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Thursday / August 17

Maximising Impact through Collaboration Down Under

When we consider the term ‘collaboration,’ terms such as ‘unity’, ‘partnership,’ and ‘synergy’ come to mind. At the heart of collaboration is also a strong desire to work toward a shared goal and to create of a sense of collective urgency to maximise our impact on student learning.

This is a strong component of the Visible Learningplus Collaborative Impact Program (CIP) that Corwin Australia has embarked on with 48 Catholic Education Melbourne Schools (CEM). 23 of these schools commenced this project in 2015 (cohort 1) and an additional 25 schools (cohort 2) commenced their project in July 2016.

Now in our second year with cohort 1, we reflect on 3 core themes that have been at the heart of maximising our impact in supporting the CEM system and school leaders and teachers to commence their journey in bringing about ongoing and sustainable improvement in learner achievement.

Building capability

The strategic aim in the CIP is that all learners are assessment capable. This requires change at the instructional core. A central component of the CIP is the appointment of instructional ‘Impact Coach/es’ in schools. The Visible Learningplus professional learning designed for Impact Coaches has enabled the development of both individual and collaborative expertise in growing teachers’ knowledge of research, their capacity to know their impact and to implement changes to their practice. The CEM schools in the CIP have appointed their own Impact Coaches who have attended sessions to build their leadership capacity to coach others in implementing change.

Through our partnership, we have developed an Impact Coach Google community. It allows for collaboration through the provision of resources and ideas that support each coach through the program. It also has the purpose of sharing information with system leaders. In addition, the principals involved in the project have also created their own Google community to share and support each other.

Impact Coaches have been introduced to a process for collecting classroom observations using the ‘Classroom Observation Tool’. After collaborating with teachers about the focus for their observations, Impact Coaches observe and collect data from classroom practice and students, which then informs professional dialogue to understand the impact of their teaching and to develop future actions. It also allows data to be collected as part of CIP evaluation to inform us ‘How we are doing?’ and ‘Where to next?’ both at a school and system level.

Classroom teachers from our schools have recently attended our Visible Learning into Action for Teachers professional learning (VLAT) where they learned how to plan their own Inquiry Cycle, which is based on collecting evidence and planning actions in response to this evidence in the Visible Learner and Know Thy Impact strands.  An ‘Impact Partner’ collaborates with the teacher throughout this process, guiding and supporting the inquiry. As John Hattie states, the greatest influence on student progression in learning is having highly expert, inspired, and passionate teachers and school leaders working together to maximise the effect of their teaching on all students in their care.

Another layer of our CIP work has been building the capacity of Systems Leaders in CEM to undertake School Capability Assessments. The overall purpose of these assessments is to determine a school’s baseline evidence from across the Visible Learning strands. Each school receives an assessment report regarding the extent to which they have ‘Aspirations’, ‘Strategic tools and actions’, ‘Shared understandings’ and ‘Professional practices’ around the key visible learning strands. Mapping evidence of each school’s growing knowledge, understanding and practice is undertaken at the beginning of each cycle with the purpose of then measuring the shifts of the schools’ capability over time.

Starting with the evidence

Shifting the narrative beyond ‘fixing’ the teacher to developing collaborative expertise across all layers of the system has been identified by John Hattie as a powerful component to reduce the variability that exists between classrooms. This is strongly woven through the professional learning program in the CIP.

The role of school leaders as key to creating the impetus for change in schools is recognised through the Visible Learning plus Evidence into Action Days. Our school leaders on these days have reflected on the research that identifies the powerful role of Instructional Leaders and learnt how to gather evidence to understand where their strengths are in their schools and the areas that require development.

The design of the Evidence into Action professional learning seminars enabled the emergence of clarity for our schools in terms of understanding where the potential of the research transferred into their contexts.  At workshops, consultants often overheard participants stating, “We can see where the research links to our practice more clearly…” as they were provided with tools to begin investigating the extent to which the Visible Learning strands existed in their school processes and systems.

Through data collection across the strands, The Visible Learner, Know Thy Impact, Inspired and Passionate Teachers and Effective Feedback, school leaders and teachers were able to uncover the extent to which these strands are embedded in their schools.  The importance of being evaluators and having evidence to inform decision making was reinforced.

The schools all developed their own Visible Learning Action Plan that is integrated into their existing school plans and are monitored by the Guiding Coalition within each school. These plans reflect the language and research of Visible Learning and also the evidence collected during the first cycle.

Knowing our Impact to determine next steps

Our recent showcase event, ‘Stories of Impact’ saw all of our schools come together to share their narratives of the journey for them so far in being involved in the Collaborative Impact Program. These presentations were developed from Impact Coach Case Studies undertaken by teams in schools and provided teachers and leaders across all layers the system with an opportunity to gain an insight into the schools’ progress and professional learning.

This was also an opportunity to celebrate the successes, reflect on the challenges, and identify future steps. What emerged was the uniqueness of each school’s journey; however, similar themes of collaboration, building capacity and impact equally emerged as powerful. The key message was that the change was being brought about by all members of the staff and was not another project that was driven by leadership. As one leader said, “We are all on the same tram.”

Some of the stories shared included case studies in the areas of

  1. Developing relational trust
  2. Knowing our impact: developing teacher planning cycles
  3. Introducing learning intentions and success criteria
  4. Learning Walks, Effect Size and Teacher Goals

A number of evaluation tools are used in the CIP to provide evidence of our impact and next steps. Some areas of strength that have emerged from workshop evaluations and school capability assessments include:

  • A greater focus on teachers’ knowledge of how to develop visible learners
  • An increase in having a shared aspiration for learners
  • The development of a shared language of learning has increased across our schools and this had been extended to school communities
  • The visible learning work has been embedded authentically into other initiatives in the schools
  • Schools are more focused on starting with student data for planning instruction
  • Staff has a greater willingness to take ownership of all students’ progress

And our next steps we are striving to strengthen:

  • Developing shared understandings and professional practices around the visible learner
  • Developing clarity around what progress looks like in curriculum areas
  • Developing shared understandings and professional practices around what makes an effective (inspired and passionate) teacher
  • Developing leader and teacher knowledge of the instructional levels of feedback

Now that we are already immersed in our second year, we are mindful of the need to continue to evaluate the evidence to determine our next steps. The strength of collaborating with all has ensured that we have maximised opportunities to make improvements, innovated on existing plans, and set ambitious goals.

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Written by

Jenny Sesta is a highly experienced and dedicated educational consultant with over 18 years of experience in Primary School Education. She has a particular passion for developing instructional approaches that have the most significant impact on student achievement and progress. Jenny has worked as a school leader for over 10 years, as a Literacy Coach and a Visible Learning Impact Coach.

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