By Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche
We work in a profession of educators with perennial good intentions to work together effectively! We do care deeply about our students, our schools, our communities, and our professionalism. The hard truth is that the precious time we actually spend together is not always as focused as it needs to be to result in school improvement and changed classroom practice. Busy days intervene and time slips by. The good news is there is significant potential in learning about and employing inquiry approaches which embed learning collaboratively.
Creating the conditions so that deeper learning is possible and sustainable is the work of leadership. Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence is a text that discusses our need to reframe and refocus our understanding of collaboration as well as solidify our commitment to collaborative learning for both staff and students. Reframing begins with finding ways to become very clear on our learning goals as seen in the definition:
“Collaborative learning is focused learning with a clear goal in mind. It is supported by group processes and further enabled, when needed, by facilitation. It is accountable learning – for our “own” learning and that of co-learners. Collaborative learning is grounded in trust, safety, and strong relationships” (Sharratt & Planche, 2016, p. 6).
Leaders as lead co-learners and co-laborers are vital to successful efforts to integrate a learning stance. As articulated so well by one of our research participants, “A leader’s learning stance builds trust and responsibility. When leaders are invested in learning, their team members feel that their experiences, successes, and failures are points of learning for the whole team.”
Ten broad themes stood out in our research process and they have implications for the work leaders – both formal and informal – must consider in moving from good intentions to good practice and improved results. One theme includes the understanding that some collaborative processes allow for deeper learning than others. When leaders distribute leadership and learning opportunities and mobilize high impact learning strategies, they foster leadership growth as well as collaborative learning. A theory of action which has assessment as the driver for co-assessment, co-planning, co-action or teaching as well as co-reflection keeps goals for learning front and center while recognizing that collaborative learning is an evolving journey – another key theme.
There is no substitute for hard work. We know through experience that collaborative work can be derailed by a lack of commitment. Collaborative learning allows us to reframe how we work together and using an inquiry approach deepens the learning. However, it is in the practising, assessing, planning, applying, debriefing, reflecting and refining the outcomes of collaborative inquiry processes that changes in student learning are best experienced, debriefed and understood and most likely to be implemented. Building and applying new knowledge through informed “assessment in action” is our particular lens on focused, purposeful collaboration. This kind of deeper collaborative work can fuel our growth as professionals and move us from “good intention to good practices and great results”! The best news is that what we can achieve ourselves as co-learners and collaborators, we can model for our students!