My experience of collaborating in a time of change.
When I interviewed for the seconded post of Lead Officer for Secondary Curriculum with the Northern Alliance it was in a different world. I had visions of getting out and about into schools across the North and West of Scotland and of meeting and working with lots of new secondary colleagues. By the time my start date came around this was no longer possible. We were in lockdown shortly after and everything had changed for everyone.
What I experienced was nothing short of remarkable. Colleagues from across the Education family pulling together to meet the needs of our young people in the most challenging period for education in living memory.
As a team we worked together to meet the challenges of a situation no one could have predicted by refocusing the vision and drivers of the Northern Alliance and applied these in each of our individual workstreams. In working alongside eight Local Authorities of the Northern Alliance I was able to facilitate communication and collaboration between Senior Leaders involved in timetabling and planning for a return to school in August 2020. For me, at the time, this was something of an intimidating experience. Speed learning a new set of skills in facilitating online meetings and battling technological tripwires. Also, working with school leaders who were in many cases far more experienced and knowledgeable than me meant the thought ‘I hope they won’t think I have all the answers’ was never far from my mind. Part of my learning during those first weeks of working for the Northern Alliance was that not having all the answers is kind of the point. The role of a regional improvement collaborative is to facilitate the conditions that allow people to work together to find the right answers. The joy of my work was in joining the dots and bringing people together to build bridges over choppy waters. I was really amazed at the willingness to share, collaborate and support each other as members of Senior Leadership Teams from very different settings worked together around common problems ranging from how a return to school might look for small schools, to supporting those who were tackling timetabling for the very first time.
As time moved on and we got used to the ‘New Normal’ a main focus for my workstream became about developing curriculum-specific networks for key curricular areas. The creation of Northern Alliance Subject Support Groups has created cross authority networks to allow collaboration and mutual support among secondary subject teachers. Each group meets once a term with an agenda set by the members and provides members with a quickly accessible subject network facilitated through Microsoft Teams. Through online group meetings and chat on the Northern Alliance Secondary Support Team I have got to know practitioners from a hugely diverse range of settings. The thing they all have in common is a willingness to innovate, adapt, develop as teachers and support each other. This is driven by a common goal. Continuing to deliver the high quality education that our young people deserve. For me though, the value of the networks is demonstrated most when people got in touch looking for help -that a hard pressed classroom teacher in Argyll and Bute can reach out for support and be answered by teachers from the other side of Scotland, for no other reason than comradeship in hard times, demonstrates the strength and the power of the Northern Alliance.
During my time with the Northern Alliance I have also worked on the development of ‘Reimagining Your Local Skills Agenda’, a professional learning experience and supporting resources. I have developed many resources, courses and policy documents during my career but this has certainly been a different experience, one that highlights both the potential of the Northern Alliance and the challenges of educational delivery on ‘planet Covid’. On one hand the professional learning is not simply the work of one person but the product of collaboration, support and advice from Educators in many diverse settings. These included but were not limited to Education Scotland, the Northern Alliance, Dunoon Grammar School and Inverurie Academy. On the other hand, the challenges have come at the point of delivery. Hard pressed staff in schools who have signed up for the professional learning have often been called away to cover classes, talk to test and protect or otherwise fight one of the million little unsung skirmishes that happen in our schools every day.
Collaborating with and working alongside colleagues from the Northern Alliance and Education Scotland as well as a diverse range of partners has been hugely rewarding, developed my practical skill set and my systems level thinking. It is a strange experience indeed to have worked so closely with and learned so much from people you have never actually met. It’s a funny thing that the most intense period of learning and professional development of my career and an opportunity that I am deeply grateful to have been afforded has come almost entirely through Microsoft Teams calls. I am taking up the post of Head Teacher at Alness Academy at the end of January. When I move on it will be as a better planner, a more systems literate and digitally agile professional with knowledge and patterns of thinking that I never would have learned without working with the Northern Alliance.