We Are All in This Together

The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.

Babe Ruth

My blog thinking from last week focused on the need to define our schools and system as a whole using a strength based approach – whereby we all adhere to the Learner Mindset rather than the Judger Mindset.  I have written about this in the past, however I continually return to it as our growth requires us to focus on the positive, to give up on “gripes” and to see challenges as opportunities (thus modelling a growth mindset).  This has me returning to and reflecting on Our Conditions for Learning – specifically to Collaboration, as genuine collaboration is one of the key actions whose existence ensures that we continue to move forward. As Shelley, our Board Leadership Development Lead states, Who is smarter than one of us…? ALL of us!”

Collaboration (vs. Cooperation):  I know I am collaborating if I work interdependently, engage others, actively listen, constructively contribute, respectfully challenge ideas, and share knowledge to build on others’ thinking to arrive at a desired goal.

As Ontario educators, we teach our students to actively engage in positive Collaboration as a Learning Skill:Capturecollaboration 1

…a Learning Skill that we provide feedback for on the Ontario Report Card:

Capturecollaboration 2

As professional educators collaboration is one of expectations that defines our profession – as evident in the Leadership in Learning Communities Standard of Practice:

Leadership in Learning Communities 
Members promote and participate in the creation of collaborative, safe and supportive learning communities. They recognize their shared responsibilities and their leadership roles in order to facilitate student success. Members maintain and uphold the principles of the ethical standards in these learning communities.

Within our schools, there are some powerful models of collaboration currently taking place among the professionals and thus our students are witnessing this 21st century skill in action daily.  From this modelling, these students are understanding that, to achieve a goal, adults work together, as learning is constructive. The level of this professional collaboration can be assessed by the following rubric (from Edugains Professional Learning Cycle Collaborative Inquiry Continuum) in the context of our learning:

Capturecollaborative continuum

The need to engage in collaboration was reinforced recently by educational leaders including Fullan, Hattie, Robinson, and Munby (to name a few), who discussed the essential nature of “leading from the middle’ as a powerful method of transforming education systems.  “Leading from the middle” describes a system network whereby “all schools, 100%, should be involved in focused, proactive networks within which leaders, teachers and students challenge, support, innovate and learn from one another in ways that measurably improve outcomes.” (Fullan and Munby, 2016).  These networks are led from within, not by central office, but by the individuals sitting at the table. They involve outside knowledgeable others when necessary, but the belief that the most powerful work comes from those who are at the table, is paramount. Also key is the notion that the success of the network depends not only on their sense of moral purposeful (improved outcomes for students) grounded by measurements of impact, but by their ability to collaborate and eventually, to reach “a position of shared professional accountability”. This is the way of the future for our profession. We need to think about the implications of this research on  our future decisions.

When I consider our school board, our vision is to have 100% of our staffs working collaboratively towards the achievement of our collective goals – those articulated by our Strategic Plan and operationalized by our Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being. These are important goals that address not only student achievement and well-being, but the responsible stewardship of resources and the building of positive relationships.  To truly work collaboratively, we know that we need to work as a team, acknowledging that we each have a vital role to play in our success.  Each and every one of us needs to do our part – we need to assume responsibility for ensuring that our schools and board as a whole are student-centered environments where everyone feels a sense of belonging and are motivated/persevere in learning.  Some believe that this is the work of “the board”; I would like to suggest that we are all in this together – from Manitouwadge to Nakina, from Longlac to Dorion – regardless of our role – we are all educators who comprise and define our district school board.  We are all “our board”.   We define our board with our amazing work – work that, when focused on fostering a sense of belonging through a truly collaborative, strength-based approach, can increasingly make a positive difference. My new motto…”make it a positive day together”.


Until Next Week:  Make it a positive week…together.  


2 responses

  1. An important aspect of collaboration is conversation, but not any conversation. In her book Student-Centered Leadership Viviane Robinson distinguishes between a Closed-to-Learning Conversation and an Open-to-Learning Conversation (OLC). For the collaborative leader the distinction is important. Closed-to-learning conversations are those conversations we enter with a fixed agenda that remains intact at the end of the conversation whereas an OLC involves constructive dialogue. Robinson speaks of three interpersonal values that guide an OLC; valid information, respect and increasing the internal rather than external commitment of teachers to decisions. “When teachers have had the opportunity to exercise influence over the leadership, and when leaders in turn, have been frank about their views and the limits of staff discretion, teachers are more likely to be committed to decisions and to the efforts required to implement them”. This supports the idea of leading from the middle that Nicki references in her blog.

    To be a successful collaborative leader we must meet stakeholders where they are, and not get upset with them because they don’t get it, or we think they aren’t motivated to further their learning. In an article he wrote for Education Week Peter Dewitt addresses the need to meet stakeholders where they are. “From the collective efficacy mindset (Eells) we know that teachers who feel a low level of efficacy don’t feel they, as teachers, can have a positive impact on students. What we also understand, from the research is the low level efficacy that these teachers feel is not fixed. They can be inspired to think differently”. We begin by listening, hearing their perspective and determine where they are in their thinking. From this vantage point we can decide the next step. Through listening we can motivate them to be a part of the collaborative group. After we motivate them through collaborative conversations where they understand they have a voice, we can move into modeling what that looks like.

    The Strategic Plan and the Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well Being are maps. As a collaborative leader you need to locate where your staff is on the map in order to move forward in a positive direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is silly, but every time I hear the word ‘collaborate’, I think of Vanilla Ice’s hit “Ice, Ice Baby” and the lyrics, “stop, collaborate and listen.” But I digress.

    I can’t imagine my job without collaboration. Perhaps due in part to the small size of our board, teachers in SGDSB have been working together for years improving pedagogy and practice for our students. With tools like Twitter and TeachOntario, this process is even easier. I appreciate the support of board administration in approving Inquiry Projects, (GCHS Language Department last year, resulting in consistency-building, shared resources, and empowered staff; a board-wide Visual Arts inquiry, which will connect teachers and students with technology; and an Indigenous Learning project that will build authenticity, awareness, and engagement in our FNMI programming) that allow educators to work even closer together to directly benefit our students. About Twitter, though: It behooves me that more of our colleagues aren’t signing on and seeing the benefits of a worldwide professional learning network at our fingertips. How do we convert the unconverted?

    Last year, GCHS focused on Relationship Building as a condition for learning within our School Learning Plan, understanding that we needed to build positive relationships between staff and students, as well as create a sense of trust between staff members. Our goals were lofty, and a challenge we encountered was the lack of hard, measurable data. We were unaware of any tool, (save for the ‘Tell Them From Me’ survey, which we accepted had a margin of error and an inability to monitor) that would allow us to “prove” positive relationships were being developed. That being said, anecdotally, there is no doubt that we were successful. Staff made a conscientious effort to be visible in halls, to be positive role models, and to model the behaviour we wished our students to exhibit. We made an effort to instill a sense of community by having a welcome back day and spirit days and we worked hard to make the school a better place. I hope that SGDSB employees understand that the development of Conditions for Learning is a process which will come to fruition in time. This process continues this year, though our School Learning Plan has taken on a new focus. Relationship Building could not have happened without collaboration.

    Last year was necessary because that sense of belonging needs to be in place before collaboration can happen. This, I think, is in line with your comment that “we need to assume responsibility for ensuring that our schools and board as a whole are student-centered environments where everyone feels a sense of belonging and are motivated/persevere in learning.” It’s important that we consider opportunities for everyone so that as we collaborate, anyone wishing to take on a leadership role is given the chance. As we develop collaborative inquiry in our classrooms, we should be using collaborative inquiry as staffs to improve our schools.

    I promise I won’t quote washed-up early-90s rappers anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

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