The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Why we need interprofessional collaboration

Schools could learn so much from external professionals if they collaborated more. John Dabell looks at values we can take from other professions, and why they should be implemented in education.

It’s often said that teaching is the profession on which all other professions depend.

Perhaps, but how often do we look to others and seek their advice?  What can we learn from other occupational groups?

If there is one thing education isn't that good at doing, it's working with other professions.

Teachers are getting better and better at working with each other and social media has played a huge part in this. CPD is there for the taking and some teachers take it by the bucket-load!

But do we mix with the world outside and share baskets of knowledge?

Silo thinking 

Aside from working with external agencies to support pupils with complex learning difficulties and disabilities, do we really actively pursue working relationships with others and seek to learn from them? Do we network with people in other jobs?

When it comes to interprofessional collaboration, teachers prefer to go it alone and work in our bubbles and silos.

Creating multi-agency teams capable of working across traditional boundaries has always been part of the ambition of education but we are not a fully integrated workforce. Can we do more to collaborate with social workers, nurses, police liaison officers and educational psychologists?

Beyond obvious links, who else could we work with?

Schools should be more open to partnerships

We need to think of collaboration outside of our traditional Key Stage boundaries but also beyond the education system itself. What can we learn from other professionals and what can they learn from us?

Education is part of every organisation so, realistically, we could tap into the teaching and learning practices of occupations that don’t involve children. 

It has long been argued that there is a need for closer collaboration between the medical and veterinary professions because they have plenty in common (and plenty of difference).

As the animal practitioner W.I Beveridge (1978) said:

'A fuller partnership between these two health professions, which have so much in common, should be encouraged in various ways, for example by sharing some courses during university education, and by joint meetings to discuss problems of mutual concern.'

So, do they?

Crossing disciplines 

I have been inspired by Noel Fitzpatrick's memoir about becoming The Supervet.

This world-class orthopaedic-neuro veterinary surgeon is a true thought leader and someone who passionately promotes:

He believes in one discipline and has set up the Humanimal Trust to drive collaboration between vets, doctors and researchers.

Teaching has nothing similar

Teaching isn't the sole preserve of the teaching profession as we know it. Teachers exist in many fields yet we rarely join up with those teaching in other professions.

There are lots of intelligent and ambitious professions doing great and remarkable things but they don't collaborate – they keep themselves to themselves. 

What a colossal waste!

There may be some successful and productive collaborations but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

Education needs to develop real conversations with others outside of its own world and create a dialogue between professions who have not yet understood what they can achieve in common.

What can we learn from business and industry, human resources, retail, health care, the military and so on?

Thinking about our values

Thinking about how we work with other professionals encourages us to also think about our values and principles. Can the way others approach mental health help us as teachers? 

We can certainly learn a lot about ‘how to be’ by learning from those who excel. When it comes to ethos and beliefs you won't find much better than what the Royal Marines offer.

The Commando Spirit 

The 'Commando Spirit' is something we can all learn from and use in our own work lives and it seems to translate pretty well into teaching.

After digging into the archives there are so many elements that we can 'take' and promote in our role as teachers. Okay, we aren't a fighting force engaging an enemy in complex, dangerous and uncertain environments – but we do have to have plenty of fight.

I love the core elements of the Commando Spirit:

  • courage
  • determination
  • selflessness
  • cheerfulness in the face of adversity.

Now think about wellbeing and mental health in schools and how we can use these core values.

It's time we learned from the best and became more 'Royal Marine' in our approach and training

These are defined as individual values that everyone needs in abundance for a motivated and positive mindset. These are married to group values, 10 qualities I think we should really be pushing in schools.

  1. Courage
  2. Unity
  3. Determination
  4. Adaptability
  5. Unselfishness
  6. Humility
  7. Cheerfulness
  8. Professional standards
  9. Fortitude
  10. Commando humour

This is where the Royal Marines shine because they highly prize collective values.

I'm not so sure that as a profession or within individual schools we come anywhere close to this. Schools will try hard to create their own ethos but how much collective will and pride there is varies considerably from place to place.

The problem with sub-cultures

In balkanized cultures, teachers come to see themselves as 'KS1', 'Year 4' or 'chemistry teachers' etc and they become especially attached to their sub-communities. They tend to operate as self-insulating departments within the school and there is status differentiation that can be unhealthy and counter-productive.

Commando training stresses the importance of the team yet this can be missing in some schools where sub-cultures have been allowed to grow.

Teachers need to be open to working more closely together across the organisation for operational success. This means being adaptable and innovative and relying on our 'oppos', something teachers don't really do much of.

Teacher training can vary so much from one institution to the next which creates issues for professional standards and states of mind.

Education needs to develop real conversations with others outside of its own world

It's time we learned from the best and became more 'Royal Marine' in our approach and training. Maybe then we would see less negativity and more 'doing' fuelled by real teacher collaboration, genuine collegiality and school spirit.

A school suffers if it allows isolated subgroups to set up shop and flourish because this makes a mockery of the whole and destroys the collective ethos and vision.

And finally...

Remember, this isn’t just one-way and take, take, take, but a real opportunity to share.

School teachers are extraordinary professionals with heart, character, skills and wide-ranging abilities that others would be blown away by. But there are a wide range of professionals that could teach us plenty and don’t work in schools.

What can we give to them and what can they teach us?

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