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Learning together – how the Focus Trust shares best practice online

From NQTs to vastly experienced teachers – how sharing resources online has helped the Focus Trust weather the Covid storm and come out stronger...

  • Learning together – how the Focus Trust shares best practice online

Those of us working in the education sector throughout the pandemic have faced many an uphill battle. Adapting to the changing demands of pupils, families and staff, as well as tacking the ever-changing rules, regulations and guidance, has been tricky to say the least.

We’ve all had to think creatively and quickly, to devise innovative solutions and ensure that children have been able to continue to access their education, despite – for many – an extended physical absence from the classroom. 

Even now, with schools reopened to all students, the reality of ‘burst bubbles’ means that absenteeism is rife across the country, and many teachers are still having to deliver comprehensive learning online. 

It is this ongoing uncertainty – which is persisting despite widespread vaccination rollout – that inspired us at Focus Trust to share our resources with anyone working in education.

And our Learning Together website is at the heart of this project. Learning Together collates articles and resources from teachers and leaders across the trust, which are freely available for anyone to use. 

Creating the website

Even before the pandemic hit, there had been a lot of conversations throughout the trust about how to make sure that we were sharing best practice and our wealth of resources in a dynamic and accessible way across our 15 schools. 

There had been some fantastic work happening across the board already, both by groups as well as individuals, but the mechanisms to share this beyond the literal school gates were somewhat limited.

The notion of collective efficacy was well embedded in many other ways at this point, so colleagues were used to sharing on forums and understood how they contributed to the wider success of the whole trust through shared responsibility.

So, we set ourselves a challenge, and the Learning Together Website was born. Named after the trust vision of ‘Learning Together, Making the Difference’, it was agreed that the site would be a closed platform, accessible to all employees of Focus Trust. 

To get the ball rolling, I approached each school in the trust and asked them to contribute an article, presentation or blog on different aspects of teaching.

I felt it was important that all colleagues were represented, so governors, admin, site, support and pastoral staff were all included in this process.

To keep the site regularly updated, we asked staff in every edition of the Focus Trust newsletter to keep sending articles and examples of good practice.

However, I was always mindful of workload in asking staff to write contributions, so I encouraged them to share what they were already doing, eg staff meeting resources, planning ideas or research projects.

However, after being inspired by a talk from Leora Cruddas (CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts) on civic leadership at a Leaders’ Forum, we realised that in order to live out the Focus Trust vision, the now substantial collection of articles and resources on the Learning Together website could be opened up to the wider education sector.

Open access

Following a discussion with leaders and the Central Teams, that’s exactly what we did. Learning Together, and all its articles, blogs and resources, is now publicly available to offer support to everyone in the profession after what can only be described as a quite extraordinary year-and-a-half.

Over the last 18 months or so, it has become really apparent that we have fantastic, determined and highly capable colleagues across the Focus Trust who, collectively, have amassed an abundance of resources that really enrich the learning experience of our children and the development of all staff, helping everyone to be great at their jobs.

From the start of the pandemic, we were able to provide collaborative and supportive networks, because the idea of collective efficacy was so firmly embedded and all leaders are committed to the Trust values of Care, Dare, Fair, Share – it even became a Twitter hashtag! 

There is no mistaking the challenges faced by all schools and staff during this time, but early on we made the commitment to ‘thriving, not surviving’ to ensure the best for the children, and their families and communities. 

Learning Together has evolved hugely over the last year or so. We are particularly proud of the comprehensive and developmental offer it has in place for early-career teachers.

This programme has also allowed all NQTs across the Focus Trust to embark on a research-led project to impact on not only their own practice, but across their schools.

All NQTs presented their projects to leaders across the Trust and these are all available on the Learning Together site.

The whole project has been superbly co-ordinated and supported by Andrew Marlow, the director of teaching and learning for the trust.

Moving forwards

We’re launching a reinvigorated version of Learning Together for autumn term 2021, sharing quality development resources to help progress teachers’ pedagogical toolkit.

There is also a hope that the Learning Together website will become the go-to platform to share ideas and resources, and to display the impact we are seeing in our pupils, both within the trust and more widely.

We will also continue to share presentations from our other forums that take place for non-curriculum colleagues such as admin, finance, SEND and EYFS departments, as well as site staff, recognising that every single person makes an important difference to a school, whether they work in a classroom or not. 

This has been a testing year, and we’ve found that sharing best practice has meant it has been easier to provide the best possible learning and teaching experience.

Not to mention making it more bearable to know you have a group of people by your side!

Teaching professionals can access the site by visiting learning.focus-trust.co.uk

Donna Tandy is the deputy chief executive and academy improvement partner for Focus Trust. Donna has extensive experience as a system leader and a proven track record of securing sustainable improvement in different schools through developing others.

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