Four ways to boost collaboration and reduce workload

Working together can improve teaching and learning, as well as combating isolation. But for time-poor teachers in small departments, this is easier said than done. Here are four things you could try

Grainne Hallahan

Team-building Tasks For Secondary

1. Synchronise the school calendar

If your department is something of a one-man band, you might want to consider bringing in other schools if you’re organising a curriculum jam session.

The Midland Academies Trust facilitates collaboration by holding synchronised inset days. These allow staff from all four schools in the MAT to come together, share CPD and collaborate on their curriculum redesign.

"We’ve also timetabled our PPA (planning, preparation and assessment time) to be on the same afternoon, so if we do need to speak face to face, we’re not missing classes or generating cover,” explains Craig Bonny-Meekings, director of learning for English and modern foreign languages at George Eliot School​, part of The Midland Academies Trust. 

2. Plug in to the network

If your school is a long way from any potential collaborators, there are plenty of virtual sounding boards and sharing spaces for you to tap into.

Adam Boxer, head of key stage 3 science at the Jewish Community Secondary School in North London is part of #CogSciSci, a group of teachers who discuss, share and collaborate on all things cognitive science. 

Using his online connections, Boxer created a “Retrieval Roulette” spreadsheet, a question-generating resource to help with retrieval practice. This document was originally shared on Boxer’s blog and, now, more than 27 teachers from different schools have contributed towards it via Twitter. 

“There are now dozens of spreadsheets,” explains Boxer. “I’ve now got 26 different versions on the blog, all thanks to the contributions of all the other teachers.” 

3. Make sure staff get the message  

Within larger departments, communication and collaboration can become convoluted. Email threads can become tangled knots where key information is lost.

To keep things simple, Bonny-Meekings’ department uses instant messaging tools to help staff keep in touch.

“We use a social media platform to share ideas. This makes it so much easier to share links from social media or cloud storage sites; and then you also have the option to comment with your suggestions,” explains Bonny-Meekings.

“With email, you might hold back from replying because you don’t want to clog up everyone’s inboxes with questions, but here you can reply on a post and people can respond when they’re ready – it won’t get lost in your inbox.”

4. Find development from within

Rather than sending staff out in search of career development, many schools are looking within their own walls for such opportunities. By encouraging more experienced department heads to share best practice, you not only allow teachers valuable contact time but you also cut CPD costs.

Peter Gibbon, assistant head at Great Baddow High School in Essex, has been using this system to share ideas across different faculties.  

“By showcasing excellent practice, it builds upon our in-house expertise and allows colleagues to discuss teaching and learning strategies in a comfortable, unthreatening atmosphere.” 

As well as giving teachers an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues rather than an external trainer, according to Hampshire-based assistant head Ben Clemson, peer-to-peer CPD helps to foster a sense of team spirit which staff in smaller departments might otherwise miss out on.

“Pairing more experienced teachers with NQTs or new starters helps the latter feel more supported,” he explains. “I know from my own experience that, for a new teacher, you can feel quite isolated in your classroom.”

 

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