Collaborative Professionalism

Hargreaves, Andy & O’Connor, Michael. (2018). Collaborative Professionalism.
Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press

I admit up front that I have been a fan of Andy Hargreaves, his writing and thinking for many years. I have been blessed by learning from him and being able to apply his work in many environments. I strongly suggest buying this book by Hargreaves and O’Connor for use in schools by learning leaders.

Hargreaves and O’Connor provide specific strategies to start focusing on the staff and school on learning rather than test scores and control. This book supports Hattie’s research that collective efficacy is three times more effective with an effect size of 1.57. Most of us look at effect sizes of 0.4 or more to indicate the best results for students.

What I like most are these ten tenets that give a road map for teachers and leaders to positively affect student learning. The bonus is the ten affect staff learning. Years ago I read where staff learning directly affects student learning. Forty years in schools has confirmed that basic thought.

Art Costa asked me over thirty years ago since I was a principal, ‘what was I doing to create a mentally stimulating environment for teachers?’ I was taken back. I said, “I have to do that too!” Typical Art responded, “if you are not creating a mentally stimulating environment for staff, why do you think they will create it for kids.” I have never forgotten that conversation.

The authors write, “Inquiring together and acting upon it, is the essence of collaborative professionalism.” What if we focused on questions and learning from each other rather than obsessing with test scores. It seems to me, from multiple sources, if we focus on learning, we get the test scores as a side benefit. If we focus on learning, we create an attitude that learning is never done.

How many think what we know now will be enough for the future. Marshall Goldsmith (2007) wrote a book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He is right and the best educators and business leaders know that the competitive edge is LEARNING.

“Professional collaboration benefits students and boosts student achievement, increases teacher retention, and enhances the implementation or innovation and change. The big questions are no longer about whether teachers should collaborate. No profession can serve people effectively if its members do not share and exchange knowledge about their expertise or about the clients, patients, or students they have in common.” The best innovative business cultures already know that. See books like Work Rules by Lazlo Bock, Chief Joy Officer by Richard Sheridan, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull as a few examples.


1. Collective Autonomy. Educators have more independence from top-down bureaucratic authority, but less independence from each other. Teachers are given or take authority.
2. Collective Efficacy. The belief that, together, we can make a difference to the students we teach, no matter what.
3. Collaborative Inquiry {CI). Teachers routinely explore problems, issues, or differences of practice together in order to improve or transform what they are doing. CI is embedded in the everyday work of teaching. Teachers inquire into problems before rushing into solving them.
4. Collective Responsibility. People have a mutual obligation to help each other and to serve the students they have in common. Collective responsibility is about our students, rather than my students.
5. Collective Initiative. In collaborative professionalism: there are fewer initiatives, but there is more initiative. Teachers step forward, and the system encourages it. Collaborative professionalism is about communities of strong individuals who are committed to helping and earning from each other.
6. Mutual Dialogue. Difficult conversations can be had and are actively instigated among educators. Feedback is honest. There is a genuine dialogue about valued differences of opinion about ideas, curriculum materials, or the challenging behavior of students. Participants are often protected by protocols that insist on clarification and listening before any disagreement is brought forth.
7. Joint Work. Joint work exists in team teaching, collaborative planning, collaborative action research, providing structured feedback, undertaking peer reviews, discussing examples of student work, and so forth. Joint work involves actions and sometimes products or artifacts (such as a lesson, curriculum, or feedback report) and is often facilitated by structures, tools, and protocols.
8. Common Meaning and Purpose. Collaborative professionalism aspires to, articulates, and advances a common purpose that is greater than test scores or even academic achievement on its own. It addresses and engages with goals of education that enable and encourage young people to grow and flourish as whole human beings who can live lives and find work that has meaning and purpose for themselves and for society.
9. Collaborating With Students. In the deepest forms of collaborative professionalism, students are actively engaged with their teachers in constructing change together.
10. Big-Picture Thinking for All. In collaborative professionalism, everyone gets the big picture. They see it, live it, and create it together.

If our learning leadership integrates the above tenets, we will make much better headway to prepare our students for a future that we really don’t have a clue about. There is an African Proverb I quote often: Not learning is bad, not wanting to learn is worse. Let’s help create the belief and the engagement for our kids that learning is essential and ongoing. Yes, having content knowledge is important. It is also insufficient.

We can look up most information we need with the use of technology. I am more concerned that we know whether or not the information we find is TRUE. Technology can be used for good or evil. Let’s teach and model finding authentic information rather than assuming if it is in print, it is right. Then, let’s teach and model what to do with that information to create a better world for everyone.

Here are some suggestions from the book for educators.
• stop investing too much in data teams at the expense of broader collaborative Inquiry
• stop importing unmodified alien designs from other countries and cultures
• end high rates of educator turnover that destroy cohesive cultures
• keep evolving the complexity of collaborative professionalism beyond conversations or meetings to deeper forms of dialogue, feedback, and inquiry
• continue soliciting critical feedback from peers inside and outside one’s own community;
• turn students into changemakers with their teachers
• adduce the added value of digital technology by carefully determining where and when it has a positive impact on collaborative professionalism
• build more collaboration across schools and systems, including and especially in broader environments of competition

As Goldsmith said in his book, without follow up and feedback, not much changes. John Hattie points out that giving teachers feedback on their teaching has one of the highest effect sizes on student learning. There are many coaching and feedback systems in use across the United States. As a certified Stakeholder Centered Coach by the Goldsmith group, I suggest looking at this model for using data from those who are directly reporting to leaders for measurable results.

Here is a list from a school who is using the strategies promoted by Collaborative Professionalism. Features of deep collaborative professionalism in Escuela Nueva are:
• Talk plus action
• Products with results
• Feedback from colleagues
• Candid dialogue
• Collaborating with and among students, not only for them
• Pursuing learning that has meaning and purpose
• Growing and improving sustainability

I would like those actions in my school whether I am a teacher, leaders or student. What if our ‘professional learning communities’ were organized around these principles. Though first named by Shirley Hord in 1997, basic ideas about PLCs were already circulating under the various banners of deliberately designed collaborative cultures, communities of practice, learning organizations, and professional communities involving reflective dialogue about practice. I know Milbury McLaughlin was an early leader in developing PLCs too.

PLC starts:
• It is led by teachers. They pick the focus in a culture where they are already closely connected to students’ learning and development.
• It concentrates on the whole student and his or her development, not only on cognitive learning or achievement scores.
• It does not shy away from the difficult professional dialogue that poses hard questions about teachers’ practice.
I love this: “A ‘no hat’ policy is not a PLC topic.”

Here are ten questions that go to the heart of the ten tenets:
1. Are you able and willing to make significant professional judgments together?
2. Do succeed, and are you prepared to make sure that they do.
3. Do you ask questions about your own and others’ practice on a regular basis, with a view toward acting on the answers?
4. Do you feel almost as responsible for the other children in your school or community as you do for your own, and do you take responsibility with others to help them?
5. Do you seize the initiative and step forward to innovate, make a change, or help a colleague in need before you are asked?
6. Do you get into a deep dialogue or even heated debate with colleagues about ideas, plans, politics, or the best way to help struggling children who need another way to motivate them.
7. Do you have other colleagues you do truly fulfilling work with—inside or outside your school—in terms of planning, teaching, reviewing, or giving feedback, for example?
8. Is your teaching and your own learning imbued with meaning and a deep sense of moral purpose, and do you use your influence and authority to help young people find genuine meaning and purpose in their lives also?
9. Do you collaborate with your students sometimes as well as for them?
10. Do you get the big picture of your organization, understand how everything is connected to everything else, and take responsibility for your own part in all of that?

I must close with the last words from Hargreaves and O’Connor. Nothing in the world is entirely individual. Collaborative professionalism is about group achievements that actually enhance individual accomplishments and contributions of many kinds in countless ways. Strong groups foster shared decisions, but they also underpin, inform, and enhance individual professional judgments.

Collaborative professionalism benefits the individual and the group, it develops the student and the teacher, it expresses solidarity in the face of adversity, and it embraces collective as well as individual autonomy based on shared expertise. Collaborative professionalism welcomes rather than fears feedback, critique, and improvement.