Collaboration comes naturally to great leaders, and is core to the success of our FCG and of HPL itself. It also helps the HPL community immensely as we all try to be a force for good in redesigning education.

But collaboration is also often messy, poorly defined and difficult to manage which leads to variable and uncertain outcomes. Collaboration is also notoriously impacted by culturally embedded mindsets (like the silo effect) and easily compromised by unplanned things like a pandemic!

So how do we crack the code of great collaboration?

Is everyone ready?

In my experience as a headteacher, university leader and when working with schools globally, this is the first question a leader needs to ask a group of potential collaborators.

First, define and write down the exact areas of common interest, common intent, and check that everyone’s on board. I’d hope for a lively debate! And this is a great, positive place to start. It should lead onto a positive discussion to quickly define the exact goals of the collaboration: the rationale, role and purpose.

These dialogues (and, just as importantly, our observation of others) give us tacit knowledge and insight into the situation, setting and everyday routines of those with whom we are partnering, the things that shape their intuitive decisions and actions.

Is everyone willing and able?

Once you’ve agreed what you have in common and why you’re here, you might also ask – in the meeting or separately afterwards -  ‘on a scale of 1-10 how committed are you to contributing? And please say why’. As you can imagine, the goal here is to understand not just the commitment level, but also to understand a little about your partner’s motivation, the related and unrelated issues and pressures people have, and the everyday routines of everyone in the team.

You could even ask ‘on a scale of 1-10 how ready are you and your school to collaborate?’. The purpose here is an honest, early dialogue about people’s perceptions of their readiness. Other schools (or even you!) might have the courage to say ‘we’re not ready to collaborate yet’ which is an important communication and will save time and frustration down the line.

So cracking the collaboration code means staying tuned in to people’s current state, and their readiness. Leaders have to:

    1. Create awareness of why and how to change, the common interests and goals  so you all become ready
    2. See and challenge negative or ‘stuck’ mindsets in the right way with fresh insights and new thinking so you all become willing
    3. Empower people with practical, demonstrable skills so you all become able

As a leader you yourself should be prepared to say “no” to collaboration unless you have an informed level of confidence in your school’s state of readiness to collaborate.

The FGC creates unique opportunities for intentional and intense professional collaboration between school leaders and teachers across the FGC through regular and scheduled link-up meetings, TeachMeets, Joint-Practice Development projects, Subject Interest Groups and a range of other initiatives, some of which involve supporting and strategic partners.

As well as the questions posed above, leaders in collaborations need to focus on:

Relationships based on trust and mutuality

Real trust prevails when nothing is said or done that would compromise what has been agreed to amongst those partnering. Mutuality also factors both partners’ sets of needs into decisions that are jointly made.

Embedded knowledge

We know that ‘embedded knowledge’ resides in routines and shared norms, beliefs and understanding within an organisation. We know, too, that successful professional collaboration promotes this type of knowledge. It’s necessary to have a strategic approach to the way we manage the exchange of knowledge, develop knowledge-sharing proficiencies, reward knowledge-sharing behaviours and encourage networking.  

A holistic approach

Successful professional collaboration will necessarily involve accommodating uncertainty, political astuteness and adaptiveness. All of these have been exemplified by the pandemic. It is also dependent upon a holistic approach being taken consisting of the joint development of practice, classroom-based research, mentoring and coaching and through these the building of communities of practice.

Promising professional collaboration is likely to mean you and the ‘leadership’ at varying levels must demonstrate a willingness to innovate or take risks. They and you need to feel confident in individual roles and be willing to share responsibilities with peers and other colleagues.

If you can say with confidence that you have cracked the code, then your school really is ready, willing and able to engage in high-grade professional collaboration. If for any reason you feel your school isn’t quite there yet, then get in touch - we may be able to help ! 

Dr. Linda Rush - Global Director of HPL Accredited Schools

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