At Norwich Research School’s unmissable Slow-Burn Leadership conference at University of East Anglia, Sir David Carter’s speech was ostensibly on “effective collaboration and system leadership in East Anglia.” In reality, he spoke of ethical leadership, cultural shifts and courage. As such, he precisely mirrored the points made by big guns in business at the Knowledge Management Summit earlier this month.
I have written this short piece not only because I want Sir David’s words to benefit those unfortunate East Anglian school leaders who did miss the conference, but because his points are important in the larger scheme of things – “The Common Good,” to use one phrase which seemed to dominate the conference.
That someone with Sir David’s track record and experience publicly calls to institutional collaboration with such a noble aim in mind should give us all hope – and give every Trust CEO caught up in the current gold-rush reason to pause for reflection: Why are the biggest companies on the planet looking at conversational leadership, employee empowerment and flat command structures? (Read about Gripple in Participatory Budgeting#9: Schools as Living Organisms).
Sir David placed some of the answers to this question in an educational context. Essentially, this is the piece I was planning to write as No. 4 in the article series on Knowledge Management, which was seeded at the ARK Group’s annual KM Summit in London on 5 June.
A call for cross-institutional KM
The narrow focus of this piece cannot do justice to the other speakers, which included Stuart Kime, Sean Harford and Cat Scutt, nor to the SSIF projects presented, but I do want to briefly digress to a practical lesson on the value of institutional collaboration I made elsewhere at the conference: In 2017, as Sheringham Teaching School was writing the SSIF bid targeting maths in KS2 using metacognition and Cooperative Learning, the Ignite Teaching School – less than 40 miles away – were using the same two strategies in a bid targeting KS3 English. Is it conceivable that collaboration during preparation and execution would have saved time, distributed workload, inspired ideas and lifted spirits?
Knowledge as power, not as “Management 2.0”
The case study about the Salvation Army I presented in the first installment on Knowledge Management (or simply “KM”) hinted at the power of this little-recognised discipline to change ethos and command structures – and even alter the physical spaces of organisations. It was a key theme at the KM Summit in London that technology and “systems” are simply tools: Whoever mixes up his cart and horse will not get to the market on time. And – if Sir David has his way – time is well and truly up for the late Milton Friedman and his living acolytes, whose core tenet is that only in a deregulated dog-eat-dog world of disaster capitalism may success be found.*
In stark opposition, Sir David presented a powerful case for a “sharing & caring” collaborative approach as the best way to give every child a good education.
“[Sir David] is challenging CEOs and government, getting MATS to work together for the common good…”– Roger Higgins’ introduction, Slow-Burn Leadership conference, UEA, 20 June 2019.
Effective collaboration across the MAT sector
In the spirit of “not reinventing the wheel” I have chosen to simply present the in-session notes made directly on photos of Sir David’s slides, rather than spending hours rewriting everything.
Text highlights indicate three separate themes that I identified in his presentation:
as exemplified below:
(Click to enlarge images)
But only if the process is collaborative, respectful and takes into account the complexities of personal, logistic, experiential (etc, etc.) issues in all the schools working together. This multi-site, multidisciplinary, multi-context environment is precisely why conscious and conscientious use of Knowledge Management spells the difference between success and failure.
I cannot remember the last time I saw the word “kindness” on a slide at a major education conference, and certainly not under the rubric “Core Belief.” To be clear, “kindness” does not mean leaving problems unchallenged (because that would be condescending rather than kind), but rather that your professional interaction shows fundamental respect for the integrity of your colleagues. This is Slow-Burn at its best: The long-term investment in human relationships.
Collaboration is not a hierarchical command structure: It is recognising that everyone has something to offer. To collaborate effectively, you must acknowledge that everyone is at a different point in their unique journey towards improvement and identify when, where and what support is genuinely useful (and often, who should give it). Basically, collaboration across MATs is not random, in the same way Collaborative Learning in a classroom is not random. (Just think “Unstructured group work in a KS3 RE classroom on Friday afternoon in an inner-city RI high school” and you will understand the need for structure). See Sir David’s “journey” overview in the final slide.
Here, I am thinking that leadership in a collaborative support programme would need to be conversational in nature. As for the 3rd point, Endorsing, the active, public commitment to any mutual support programme between other schools in the network lays vital groundwork for your own involvement at a later date.
Stopping the hemorrhaging of teachers into other sectors is reason enough to engage embark upon this journey. In relation to MAT workforce (now 44% of total), the benefit of moving around within and across collaborating MATs, learning from specialists in different schools is another good reason to nurture a real collaborative ethos. (And, let’s not forget reducing workload!)
(“politicised think tanks” comes from Joe Nutt’s presentation at the #rEdRugby conference. I thought I had reached the bottom of the pit with Gorard’s Trails of Evidence-Based Education, but Joe Nutt presented hard evidence of what can only be described as gross, intentional fraud by highly esteemed and supposedly benevolent British and international institutions (Contact @joenutt_author for more information). All the more reason to follow Stuart Kime’s advice on bringing research right down to ground level).
Build from the classroom up, NOT from DfE offices.Sir David Carter, Slow-Burn Leadership conference
Question in green is mine.
You have likely seen this before. I suspect Sir David tremendously enjoyed drawing this up. For all it’s superficial simplicity a lot of work must have gone into this diagram. And I am sure he took his time.
The main point to take away here was his closing remark, that challenging/changing behavior in an institution may initially worsen results. You will either need leaders with nerves of steel – or you will need to step out of the box and take the advice of conversational leadership guru David Gurteen to the global corporations present at the KM Summit, which effectively dissolves the concepts of “solutions” and “outcomes” entirely. Follow on Twitter or join the mailing list for updates.
Disclaimer: This piece reflects the authors limited understanding of the speaker’s presentation and a specific professional focus on collaboration and knowledge management. It does not claim to be a comprehensive account. Any factual errors or misunderstandings are the author’s responsibility.
A good introduction to KM by Chris J. Collison, Paul J. Corney & Patricia Lee Eng
- Knowledge Management #1: What business can offer education in the year of the Platypus
- Knowledge Management #2: From Sparks to Wildfire; Education’s first Route Maps
- A piece of cake: Stuart Kime on baking your own research network
*) The phrase refers, of course, to Naomi Klein’s seminal Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.