Collaborative practice: The role of leaders

By Diana Wilkes

Collaboration doesn’t ‘just happen’. Successful collaborative practices in schools take place when school leaders deeply consider the conditions required and actively cultivate a learning culture and embed strong systems. It’s about synergy, cohesion and a relentless focus on valued learning outcomes for all ākonga.

What is collaborative practice?

We know that collaboration is so much more than ‘two heads are better than one’ mentality.  At it’s core, collaboration amongst educators is about amplifying learning. Powerful collaborative practice requires shared responsibility, negotiated decision making and interdependence.  For a school leader there are critical aspects to ponder:

  • Do we have a shared understanding of the beliefs that underpin our actions?
  • How might we work together towards our shared goals?
  • How will we know if our mahi is collegial, cooperative or collaborative?
  • How can we positively exploit the diversity and strengths of our team?
  • How can we maximise our combined teacher intelligence?

Why collaborate?

  1. Our collective teacher efficacy is the number one influence on impacting learning outcomes for ākonga. Therefore, collaborative practices can lead to increased achievement for ākonga.
  2. Enacting collaborative practices as educators is effectively role modelling collaboration as a competency for your ākonga; as well as empowering each other to be our best selves.
  3. Working in a collaborative team can enable you to collectively notice and respond to ākonga needs in a more responsive, innovative manner that can tap into your individual strengths.
  4. Collaboration affords flexibility in pedagogical approaches, use of space and learning design.  It can be the ‘launchpad of awesome’ where ākonga get the best of their educators and allows your team to think and act differently.

How to cause collaboration?

Having a shared educative purpose that is deeply connected to the beliefs of the team is the foundation of collaboration and the keystone is a culture that nurtures high relational trust. In order to create the conditions for collaboration in your organisation:

  • demonstrate that you value collaboration by resourcing it. e.g., acknowledge that quality collaboration takes time and find creative ways to enable your teams to have ‘talk time’ and ‘design time’ together
  • support each team to establish collaborative norms or ‘MATES’ – mutually agreed team expectations and systems to ensure clarity and accountability
  • provide shared learning opportunities through external professional learning, school visits, collaborative inquiry, PLGs, and shared ‘dilemma of practice’ problem solving 
  • enable prototyping and ‘safe to fail’ experimentation time for teams to iterate different collaborative approaches and then reflect on them – provoke curiosity and promote risk taking
  • embody tuakana-teina approaches where everyone has the opportunity to be the mentor and mentee

Takeaway:  In this resource, Carolyn Marino shares the Conditions for Collaboration.  Enjoy!

Final thoughts

Whether you are in a new build, rebuild or redevelopment scenario, it can’t be emphasised enough that the most critical factor that will influence your success with collaborative practice is creating the time.  Time for your teachers to ideate, plan, practice, problem solve, iterate, laugh, cry and learn, together.  It may also be prudent for us all to remember that most of us followed the model: go to university, become a teacher and work in a classroom autonomously where we taught in traditional spaces in mostly traditional ways.  We were not typically taught how to co-teach, collaboratively design or consider three other perspectives when we make educative decisions! So let’s remind ourselves that the change from the single cell way of working to working collaboratively in a team in a flexible learning environment is a huge one and the fact remains that change takes time.

By Diana Wilkes