why things are done in a given way. At times, the stark difference in cultures throws a clear light upon the key common issues. 

One of the most powerful barriers we all face is that of the student’s parents/carers.  Their rejection of a tried and tested approach which has emerged from best practice by commenting that you are “wasting your time” and they “know what’s best for my child,” can be a very difficult obstacle to overcome.  This is where the trust between the student – parent/carer – teacher is paramount. The teacher must develop this relationship to lead, facilitate or support the direction of the student’s learning. I have referred to this as the triangle of trustThis again illustrates that moral capital underpins collaborative learning. 

Context in the development of CLCs

In the isolated stage of the development of the CLC, context is often held up as the main reason for staff not adopting best practice from elsewhere. Our coaches are often accused by staff of having no idea of what they are dealing with.  Co-creating a solution to a shared problem from different contexts is a tried and tested method of convincing staff that they do have something worthwhile to offer. Another is to focus on the generic skills we all need.  For example, how do teachers ensure that a classroom is a safe place for both them and their students to learn? How do you question effectively? How do you know if learning is taking place? And so on.  

My experience shows that as staff become more competent in their generic skills, so context comes back into play.  The student learning programme now has to take into account the learner’s past experience and learning characteristics.  Those characteristics the teacher can influence and those they cannot but are still able to build upon or negate as appropriate. 

By the time they have reached the integrated stage and the school and the staff are performing at an outstanding level, staff have a forensic understanding of nuances of their school’s and students’ context.  They use this knowledge to devise, shape and refine learning strategies to transform student and teacher behaviours, thus ensuring they meet their aim – to provide an education that represents the wisdom of the educational community. 


How contextually driven are your learning programmes?

How able are you at integrating ideas from beyond your school successfully  into you own?

How strong are your triangles of trust?