One of the big challenges for school leadership is how to ensure good and successful practice is shared effectively. A powerful vehicle which focuses on this is joint practice development (JPD) and it has significant implications for collaborative leadership.
What is JPD?
The term joint practice development (JPD) was first coined by Fielding et al (2005) in one of the few studies to have investigated transfer of practice between individuals, small teams, schools and other institutions. They defined it as ‘learning new ways of working through mutual engagement that opens up and shares practices with others’. This process by which individuals and schools learn from one another, involves interaction and mutual development, sometimes ‘co-constructing’ new ways of working. Typically JPD involves mutual observation and coaching through which the donor reflects further on the practice that is being shared and explores ways in which it can be improved even more. JPD aims to enable a process that is truly collaborative, not one-way; the practice is being improved, not just moved from one person to another (Hargreaves, 2012).
The problem of transfer
The wording of the term JPD is significant because it emphasises a mutual development of good practice rather than simply a transfer of practice from one setting to another. This is because of the recognition of how difficult it is for leaders and others to genuinely transfer practice – whether it is between schools or even between classrooms. The educationalist David Hargreaves has been wrestling with this problem for some time. He reflected:
If one teacher tells another about a practice that he (she) find effective, the second teacher has merely acquired information, not personal knowledge. Transfer occurs only when the knowledge of the first becomes information for the second, who then works on the information in such a way that it becomes part of his or her context of meaning and purpose and pre-existing knowledge want the is applied in action . . . Transfer is the conversion about one person’s practice into another’s know-how.
More recently, he concluded:
Most ‘sharing of good practice’ does not amount to practice transfer, unless the practice is very simple. As one of the major means of improving teaching and learning, it is a relative failure.
(Hargreaves, 2012; page 11)
The perceived strength of JPD is that it provides a process by which practice is jointly developed and honed. There is always, of course, the danger of exchanging bad practice; however, the fact that JPD involves professionals working together to develop and refine practice, rather than aiming to simply copy it, is seen as a way of avoiding the proliferation of poor practice.
JPD and professional development
JPD is not something that is radically new, but does pose fresh challenges to how leaders perceive, structure and facilitate professional development. Traditional approaches to continuing professional development (CPD) tend to be based on transferring knowledge or ‘best practices’ from an expert presenter to his/her audience. Research shows that this is rarely effective. By contrast, JPD is a process by which individuals, schools and other organisations learn from one another. Nevertheless, ‘moving from a CPD model to a JPD model is challenging and requires sustained thought and leadership’ (National College for Teaching and Leadership, 2012). In doing this leaders are called upon to re-think how they approach arrangements for CPD and to incorporate the three characteristics of a JPD which are:
involving interaction and mutual development related to practice
recognising that each partner in the interaction has something to offer and, as such is based on the assumption of mutually beneficial learning
research-informed, often involving collaborative enquiry.
JPD across schools
The development of JPD has been linked particularly with the changing emphasis on the need for schools to collaborate and engage in joint professional development to bring about improvement across the educational system. The following are suggested as 10 processes that are key to supporting effective JPD across schools.
- Clearly articulated aims and improvement priorities for the alliance are needed to frame effective joint practice development.
- Developing trust is a crucial characteristic of effective JPD which school leaders will need to establish with teachers.
- Building on existing relationships and networks between teachers is an effective strategy in achieving progress.
- Developing effective networks requires careful thinking and planning by school leaders in order to coordinate the work of alliances and support teachers’ practice.
- Recognition of respective roles and contributions of individuals and schools within the alliance is critical to success.
- Multilevel (distributed) and multisite leadership should be viewed as essential.
- Challenge and support that is effective and appropriate across partners is vital to building capacity for sustainable JPD.
- Knowledge that meets the local needs of schools (and is therefore salient) with continuous exposure will maximize implementation.
- Student participation in decision making and governance of schools within alliances that is meaningful and appropriate will enhance the effectiveness of JPD.
- Addressing competing priorities that exist within schools and supporting them to integrate these more effectively will be vital to the success of the alliances.
(Sebba, Kent and Tregenza, 2012; p.4)
So what does JPD look like in practice? Some examples of approaches that have been used include:
- structured peer observation between teachers, often linked to joint planning and improvement in triads or pairs through lesson study-type models
- training students to feed back on learning and teaching, working within clear protocols
- focused enquiries on specific themes across schools, e.g. using Learning Walks.
(National College for Teaching and Leadership, 2012; page 7)
Reflect on these and what you have learnt about JPD above. Then think of a school or cluster of schools which you are familiar with and identify aspects of JPD practice that are currently in place. What further work do leaders need to do to establish an in-depth joint practice development model?