Towards a Collaborative System



Every Monday morning at The Spinney we hold a  weekly briefing. It’s for everyone on the team  – teaching assistants, office colleagues,  caterers, site managers, teachers, volunteers.  We  talk about how the weekend went and share our stories, we look at the week ahead, any special events or visitors to welcome  and then I share my headteacher’s  reflections.

I always create a visual to capture what I’ve been thinking and reading about, which is displayed on the interactive whiteboard. Last Monday I was thinking about how we Build Moral Capital to Drive Moral Purpose:

Global Colab

As you will see Michael Fullan features a great deal throughout this blog and I love this quote:

“Collaboration as an end in itself is a waste of time. Groups are powerful, by which I mean they can be powerfully wrong” 

The Case for Learning from Successful Networks

As usual I had spent the weekend learning online, drawing on ideas, tweets and publications.   I find it inspiring to reflect on the global movement towards collaborative learning networks of teachers and I enjoyed reading Michael Fullan and Steven Munby’s publication Inside Out – and Downside Up  which sets out their “strong belief that all schools, 100%, should be involved in focused, productive networks within which leaders, teachers and students challenge, support, innovate and learn from one another in ways that measurably improve outcomes.”

The Spinney is an Ashoka Changemaker School and we offer a local/global creative and connected curriculum. We make links wherever we can in order to learn about effective and sustainable methodologies and pedagogies. Our curriculum is designed to promote a range of skills including imagination, creativity, compassion, innovation and collaboration. I am therefore particularly drawn to Michael Fullan’s description of Deep Learning to “activate students to help humanity to change the world.”

Deep Learning

The Case for thinking like Global Citizens

“Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on deep understanding of diverse values and world views, and with a genuine interest to solve ambiguous and complex real-world problems that impact on human and environmental sustainability.” Michael Fullan

In addition to being a Headteacher I am a National Leader of Education, and as a system leader I sit on the Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board. Again in this amazing era of Global Connectivity I think it is important for us to be efficient and to learn from successful educational strategies across the world.

This recent report Beyond PD – Teachers Professional Learning is another useful resource for system leaders. It is designed as a resource for teachers, leaders and policy makers wanting to improve teacher professional learning in their schools. The report is accompanied by extensive appendices and a Toolkit with resources that high-performing systems and schools have used to develop their professional learning. It highlights how high-performing systems integrate both adult learning and student outcomes within effective professional learning design.

Among the many approaches in the toolkit I was really excited to see that Spirals of Inquiry was also listed. I first learnt about  Spirals of Inquiry at the Whole Education Conference in November (The Spinney is a Whole Education Partner School) where I had the great privilege of meeting Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser. Spirals of Inquiry is a positive mindset for school improvement – “a mental model that is systemic but not simplistic.

The rise of collaborative learning communities in British Columbia has been slow but steady since 2000. The communities are now the main avenue for professional learning in many districts across the province.


“We want every learner to cross the stage with dignity purpose and options.” Spirals of Inquiry

Another publication that is being launched at the RSA tomorrow evening is Creative Public Leadership: How School System Leaders Can Create the Conditions for System-wide Innovation  I am sorry that I will not be able to attend not only because this will be a very inspiring evening but because the fabulous David Whitebread (Director of PEDAL Research Centre on Play in Education, Development and Learning, University of Cambridge) will be on the  panel!  The Spinney is currently involved in a research project on Curiosity as a skills that underpins Science Inquiry.


The Case for Innovation

In their publication Joe Hallgarten, Valerie Hannon, Tom Beresford state “There is a compelling case to create school systems that actively, and explicitly, create the conditions for successful innovations to grow and be taken to scale. The diffusion of existing practice will not be enough to deliver the significant improvements in learning outcomes that society, the economy and learners themselves demand. Too many current improvement strategies are producing diminishing returns.”

As Michael Fullan argued in 2011: “There is a choice and some countries have made it. Replace the juggernaut of wrong drivers with lead drivers that work…. Jettison blatant merit pay, reduce excessive testing, don’t depend on teacher appraisal as a driver, and don’t treat world-class standards as a panacea.”

I found this publication resonated greatly, and I found the term “System Entrepreneur” very useful for what I hope to achieve both in my own school and in education in general.

“System entrepreneurs are responsible for finding the opportunities to leverage innovative ideas for much greater system impact. The skills of the system entrepreneur are quite different from, but complementary to, those of the social entrepreneur. The system entrepreneur plays different roles at different points in the innovation cycle, but all of these roles are geared towards finding opportunities to connect an alternative approach to the resources of the dominant system.”

The Case for Connectivity

My mantra is “Only Connect.” I find it useful when meeting new people, or as a way to combine ideas and to identify new synergies.

I found this model below to be a helpful one and it can be used to reflect on how we will participate in various circumstances, such as work groups or team meetings. On some occasions for example when undertaking training (e.g. Child Protection and Safeguarding training) then I see that my role is to be largely as a Consumer of Information. In contrast when working with colleagues either at School level or at Local Authority level, where there is a shared focus on problem solving, then my responsibility is to be a Catalyst working alongside others to generate new ideas, possibilities and realities.

     The Case for Change 

In 2009 I was fortunate to hear Michael Fullan who came to a conference in Cambridge and talked about The Six Secrets of Change and he even signed a copy of my book. I related to all the 6 secrets and it sustained me well through the initial years of Headship.

The Competencies for Whole System Change

The world of education has moved on a pace since I became a Headteacher 10 years ago and The Spinney is now a National Teaching School and the lead school of  The Kite Teaching School Alliance. The aim of our alliance is to be inclusive, innovative and inspirational.

In their book Leadership, Lyle Kirtman and Michael Fullan describe 7 Key Competencies for Whole System Change.

These Seven Key Competencies for Whole-System Change “delineate the traits, characteristics, values, and behaviors of leaders who can focus on their own improvement, build capacity in others, and focus outwardly on the future trends in education.” A leader equipped to create and sustain systemic change:

  1. Challenges the status quo;
  2. Builds trust through clear communication and expectations;
  3. Creates a commonly owned plan for success;
  4. Focuses on team over self;
  5. Has a high sense of urgency for change and sustainable results in improving student achievement;
  6. Has a commitment to continuous improvement for self and organization; and
  7. Builds external networks and partnerships.

Of all the competencies it is the 7th that particularly resonates.

I think this is a very exciting time to be in education. I am hugely Optimistic about what can be achieved through connections, networks and partnerships. Education is a brilliant journey and we can learn from all the books, blogs and people we meet along the way.

If you are Optimistic about Education despite the challenges for the sake of young people and our colleagues then join us (@MattGovernor, @thatboycanteach @nataliehscott and me @RaeSnape ) and be #OptimisticEd and find us a @OptimisticEd_


The Spinney  is  an Ashoka Changemaker School,  a  Whole Education Partner School  and Cambridge Primary Review Trust School 

I have been a Headteacher for ten years and am a National Leader of Education. The Spinney is the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive, creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.