Building capacity by building community

Building the capacity of staff in individual settings is challenging, particularly in small schools. As Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) state, “It’s not a good thing when teachers work alone… Teachers improve when they collaborate with and learn from other teachers.” Creating the conditions for collaboration can be difficult in small schools with only 2 or 3 teachers. However, the Shared Headship model, with its incumbent challenges, also creates its own opportunities when the two schools can come together and collaborate. Education Scotland recommend that schools ‘look inwards, outwards and forwards’ (How Good Is Our School 4, p9) and Shared Headship schools can facilitate the ‘looking outwards’ at a basic level.

To date, in my setting, I have attempted to work across the two schools in three distinct ways: strategically, professionally and experientially. Strategically, we have been meeting regularly to discuss shared priorities. This has been an incredibly helpful forum, particularly in criticality, as we are all facing the same or similar challenges, particularly in relation to local authority objectives. As Brookfield (2017, p115) says, “critical reflection is best practiced as a collective endeavour.”

Professionally, the model of community learning is evolving as, at the start, it was evident that as groups of staff, there was quite a gap in values and priorities (Viinamaki, 2009). Working through this and discussing our shared purpose (based on the Curriculum for Excellence 4 Capacities, suggested by Priestley, 2014) we have seen some more fruitful professional learning.

Experientially, identifying opportunities for shared pupil learning has been important. We have brought the pupils from both schools together for special events including a Science Day, a Storytelling Festival and a Music morning. The challenge with such events is that they can and have been perceived by school staff as ‘interrupting’ the planned class learning. I have countered this attitude by reminding teachers about our agreed ‘purpose and priorities’ (Cowie & Crawford (2012), Crow (2012), Priestly (2014)) and the wider learning that takes place in different and varied forums. This is an ongoing conversation with some staff.

The professional learning community (PLC) model that came to the fore in the early 1990s is a possible vehicle for creating a collaborative learning culture across two schools. The definitions of PLCs are numerous but there is an acknowledgement (Bolan et al., 2005) that to be effective, a PLC requires: shared values and vision, collective responsibility for pupils’ learning, collaboration focused on learning, individual and collective professional learning, reflective professional enquiry, openness, inclusive membership and mutual trust, respect and support. This list of attributes is helpful but equally challenging – there is a lot that needs to be in place for collaboration to be successful. If professional learning communities are the best way to learn collaboratively, I need to revisit my current approaches against the list of attributes (above) and amend my practice.


Questions for reflection

  1. Contrived collegiately (Hargreaves, (1991), Stoll (2003)) should be avoided when attempting to develop collegiate working. How can I do this?
  2. Collaboration, according to Watkins, Carnell and Lodge (2007), is to labour together with a sense of creating something greater between us than would have been achieved separately. As Shared Headship schools, what is the ‘something greater’ that we are seeking to create?
  3. Professional Learning Communities are about learning. School improvement needs to be in line with agreed priorities. How do I match individual professional enquiry with corporate improvement priorities?



Brookfield, S. (2017), Becoming a critically reflective teacher, Jossey Bass Ltd
Crawford, M. (2014), Reflections on developing as an educational leader and manager, Leadership for Learning, InForm 16
Crow, G. (2012), Professional identities: Developing leaders for inter/professional practice. In: J. Forbes and C. Watson, The Transformation of Children’s Services: Examining and debating the complexities of inter/professional working, Routledge
Dimmock, C. (2012) Leadership, capacity building and school improvement: Concepts, themes and impact, Routledge.
Hargreave, A. and Fullan, M. (2012), Professional Capital: Transforming teaching in every school, Routledge
Education Scotland (2015), How Good is Our School? 4th edition, ISBN 978-0-7053-1889-1
Stoll, L. (1998), School culture, School Improvement Network’s Bulletin, 9, pp.9-14.
Priestly, M. (2014), Approaches to school-based curriculum development, (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. . Accessed 3.1.17.
Viinanamki, O-P. (2009), Intra-organisational challenges of values-based leadership, Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies, 14(2), pp.6-13.
Watkins,C. Carnell, E. and Lodge, C. (2007), Effective Learning in Classrooms, Paul Chapman Publishing

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