By Dr Peter Bateman, AISA Executive Director
Recently I had the pleasure of facilitating an AISA eTime Webinar with Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox from the International School of Kenya. The Webinar was entitled “Building Collaborative Partnerships Across Schools Without Walls”. I very much enjoyed exploring some ideas with Ryan and it has got me thinking again about the key role AISA plays in establishing and nurturing these collaborative partnerships not only within individual schools but also across the entire network of AISA schools in Africa.
Following every AISA learning event, we send out an evaluation survey to get feedback from the participants. Appropriately, these concentrate on the impact on student learning that (hopefully) will arise as a result of attending the event. But what strikes me about all these evaluations is the importance the participants place on the opportunity to form collaborative networks with others.
For many years AISA has run our online Communities of Practice (CoPs) that have enabled staff in all our schools to stay in touch with their colleagues in other schools. Mostly these networks are job related and adopt a truly collaborative approach as group members freely and generously share ideas and resources about how to do their jobs better.
More recently AISA has tried an approach where these CoPs are also set up to explore ideas (rather than job functions) that emanate from the learning events that staff in AISA schools have attended. We think of this as an opportunity to deepen the learning that took place face-to-face once people return to their schools. This new approach is in its early days yet, but we expect that this emphasis on collaborative exploration of ideas will result in the deeper learning AISA is aiming at through our professional learning programme.
Given that AISA’s mission is clearly focused on improving student learning, the next question that arises for me is whether or not these collaborative partnerships do actually support improved learning outcomes for students?
While we know quite a lot about what makes for effective collaborative within individual schools (indeed there are some spectacular examples of this in the AISA membership), at a systems level – such as the AISA network of schools – there is surprisingly little research carried out on the relationship between collaborative partnerships across schools and improved student learning. This lack of research may be due in part to the relative rarity of clusters of international schools (such as the AISA network) and to the fact that the sheer diversity of schools in the AISA region makes networks like ours complex to study. I would suggest that we are just beginning to realize the power that collaborative partnerships can have on school improvement – including improved learning outcomes for students. However, as we explore these ideas further, we need to be mindful, as Santiago Rincón-Gallardo & Michael Fullan (2016) suggest, that
“The mere adoption and widespread dissemination of networks as a strategy for change is likely to produce superficial and even harmful practices if not accompanied with clarity and precision about the patterns of interaction that distinguish effective from inconsequential or even harmful networks.”
Fortunately, Rincón-Gallardo & Fullan (2016) do provide us with some further guidance as to the eight essential features that enable effective networking and collaboration among clusters of schools such as those in the AISA region:
(1) focussing on ambitious student learning outcomes linked to effective pedagogy;
(2) developing strong relationships of trust and internal accountability;
(3) continuously improving practice and systems through cycles of collaborative inquiry;
(4) using deliberate leadership and skilled facilitation within flat power structures
(5) frequently interacting and learning inwards;
(6) connecting outwards to learn from others;
(7) forming new partnership among students, teachers, families, and communities; and
(8) securing adequate resources to sustain the work.
AISA intends to explore these ideas further in a new Community of Practice we have set up called “Learning Together” that will be facilitated by Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox. If you would like to join the discussion please sign up here: https://bit.ly/2vqbS8d
Santiago Rincón-Gallardo Michael Fullan , (2016),” Essential features of effective networks in education “, Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 1 Iss 1 pp. 5 – 22
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