It takes sauce to build trust
That was one of the unlikely messages at a seminar in Dundee last week on "leading and learning in the knowledge society". It came from Andy Hargreaves of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College in Massachusetts. His most recent work is Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in the Age of Insecurity.
Professor Hargreaves said that in a successful learning environment teachers collaborated in "a professional learning community". This required them to be committed to one another and to focus first and foremost on learning.
There are barriers against creating a collaborative culture, he conceded, and one way to deal with a difficult meeting is to eat - and the messier the food, the better.
"It is not easy trying to look serious when you are eating spaghetti with your fork," Professor Hargreaves said.
One school held a staff picnic to encourage teachers to communicate. They could note ideas on paper tablecloths and the tablecloths were then put on display. "If you have a collaborative culture, teachers take ideas from each other, give moral support and talk about mistakes as well," he said.
But a climate of trust is essential. "There is pretty compelling evidence that high trust schools are more effective for learning than low trust schools. High trust schools build strong trust in four areas - teachers and kids, teachers and parents, teachers and heads, teachers and each other.
Even if you have trust in two or three of the areas, you get better results."
Professor Hargreaves defined three types of trust - competence, contractual and communication.
Competence trust is about mutual understanding, being able to count on others and believing in yourself. "When the children are most challenging is when you have to show the most trust, and the same is true for teachers.
Trust is a massive investment and it is the hard part - it takes work and investment."
On contractual trust, Professor Hargreaves cited research from Canada which found that female primary teachers were most likely to believe colleagues were not pulling their weight. The objects of their distrust were male colleagues.
"Teachers don't like teachers who don't pull their weight," he said. "They feel betrayed."
Communication trust focuses on sharing information and admitting mistakes and was particularly vital. "Competence failures or contractual failures are often really communication failures," Professor Hargreaves said.
"Whether we are a classroom or a school or a local authority or a nation, if you have trust you will get better performance over time. Trust makes a difference for pupils' learning."
Pamela Baxter, headteacher of Park Place primary in Dundee, is now looking forward to implementing professional learning teams involving all staff.
Kathryn Barclay, head of the city's Eastern primary, hailed the opportunity "to develop and challenge my own thinking about leadership".