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Outcomes based collaboration and a focus on impact

24 June 2016

Maggie Farrar reflects on the Schools Partnership Programme's seminar held at Inspiring Leadership, Wednesday 15 June, with co-host Viviane Robinson

The Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) team were privileged to host a seminar prior to the start of this year's Inspiring Leadership Conference, with Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson from the University of Auckland. 

The seminar brought together school leaders who have been engaging in peer review in a discussion around some of the key themes that came out of our recent Global Dialogue event. These were:

  • Outcomes based collaboration and a focus on impact
  • The role of leaders in leading schools as autonomous but connected organisations and in building communities of learners

In discussion of system challenges the participants highlighted:

  • Pockets of success – but not a successful system
  • Isolated schools – and the implications of this for those schools and the system as a whole
  • The superficial nature of some clusters and the relatively weak degree of challenge school, leaders and others engage in with each other
  • The lack of a coherent, visionary and compelling national 'narrative'

We were delighted to be able to share with participants a draft paper that Viviane has written about the drive in New Zealand to form 'communities of learners'. Viviane was interested in participants' views on the implications that this initiative would have on leadership development. She challenged us to inject more rigorous accountability into our every day work. She wanted to see us asking questions of each other such as 'what leads you to think that?', and to ask colleagues to explain and account for the professional judgements they are making. She was confident that in England we would be able to 'challenge' without 'prejudging'. She told us that in her view the strongest clusters were those that had a 'diversity of views', that would give us the opportunity to test out our 'taken for granteds' and be 'professionally sceptical' of self-claiming of success.

She then challenged us about our peer review work by asking 'what’s your theory of improvement?', and, if effective and rigorous peer review was common across the system, what would be different?

Viviane challenged the group to think about what capabilities were required by school leaders to undertake effective peer review and to build effective networks. We looked at the following:

  • Goal setting – with a relentless focus on and a few clear and motivating improvement goals, based on evidence and leading to tightly focused joint work
  • Goal persistence – maintaining this focus in the face of multiple distractions
  • Building transparency, trust and honesty – whilst embracing diversity and difference as a strength. This requires leaders to have the courage to make the undiscussable, discussable, to tolerate and use conflict, and to craft inclusive and integrative solutions to issues
  • Effective peer review – requiring us to grow group norms and processes that both authorise and expect critical evaluation
  • Cycles of collaborative enquiry – requiring direct and respectful discussion of problems, the deep inquiry into the root cause of problems and withholding our tendency to 'get on and do something'
  • Shared professional accountability – with high expectations of self and others

She then asked us, 'if you had $10,000, what leadership capabilities would you want to invest in and why?' Despite all our best efforts (coaching , time for middle leaders to meet / research and joint practice development) she wasn't prepared to part with her $10,000 telling us our responses were unspecific, woolly and  process based and not clear enough about the actions that needed to be taken to build specific capabilities. Food for thought indeed!

Liz Robinson, Headteacher of Surrey Square Primary School, part of the Southwark Teaching Schools Alliance, summarised her thoughts about day:

"It was an absolutely brilliant event - I thought that Viviane was exceptional in leading us in challenging and new thinking, and supporting us to go further, deeper and more specific. I loved the way she modelled the language, and empowered us to professionally challenge ourselves and one another. I felt I learned such a lot in a couple of hours, and have taken so much away. The focus on which are the core competencies we want to develop and then how we can do that was really fantastic."

The group also discussed some of the key areas that they would want the next Global Dialogue event, which is set to take place on November 1, 9pm UK time, to focus on. Some of the themes discussed were:

  • Outcomes focused collaboration
  • Leadership capability for a network system
  • The power and potential of middle leaders 

We left the conversation knowing we had been in the company of a rare individual who was professionally generous in her knowledge, respectful but laser like in her questioning and hopeful about the power of leadership as the catalyst for change in our current system.

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If you would like to know more about the Schools Partnership Programme or take part in the next Global Dialogue get in touch with us at partnerships@educationdevelopmenttrust.com.

We found the SPP seminar an incredibly thought provoking and inspiring session. We welcomed the rich and diverse debate with colleagues and eminent practitioners within the field, and came away completely 'fired up' by the fact that the programme is clearly having a significant impact on pupil related outcomes, both in this country and internationally! 

As a large consortium of special schools, we will undoubtedly benefit from a global network of collaborative partners, who will challenge and develop our educational practice and perspective, and help us meet our 'world class' provision aspiration. 

We were particular excited by your pioneering vision of how Global Dialogue will continue to develop - in a nutshell we simply cannot wait to get started!

Peggy and Tim
Five Acre Wood School, Kent