How the Common Ground Collaborative builds learning cultures in every classroom
Kevin Bartlett asks how can we create effective, shared, schoolwide, learning cultures? The fourth in a series of four articles about the work of the Common Ground Collaborative.
The search for consistent quality of learning, and therefore consistent quality of teaching, is a long and winding road. The usual markers on that road seem to focus on developing ‘standards’ for teachers, and then ‘evaluating’ teachers against those standards. It’s all very compliance-oriented and rule-bound. Even the language around it smacks of the factory floor. In what other profession are we the ‘supervisors’ of our colleagues?
In the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC), we take a very different approach. We believe that schools are learning cultures and that cultures are framed by principles, not constrained by rules. We define a principle as ‘a shared truth that brings order and freedom to a system’. To us, common sense alone dictates that, as professionals, we are more likely to follow a ‘shared truth’ than to attempt to comply with the mind-boggling number of standards that seem to over-populate evaluation systems.
Learning principles . . . .
So, where do our Learning Principles come from? We believe that a well-crafted, co-created set of Learning Principles will be a practical synthesis of our shared learning experiences and the most reliable research. As always in CGC, we also believe in simplicity over complexity, so we generally work hard to synthesize our collective wisdom into 4-5 Learning Principles, and we find that this is plenty to guide learning, teaching and leading.
. . . . . and learning practices
Of course, a set of Learning Principles has no value on its own. Just another wall adornment to nail up by the Mission Statement. The real learning impact comes when Learning Principles are translated into Learning Practices, then into the necessary Teaching Practices to support the learning, then Leading Practices to support the teaching. It’s basic logic, a simple if-then syllogism: If we are living this principle, then here’s what we’ll see our learners doing, here’s what our teachers will be doing in support and here’s what our leaders will be doing to sustain this culture of ‘learning, teaching and leading on principle’.
For example, if the Principle is about Self-regulation, then learners, guided by teachers, will be able to set their own learning goals, and teachers will be able to set their own professional learning goals. It’s a system, and the system shapes the culture.
So, that’s the simple idea. A school-wide culture shaped by a few deeply-held shared learning principles that drive practices for learning, teaching and leading, including practices for Self-directed Professional Learning. When it comes to improving our practice, it seems obvious that we learn to improve our practice, so we should be following learning theory not out-moded evaluation practices.
A final point. In our member schools, we have seen rapid transformation by simply working together as a faculty on one collective annual goal of high learning impact for all students. It’s a simpler, more effective use of time and energy than the annual ritual of scatter-shot multiple personal goal-setting by each faculty member, a process we have labelled, somewhat irreverently, ‘Letters to Santa’. It’s one of many Energy Vampires that we would best be rid of. But that’s another story….
Kevin Bartlett has held leadership positions in the UK, Tanzania, Namibia, Austria and Belgium, where he was most recently Director of the International School of Brussels (ISB), from 2001-2015. Kevin is a regular author, a keynoter/workshop leader at multiple international and national conferences, and a consultant/coach on a wide range of themes, including Leading and Governing on Principle. He was a founding board member of CIS.
Learn more about why Kevin founded the Common Ground Collaborative with other like-minded educators in these ITM articles published in the Fall of 2020:
Images kindly provided by Kevin and the CGC