Sunday, February 10, 2019

Collaboration On A Whole New Level

I’ve worked with collaboration in a school for a long time now- started collaborative teaching in 2001, and then led the development of collaborative teaching throughout three different schools in the following fifteen years. I’ve written previously about the power of collaborative teaching practice here and about collaborative leadership here.

I’ve worked with collaborative teams, spoken at conferences and other schools on collaborative practice and the stages of collaboration, and the rewards of pushing through the comfort zone stage to the stage where there is real empowerment of all teachers within the collaborative team and the even further to the stage of cohesiveness where the 
learning process flows and there is no obvious leader to the team, each teacher contributes skills where needed, often without a lot of discussion needed the group works as one to meet the need of all students.

At Haeata we believe teachers have a number of different roles throughout the course of the learning week. At Years 7-13 this looks like this:

  • We design and deliver kaupapa for our learners with the intent that the kaupapa will spark them into their own inquiries.
  • We design and run MAI Time (My Area of Interest) workshops that may spark an interest or may just provide something different for students involved in their inquiries
  • We conference all students- not just the ones that have attended our kaupapa or MAI times sessions but anyone who is currently working on inquiries and projects.
  • We staff spaces- being available to help students navigate their learning in the various spaces available to them- performing arts, visual arts, science labs, makerspace, weights room, dance room etc
  • We collaboratively run a Puna Ako group of about 50 students with three teachers (the ratio being this low because at Puna Ako time all teachers are on the floor). This is the time we design and deliver positive education, social and emotional learning. It’s also a time where we hold students to account for what they are doing in the rest of their learning day.
Last year I watched the group of four middle leaders who lead 25 other teachers and  support staff in Year 7-13 review the learning they had designed and delivered and take it to the next level. While there was some amazing learning happening they thought that Kaupapa had become a bit short and a bit forced with all kaupapa coming off one theme and were not necessarily leading to connections for students to in depth inquiries.

They decided that they would run kaupapa in five week blocks, but there would be no theme. That teachers would design kaupapa ideas and then pitch those ideas to the rest of the teaching team and the together the 27 teachers would collaboratively agree on which kaupapa would run for the next five weeks. The catch is there are only so many learning blocks a week for kaupapa learning if teachers are also to run MAI times, conference and staff spaces, as well as have their entitled non contact time. So everyone is allocated an equal amount of all of these blocks for a week and then this was multiplied by five for the first five week block. The idea was that once the kaupapa were agreed to teachers would be able to swap their allocations between themselves.

When teachers pitched their ideas for a kaupapa they had to state how many kaupapa blocks they would need to run this kaupapa. They also needed to demonstrate how they would include all five of our school essential agreements- communication fluency, Te Ao Māori, intrapersonal development, hauora and transdisciplinary learning. And most importantly they needed to show a sense of how the learning in this kaupapa could lead to personal inquiry learning for any learner from Year 7-13 that might sign up to it, which included how to integrate NCEA for students Years 11-12.

I was very fortunate to happen to be in the hapori (learning community) when the the first pitch session happened. Anyone wanting to pitch a kaupapa had two minutes to do so, and then there were one minute of questions with no responses allowed. This was an amazing sense of collaboration- with specialist teachers suggesting all kinds of things that the teacher doing the pitch may or may not have thought of. Some pitches were individual, some were by pairs or groups of teachers wanting to collaborate on designing and delivering a kaupapa.
Fortuitously the set of kaupapa pitched just about exactly matched the number of kaupapa blocks available so all kaupapa pitched are running for the first block. There are 21 kaupapa running- some of them run for two days, some of them run 3 times a week for the entire 5 weeks. Some teachers wanted to spread their kaupapa with 2 or 3 blocks every week, some wanted to run a kaupapa for 15 blocks of time but all in a couple of weeks. The flexibility of the system designed allows this.

With the kaupapa agreed to the swapping of allocations got under way over the next couple of days. If someone had a kaupapa running for 25 blocks, but they only had 16 in their allocation they needed to find someone who didn’t need their kaupapa allocations and swap them for something else.

Then timetabling day arrived. Everyone had their allocations in the form of tokens for each of the teacher roles with their names on.

The people running kaupapa went first and selected where to put their kaupapa- spreading them over the whole five weeks, or bunching them into a couple of weeks.
Then everyone started putting on their MAI time workshops, their conferencing times, their space staffing and their non contacts. Further negotiation had to occur throughout the process when someone maybe wanted to do an extra conferencing and swap their MAI time, or when someone needed to do something in a block that had no gaps so others then agreed to move where they had placed their tokens. This allowed groups like our kaiārahi and pou leaders to build meeting times into their timetable by all selecting the same block as a non contact. Same for tutor teachers and the provisionally registered teachers they are mentoring. Teachers also got five blocks to place on the timetable for doing their own personal projects- to be written about in another post.

I have never, in twenty years of leading, and thirty years of teaching in schools, seen anything quite like this. It was amazing to observe. The collaboration was magic throughout the process- the input from a range of specialist teachers into your kaupapa, the ability to constructively question each other and not take offence, the swapping of allocations, and the negotiation of where to place them.

It took 27 teachers about 80 minutes to collaboratively construct their timetable together for the next five weeks. What a change in power structure in a school from when the teacher in charge of timetabling held all the power. 

Then a few of the leaders of this team digitised the timetable that had been constructed for easy access for all.

An example of one block of the week in digital format::

It was a first time and I’m sure the process will be refined each time. Because it was the first block of the year there was little student voice, but the intention is to have an ongoing digital display running where students can add ideas they would like developed for the next set of kaupapa. And I believe the intention to have student representatives at the next pitch session to help make those decisions about which kaupapa will run.

The kaupapa running this time:

What a great start to our third year. Examples of teacher and student agency everywhere we look. There is also some very exciting learning happening in the Year 1-6 hapori (learning community) which I will write about in an upcoming blog.

Andy, our principal, has always talked about wanting extraordinary- extraordinary learning, extraordinary wellbeing.

Well this was extraordinary collaboration and I look forward to observing it develop even further and documenting further developments here.

I really feel like I had the privilege of seeing magic happening last week.

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