A collaborative future.
The keynote speaker for the Teaching School Council South East annual conference was the ex-headteacher, consultant and facilitator Niki Thomas. Her speech challenged teaching schools to be at the forefront of school-led collaboration. She opened by citing Ben Hecht’s study of the collective impact achieved when collaboration is broad, deep and meaningful.
Niki argued that collaboration breaks down parochialism and results in outcomes that are greater than the sum of the participating parts. Quoting Fullan and Munby, she stressed that effective collaboration requires capacity, autonomy and accountability. She stressed the need for teaching schools to acknowledge that collaborative efforts have intended and unintended consequences which needed to be managed, and that part of the management of risk required mutually beneficial peer review.
Moving beyond one off cooperation demands an acknowledgement of shared interests and the constructions of a long term relationship built on mutual trust. While these are essential personal traits, Niki argued that teaching schools must ask themselves how they can move away from the centrality of key individuals in sustaining collaboration. Referencing Bryk and Schneider, Niki pointed to the three forms of trust that are present in effective collaboration: organic trust, rooted in shared purpose; contractual trust that establishes roles and responsibilities; and relational trust that builds on credible, consistent delivery.
The feature that most delegates were discussing after the speech was the notion of wicked problems, developed from the work of Keith Grint. These are problems that are complex, ambiguous, uncertain and symptomatic of deeper differences of operational paradigm. Niki stressed that these were only resolvable when all parties were acknowledged as being part of the problem and part of the solution.
A challenging and insightful speech by an experience and thoughtful professional. The tone and thoughtfulness of the issues considered reflected well the enthusiasm and capacity for teaching schools to deliver meaningful and lasting reform.