Collaboration with Blue Haven Public School
This video was originally published 13 October 2020.
A snippet taken from an 8-part podcast series about CESE's 'What works best' research put into practice in NSW schools.
Today I’m talking with relieving Principal Dale Edwards and Substantive Principal Paul McDermott and staff at Blue Haven Public School. We’re talking about the ‘What works best’ theme of collaboration. So what are some of the ways, Paul, the teachers of Blue Haven use professional collaboration to enrich their learning practices and how do you think it impacts on student learning?
Collaboration has been used extensively across our school Mark, have been really pivotal to our turn around success. We’re firm believers that great teachers don’t happen they’re developed here at Blue Haven so we’ve really tried to build a culture around collaboration and sharing of best practice. Some years ago, we had isolated pockets of excellence. So in order to see systemic improvement across the school, we decide that we needed to work together and we needed to build capacity amongst all of our staff so collaboration’s been hugely effective in helping us to tear the walls down, we all want to be great teachers and the best way to do that is to share our best practice across the school and across the system. So some of the ways we’ve done that effectively here at school, we’re inducting new staff for example, we have teachers that visit one another and share best practice, we have teachers that will actually take all of their class and go and sit in on another teachers’ class so they can see what great teaching and learning looks like, we have lots of opportunities for providing and receiving feedback, extensive coaching and mentoring through our structural leaders, our Wellbeing Assistant Principal as well.
How confident are you that any school can learn from this collaborative experience?
Yeah I think that absolutely something any school can take up. In fact we’ve had a number of schools contact us to work with us at different times, we’re more than open to that and we’ve had a number of schools come pre-COVID do visits with us and post-COVID do Zoom sessions where we’ve been able to share a bit more detail to our journey and what we’ve been doing and expand that collaboration beyond our own school into other schools and be able to support them with those processes. I think one of the really big keys for what we do is about removing those barriers for all schools and teachers because we don’t want it to be a system of monitoring; the collaboration needs to be owned by everyone. And by allowing everyone to own their collaborative engagement with each other, then they have that autonomy and they have that motivation and drive to succeed and just to follow on with what Paul was saying, we hear the conversation, they are so excited by different processes that they are in control of that they want to tell us and they want to let us know. So they’re always talking to us about what they’re working on and coming up with new ideas around, particularly in the areas of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and things like that, to share how they can move forward and it’s absolutely something that any school and pick up and run with.
So Cathy, as a teacher at Blue Haven, what are you seeing as the benefits of teacher collaboration?
I think teacher collaboration has really engaged and motivated us as a staff and it’s helped us to build really supportive and trusting relationships with each other. I think working closely with our colleagues allows us to utilise the expertise that we already have within the school. We’re able to upskill each other in areas that we may feel we need support or improvement in. Another really big benefit of working together is that shared responsibility that it creates over student outcomes. I think when we are working together each day to create programs, we are reflecting on assessment and data, we’re engaging in planning days and just having that regular discussion and dialogue about where our students are and where to next, then we create, we all have ownership over student progress. We are able to come together to problem solve and we are able to come together to celebrate and acknowledge student achievement.
What are the challenges about doing collaboration in practice? I mean in a way, it’s a great piece of research by CESE that says collaboration is the hallmark of a great school. Paul and Dale can talk about it being a cornerstone of the success at Blue Haven which a lot of people have commented on, it kind of sounds easy ‘well lets collaborate’, but in practice it’s probably hard to execute on a daily basis in the school. What are the challenges you’ve had?
I guess I was really lucky I’ve been at the school for a very long time, initially I had those relationships I didn’t have to necessarily establish them because people had been in my classroom before I was an instructional leader and we’ve had lots of collegial conversations. So I was lucky to start off with, but I guess that challenge comes when you’ve people you haven’t established that relationship with. So I guess when you are collaborating, ensuring everybody is given the opportunity to have a voice. And that can be tricky when you’ve got new people to the school who are going to try and share your pedagogy which might be unfamiliar. So making sure everybody has the opportunity to share their voice but also making sure that you’re giving them the skills required to feel comfortable in this environment because it is very different to other schools.
Well thanks for sharing that story and thanks to everyone from Blue Haven it’s really one of the great stories in NSW education.
We want to improve teaching practice, school planning and see improvement across NSW education. There’s a lot more information available for you about ‘What works best’ in the NSW Department of Education website.