The General Teaching Council for Scotland

22 Jan 2018

Collaborative professionalism

Charlaine SimpsonCharlaine Simpson, Senior Education Officer

The concept of “collaborative professionalism” was a thread that ran through this year’s International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI)

Alma Harris in her presentation claimed that “collaboration can directly improve pedagogy and student outcomes – IF DONE WELL”. I particularly like the if done well as it precludes mandated collaboration and moves collaboration into a more authentic and sustainable state. It also helps to negate the expectation that simply putting teachers together means collaborative practice will happen. Alma went on to talk about the conditions needed to support this professional stance, which she believes are: trust, respectful accountability to each other, collaborative responsibility, a strong focus on improving pupil outcomes and true distributive leadership not delegation.

Professional collaboration is the new chorus line for change and improvement
Hargreaves and O’Connor

Louise Stoll continued the theme of collaborative professionalism and claimed that it should provide a clear model of engagement that focuses on the learner, not the teacher. It should create new knowledge and not just recycle old practice. By thinking about the impact at the start, akin to Steven Covey’s “keeping the end in mind”, Louise claims that collaborative professionalism can create new synergies using research and enquiry to underpin new practice, and build commitment in ways that promote teachers’ leadership.

All speakers agreed that collaboration cannot be imposed but requires teachers to have adaptive expertise. This means that teachers need to be willing and able to reflect on their own practice, but also look beyond themselves and their context to seek external challenge, and acknowledge the expertise within themselves and their colleagues.

In her keynote, Carol Campbell shared the “Ontario way” for collaborative professionalism.

Ontario: Theory of action (2016) Collaborative Professionalism

  • Values all voices and is consistent with our shared responsibility to transform culture and provide equitable access to learning for all
  • Takes place in and fosters a trusting environment that promotes professionals learning
  • Involves sharing ideas to achieve a common vision of learning, development and success for all
  • Supports and recognises formal and informal leadership and learning
  • Includes opportunities for collaboration at all levels
  • Leverages exemplarity practice through the communication and sharing of ideas to achieve a common vision

This strongly resonates with Scottish education as it espouses the value of inclusion at the heart of education and creating a positive ethos for all learners (teachers and pupils). It promotes shared professional learning and sharing best practice and, finally, leadership and collaboration at all levels.

There are challenges, of course, such as “time”. Time to form relationships in collaborative spaces, to normalise working together with common purpose. In the busyness of the current educational climate this can be difficult, but not impossible. There is also a need for some teachers to de-privatise their learning by being open to failing in the safe environment created by collaborative space and practice.

Tara Fenwick (not at ICSEI) has a chapter in her book “Professional responsibility and professionalism” (2016) which critiques the complexity of collaboration and discusses the lack of empirical evidence that collaboration actually improves pupil outcomes; however, given that it appears an inherently ‘good thing’ and ‘common sense’ it is amenable to the education system. This ‘common sense’ approach seems to leverage the collective power of teachers and by ‘failing forward’, learning from mistakes as well as the successes and sharing this, collaborative professionalism appears to have a positive impact on outcomes for pupils John Hattie (not at ICSEI) also has published about collaborative professionalism (see  and claims that collaborative professionalism can have the greatest influence on pupil progress.

  • Read John Hattie's work on collaborative professionalism
  • I have previously blogged about the work of Jenni Donohoo on collective efficacy, see here, which discusses that teachers’ beliefs and working with and for each other collaboratively can have a positive impact on pupils’ learning.        

    So, what do you need to know more about? What does this mean for you and your practice? Who can you collaborate with and why them? What would the impact of the collaboration have on pupil outcomes? How would you know? What’s next for you?