Deep-rooted relationships are proving to be invaluable in stressful times

Peer-partnership working is the way forward during the current crisis and beyond

Associate for Education Development Trust’s Schools Partnership Programme

When schools closed their doors on 20 March 2020, they were thrown into a period of fevered activity, short-term decision-making, and practical solutions to immediate problems. People had to change how they worked at speed. While some schools might have ‘done their own thing’, the 1,700 schools from Education Development Trust’s Schools Partnership Programme found the deep well of support they had built through the programme to be invaluable.

Investment in deep partnership work is essential when dealing with unprecedented challenges

Moral support and practical assistance were important in the early days of school closures, but the trust and deep knowledge of one another’s schools which comes from the relationships they’ve built through the programme, has had a more profound and strategic effect. According to one partnership lead: ‘The impact has been huge’.  

We asked how developing their partnerships through the programme has helped them so far and how they see it helping in the future. It’s clear from our survey that these school partnerships see the investment in deep partnership work as essential for future success. They are already working together on issues such as the place of a carefully considered recovery curriculum, creative and meaningful parent/carer engagement, and the wellbeing of both staff and pupils.

How is it that a peer review programme can be so valued by schools that, even in a time of such momentous and fast-moving challenges, they want to continue the investment of time and collective effort?  

Partnership Leads spoke eloquently about the deep learning they have experienced as part of the programme and expressed the view that ongoing learning will be essential if they are to succeed with the new challenges presented to them. They view the programme’s peer review cycle as an ideal vehicle to continue that collaborative learning.

We know from the work of Ronald Heifetz that leadership and learning need to go hand-in-hand.  Leadership takes place in the context of problems and challenges and becomes especially important when challenges are unprecedented and new ways have to be found or invented.  It is then that learning is essential, both for leaders and for the people they need to mobilise around them. 

The school leaders that we work with recognise this.

Feedback is important - even in a crisis

At the heart of the Schools Partnership Programme is the concept of schools inviting feedback from peers and then ‘owning’ the feedback through facilitated learning opportunities.  Host schools choose an issue on which they would like to make progress and invite colleagues from partnership schools to look at what they are doing and offer non-judgemental, coaching insights. Staff in host schools use facilitated post-review workshops to consider implications and potential actions. Given the significant developments that all schools will be undertaking this year, these school leaders believe that this non-judgmental, non-competitive, supportive approach may be more valuable than ever as staff and pupils engage in collective recovery.

We’ve moved quickly to adapt and augment the programmes’ peer review cycle for schools and partnerships in these exceptional circumstances.  New resources we’ve developed with schools include two research-based sets of enquiry questions which can be tailored to help their thinking on Covid Response and Recovery and/or relationship based Recovery Curriculum, as well as refine their focus for peer review.  Further to this is our SPP Rapid Response guidance for running rapid peer review in a fully or partially remote environment. We will continue discussions with schools, MAT leaders and local authorities to understand how to develop our training and resources further as we learn more.

Why we need to stop ‘going it alone’

In terms of capacity to respond to the challenge we’re currently presented with, there is a stark difference between schools that ‘go it alone’ and those in deep networks or partnerships.  What schools are telling us is that networking and partnership are not in themselves enough; for them, engagement in deep, searching and trust-building enquiry learning has given them resources they need to lead beyond Covid.

We are passionate about helping teachers and school leaders to thrive and to help others to do the same.  We are committed to co-developing an approach that continues to empower schools and teachers to drive their own improvement journey. 

The Schools Partnership Programme’s rich offer of training and professional learning helps school leaders develop their reviewing and coaching skills, their strategic focus, their evidence-based practice and their professional relationships.  It also offers exceptional opportunities and associated training for middle and aspiring leaders who become workshop facilitators within the programme. 

If your partnership is interested in taking their work and learning, in the interests of children and young people, in the company of similarly committed professionals and the safe hands of leaders in the field of peer review, we’d love to talk

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