Schools that build a sense of community, encourage collaboration and recognise the power of their staff are, for me, the most enjoyable places to work. Vision, values and ethos may, to the more cynical among us, just seem like buzzwords that are banded around too often by educators but, they have the power to shift the alignment of a school community, tip the scales in the right direction and start bringing about real change that benefits our young people.
I don’t need to look at John Hattie’s effect size for Collective Teacher Efficacy, to know that when staff are empowered and believe that they can positively impact their pupils’ achievement then they are more likely to have a greater impact; I just need to look at my own school to see the positive results.
Previously, our staff community left a lot to be desired. But, armed with research, ideas from other schools and plenty of books, we have grown a collaborative culture among staff, created more opportunities for teachers to learn from one another, grow as leaders in their own right and, ultimately, have a greater impact on our young people.
Our Deputy Head started this initiative to bring staff together – over food – to discuss pedagogy and the current issues facing schools. At the start of the last week of each month, an article or TED Talk is shared via email with staff to introduce the topic or theme. Then, over banana bread and coffee, we meet on the Friday, in the hour before school, to chat and share our opinions.
The ‘blether’ is informal, open to all and has been a great way to share ideas and build relationships with staff. We’ve discussed everything from the value of homework, to growth mind-set, and the power of Twitter. With relatively little effort, this is an easy way to grow a staff community, all you need is a venue, some breakfast and idea. Over time, staff generate the articles and videos and it becomes self-sustainable. A great place to start is Rita Pierson’s ‘Every kid needs a champion’ TED Talk as your first stimulus.
Lunch and Learn
Our school building is a warren of corridors spread out over three buildings. The staffroom was underused and at times staff rarely left their own department. It was toxic to the community so we used this idea from ‘Perfect Teacher Led CPD’ by Shaun Allison, to start breaking some of these bad habits.
Staff lead a 15 minute forum (7 minute presentation with time for discussion) on a topic of their choice in their room during lunch and colleagues come along to learn something new. So far, our staff have taught one another about Plickers, Kahoot, and Glow Groups. Next, we’re running a session on retrieval practice and we’re not short of volunteers to keep the events running. The turnout for this has been great and ensures staff are valued and have a voice in the school.
Learning and Teaching Newsletter
Slightly more time consuming, but if you have plenty going on in your community, you won’t run out of things to share. Communication was always a barrier in our school; key messages got lost along the way, information was drip fed and it created a Chinese whispers effect. Our staff newsletter takes care of this by featuring all of the key professional learning activities and keeps our school’s vision for improvement fresh in everyone’s minds.
Pay It Forward
Last term, a fellow Principal Teacher introduced the Pay It Forward scheme when we realised that, for obvious reasons – childcare, clubs, supervision duties – some staff were finding themselves excluded from our collaborative community. The Pay It Forward cards are printed on different coloured card and each contain a strategy or idea that can be passed on, cascaded and shared across the school. We’re hoping this becomes an easy way for staff to share best practice and learn new ideas from one another.
There are many different versions of this all under different guises – lesson study, spiral of enquiry, action research – but they all boil down to teachers identifying a ‘problem’ and leading an enquiry within their own classroom to bring about change. We’re creating our own framework for staff to use during their enquiry and hope that this grows our community further by empowering staff to share their findings with the whole staff to have an even greater impact on pupils.
For our school, these five initiatives have helped us to bring staff together more often, boost morale and create a culture where everyone feels they have something to contribute. And, it’s a happier place to be.