Partnership projects with schools

Lara Fuller - Professional Lead, Teacher-led Professional Development, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire

Tutors in a meeting 

The School of Education runs many partnership projects within different educational settings. In this thought piece I share my thoughts about the importance of inquiry partnership projects with teachers, with particular reflection on a project run with Stanmore College.

Sometimes teachers can get lost in the everyday life of school and teaching; I say this because I know that this is what happened to me. I decided to do something about it by studying a Masters degree which gave me the opportunity to explore my interest in teaching and learning; however, I am very well aware that studying a Masters is not what all teachers want to do.

What was really valuable to me in my studies was the time that it gave me to reflect on my practice and to try new approaches. This experience has helped me to form my aim for the partnership projects with schools: to allow teachers to take a step back from their busy work lives to consider what motivates and underpins their practice.

There is a view that a great deal of knowledge is generated within practice but that this knowledge is not always explicitly articulated. This means that much knowledge is individualised or contextualised, not shared or built upon. Partnership projects with schools encourage teachers within a setting to discuss practice, share ideas and build upon them. The starting point for an inquiry is always the teacher's decision with support about how to conduct the inquiry then given from Tutors from the School of Education.

A project with Stanmore College

Last year we ran a partnership project with Stanmore College who approached us after hearing about the partnership project that we ran with Park High a couple of years previously.  

It was the intention of the senior staff at Stanmore College for teachers to be given the opportunity to have more control of their professional development. In practice, this meant giving all teachers the chance to participate in some action research, based upon different areas of pedagogy chosen by the teachers themselves.

The messages that the College wanted to give their teachers were:

  • You are all managers and leaders of your own professional development.
  • We would like you to have the confidence and evidence to support your way of teaching.
  • We would like you to be able to articulate what underpins your practice.

Underpinning our guidance of the projects were these aims given to us by Stanmore College:

  • Having a choice of inquiry focus.
  • Learning within a community.
  • Having a vision about future practice.
  • Generating excitement about teaching and learning.

Along with these messages the following quotation from John Hattie (2009) reflects the College's intentions:

...the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching... 

Learning from partnership

As this partnership project progressed I learnt that before projects begin with teachers, a planned support structure needs to be in place.  

Coaching and mentoring would be useful approaches to use in this support structure; this is to help to reinforce the message for teachers that the projects will not be judged. 

It is also important that senior and middle leaders show interest in the projects and have time to 'catch up' with individuals and groups to find out how projects are progressing. 

There may also be the need for some individuals to have further resources made available in order to conduct their inquiry, so the opportunity for these types of conversations need to be presented.

Projects that the teachers from Stanmore College developed focused on the following themes:

  • Engaging students from the start of the lesson.
  • Using student feedback reflectively.
  • Embedding good use of English (and maths) in the curriculum.
  • Developing critical thinking skills of students.
  • Learning by doing - developing a vocational pedagogy (action learning).
  • Using technology more effectively.

These projects finished in July when the teachers came together at UH to share their learning from their different inquiry projects.  They produced posters as a stimulus for questions and discussions and also to represent the process of the development of their thinking and practice.

Feedback from project participants included reference to excitement about trying something slightly different, to the growth the quality of professional discussions with colleagues and the fact that they were talking to colleagues that they otherwise would probably never see or speak to.

Comments included:

'It has allowed the shackles to come loose a bit and let us be a bit more adventurous.'

'Really good things are going to come out of this project which are really going to enhance our teaching.'

'Having the time taken out from teaching to develop our own teaching and our own learning … I think we've all learnt something…'

 'It has been an eye opener for me to know it is not just what we do in our department in the good practice that we share … it is going across to others too.'

'It was being able to talk across departments and the curriculum, just the time to meet up … sharing ideas is important in itself.'

'It has been an opportunity for us to get together as a college and speak to other colleagues that we probably wouldn't be talking to otherwise.'

Taking part in these projects helps to develop an ethos of learning for teachers - showing that they are respected within their professional context and that their ideas are valued and appreciated.

This is a principle that has really influenced my thinking about future projects.

An appreciative enquiry approach

My intention for future partnership projects is to take an Appreciative Inquiry approach; as Lewis, Passmore and Cantore (2011) say this will 'focus on identifying and growing what is already giving life to the organisation.' 

I see this as a way to encourage professional learning for teachers by encouraging them to articulate the best of their current practice and their vision for future practice. This will be the underpinning of the inquiry - to build on what is already going well and find practical ways to begin to achieve their visions.   

I would also like to introduce Action Learning Sets (Aubusson, Ewing and Hoban 2009) to encourage groups of teachers to meet regularly to discuss the progress of their projects and to share ideas. Action Learning might be a better way of describing these projects as the main emphasis is on the development of practice rather than on the collection of data. 

I see that that tutors from the School of Education have a role in the collection of data to help to evaluate the impact the inquiry. The intention is that teachers from schools and tutors from the SoE will be learning together, developing areas of interest and expertise, making this an excellent form of professional development for all involved.



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  • Aubusson, P., Ewing, R., Hoban, G. (2009)  Action learning in schools: Reframing teachers' professional learning and development.   London: Routledge.
  • Hattie, J. (2009)  Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  London: Routledge.
  • Lewis, S.,  Passmore, J. and Cantore, S. (2011)  Appreciative Inquiry for change management: Using AI to facilitate organizational development.  London: Kogan Page

LINK 2014, vol. 1, issue 1 / Copyright 2014 University of Hertfordshire