Collaboration or Competition?

At Healthy Toolkit HQ our thoughts, words and actions are guided by our values.

We set out our core values in a previous blog. Here you will find the seven central principles which detail and guide our personal and professional behaviours and which determine our mission statement and fundamental beliefs.

In the coming weeks and months we are going to explore these values in turn and consider each in a practical and realistic way that will support wellbeing, beginning with “Collaboration”.


Why Collaboration?

There is no ‘I’ in team, but there is in ‘win’, to quote an oft used motivational quote.

This weekend sees the third round of the FA Cup, and those of us who still regard this stage of the competition with the misty eyed romance of our youth look back at Wrexham dispatching the mighty Arsenal or Manchester United being unceremoniously dumped by a then lower league Bournemouth. Surprise results in league fixtures are less common, though not impossible as we know, but every third round weekend the football press is full of speculation at the surprises and shocks that might ensue.

Why is this? Perhaps in some ways we shouldn’t be surprised. For every aging centre forward with creaky knees there is a young whippet of a midfielder with boundless energy. Everyone plays to each other’s strengths, plays as a unit and supports each other. Maybe the arrogance of status, wealth and reputation weighs too heavily on the shoulders of giants. Ultimately though the success of the underdog comes down to collaboration and the greater good of the team.

The relevance of this to our environment?  Successful schools have a culture of collaboration at the hub of their operation.  Even the mavericks would subscribe to this ethos.

Competition: the antithesis of collaboration?

In making the FA Cup analogy, we are also considering a competition. The underdogs don’t merely turn up to make up the numbers and take the monetary reward. The attention they receive from victory guarantees interest in years to come, even if it is just nostalgic. Competition drives them to succeed, but this is healthy competition.

Healthy competition drives improvement. The vanquished may be sore afterwards, but it is fair, accepted and ultimately part of life’s learning processes. Unhealthy competition however can result in more unpleasant and undesirable consequences.

This week we carried out a poll through our Twitter account and though we can’t claim it to be especially scientific the results were interesting.  Only 3% of respondents felt that they thrived as teachers in an environment of competition. 60% preferred a collaborative atmosphere and the remainder a balance of both. We would hope that this represents a degree of healthy competition.

Developing Collaboration

Collaboration enhances creativity. Within a collaborative work environment, ideas are born and developed. The most recent changes to the National Curriculum and to statutory assessment have very much pushed collaboration up the agenda. The amount of stationery produced by the DfE under this incarnation is much less than the days of multiple folders, but this has resulted in less central guidance and in theory more autonomy. Given the confusion over moderation standards, particularly with KS2 writing, many LA consultants were caught out and seemingly in the mindset of the ‘old money’ assessment. The schools who were most successful in the transition (and we don’t mean those with the ‘best’ results) didn’t panic, pooled the rational thoughts of their staff and collaborated with non-judgemental moderation with other schools.

Diversity is recognised and appreciated through collaboration. We all come from different backgrounds and with different experiences.  Compare the teacher with twenty years of experience but  with a “It’s worked this way for all this time and I’m not changing it now” mindset to the one with an equal length of service who is always willing to change, adapt and to say how much has been learned from a younger and less experienced colleague. Do you recognise these people? The open minded teacher here is recognising a degree of healthy competition.

Collaboration promotes innovation. In an atmosphere which is non-judgemental, where the potential solutions suggested by everyone are considered, suggestions can be developed and questioned, trialled and evaluated. Failure isn’t considered as a judgement but as an opportunity to develop further. This may manifest itself in development of workload solutions, homework policies or reporting procedures. It returns to the ‘sideways in’ rather than ‘top down’ model of developing school practice.


Collaboration makes people feel valued. Their opinions are heard and taken on board. The best CPD sessions and staff meetings are held in environments where people are unafraid to express themselves and question appropriately. The extremes, neither of which is acceptable, are either one where only SLT speak and opinion is either discouraged or repressed, or one in which cliques dominate and an atmosphere of backstabbing and self-promotion has subsumed the ethos of a school. If you have lived through this either you have escaped it or, more positively, one something about it.

True collaboration does make staff feel valued. They can see their actions and opinions acted upon by others, manifested in policy, classwork or display. Everybody contributes in some degree to the success of the school. Have a think about your staff photograph board in the school entrance. Is it hierarchical? Head at top, then Deputy, SLT and probably cleaners at the bottom? Or is it presented alphabetically or in a circle? Ask yourself which model values staff more equally.


How healthy can competition be? This is a tricky question, perhaps best answered by what healthy competition doesn’t look like.

For some people competition might boost one person’s self-esteem, but it might damage someone else’s confidence. Take a two form entry primary school for example. If we were to look at one year group and filter the results of one class from another there may be a significant difference in results. How is this used? Professional development opportunities for the teacher with the lower scores may result; maybe the teacher is young, inexperienced, and unfamiliar with assessment systems. Or maybe those are the accurate results and it is the other teacher who has overestimated the scores. Too often we see results used as a stick to beat a teacher with.

Accuracy needs to be central to any assessment and each year the guidance for Key Stage 2 makes it clear that maladministration is unacceptable. Yet each year there are an increasing number of cases reported and a good deal of rumour among schools about the accuracy of the results of others. League tables and results may drive competition, but when that leads to children leaving primary school with results that don’t reflect their actual ability, is that competition actually helping them.

Within schools themselves, there needs to be a recognition that end of Key Stage results are the result of the efforts of everyone, not only of the teachers in Years 2 and 6. Unhealthy schools with a cliquey atmosphere may be aware of a sense of favouritism towards these staff. Secondary colleagues might relate to situations where one department seems to be more favoured than others. Either situation erodes self-esteem and doesn’t promote collaboration effectively.

Collaboration and Competition in the online world

Twitter offers the best CPD ever in our opinion. The fact you can ask a question and someone will answer it whatever time of day or night and that that teachers have taken the time to set up professional chats on a regular basis to discuss subjects, phases, leadership, SEND and more general education matters both show that collaboration is alive and well in the digital education world.

There is an unpleasant side though. Phonics, SEND and mental health seem to produce near apoplectic responses from some people online, as does labelling ‘the other side’ as ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’. Jumping into others conversations to berate, belittle and expose another leading often to a mob response is too often a feature of tweet exchanges. Mocking the well intentioned campaigns of fellow professionals or the practice in some schools also appears on our timelines. Blocking often results, as does complaints about being blocked as if it is somehow ‘unfair’.


A few things to bear in mind. The ‘Trad/Prog’ debate may exist in the minds of some teachers and in higher levels of academia, but ask in most staffrooms and most teachers couldn’t identify as one or the other and probably employ a mixture of both because, let’s face it, the majority of teachers know what they are doing and know what is best for their classes.

Another: most teachers aren’t on Twitter, and most teachers who are on Twitter don’t partake in mudslinging and impassioned debate. They support each other and share ideas and concepts that benefit themselves and their classes.

Finally, would you tell another teacher how to teach? Otherwise it comes out as “You’re rubbish- do it like I say”. Telling another teacher how to teach? The words of the admirable Professor Hattie ring very true here. …


Collaboration or Competition?

Collaboration will increasingly be a necessity between schools as Local Authorities start to disappear and schools increasingly join a MAT issues that may arise may help shared CPD, shared moderation and pooling resources, but may equally lead to competition about results, teachers being over competitive and a hierarchy within the group of schools. Time will tell.

We all have talents. Some we know because we have to demonstrate these on a daily basis. Teaching and leadership requires skills, knowledge and aptitude. We all have hidden talents too; do you know who in your staff is a gifted artist, award winning figure skater, talented writer or potential chef?

We choose collaboration because it can create and nurture community spirit. It’s about sharing and empowering others to grow rather than keeping everything for yourself and gaining a false sense of power. Collaboration is the way we all become part of a learning community and it is the learning community that ultimately determines all our futures.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s