Creating a culture of sharing
One day last February, 200 primary and secondary teachers in Galloway watched a video of 20 of their colleagues teaching. The event was the culmination of a three-year journey which had its origin in 1993 when 14 primary headteachers and teachers meeting at their associated secondary, Stranraer Academy, agreed to a number of initiatives to try and break down primary-secondary barriers.
These included demystifying the work of each sector in order to produce a more coherent experience for children and teachers. By the end of the venture it was hoped there would be a shared understanding of 5-14 terminology and practice across all 15 schools.
In an area both urban and rural, progress had been hampered by the distances that many primary staff have to travel for after-school meetings and by the high cost of convening working parties during school hours.
Uptake of working party recommendations by schools that had not been represented had been poor, and only a small percentage of the 200 teachers in the area had benefited professionally.
The strategy was to empower teachers to work either individually or as members of networks for small schools or in the form of a group within a school. Much of the co-ordination came from Dumfries and Galloway's regionwide, in-service materials. All participants would reflect upon their work and create a common framework for teaching and learning which would bring all schools together and aid dialogue.
Schools could maintain a degree of autonomy but at the same time overcome feelings of isolation. The level of collaboration between schools increased over the three years, aided by national initiatives such as the Towards Effective Learning and Teaching paper from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum.
One outcome was the in-service day in February. Ten volunteers in both primary and secondary agreed to be videoed to help discussions. "Bravery" became a key word for the teachers thus exposed, among whom there were concerns about whether it was a good thing to have one's practice scrutinised by 200 colleagues. In the event, all of the teachers recognised the concerns, and empathised.
Jane Bowen, a member of the inspectorate, suggested that the project had encouraged pride in the area's schools and had raised teachers' self-esteem.
In Stranraer we now have 20 videos that can be used for further in-service work, but beyond that we have shown that there are a significant number of teachers with enough faith in their own work to share it with others and move forward together. The culture is of sharing, reflecting and learning.
Keith Graham Best is an education support officer in Dumfries and Galloway