Recently, the entire global community has and continues to be tested by many external elements beyond our immediate control. Young people are looking not only to our global leaders, but to their peers across the globe to collaborate and become the network of change makers who are needed. Whether it is facing down our relationship with the natural world, in light of recent events such as COVID-19 and climate change, or tackling more localised challenges, students all over the world are asking: how does this connect to my future? Many of our students are counted within Generation Z and they offer us a glimpse of what we can learn from their example. According to McKinsey, the current global context has produced a generation who are very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing multiple sources of information whilst integrating virtual and offline experiences. Sometimes referred to as ‘communaholics’, they are radically inclusive and thus, able to collaborate in new ways (Francis and Hoefel, 2018). This suggests that our understanding of how students see and experience the world is more important than ever if we are to partner with them in their success. Inevitably, some of what we do will also need to change in order to collaborate across generations.
Our 2020 Context
In 2020, the experience and methods of learning shifted overnight for our Dulwich community. Interactions started to take on a new shape and significance. There is a large amount of evidence suggesting that many students globally enjoyed the shift in learning format as they were better able to self-direct their schedule and priorities (Li and Lalani, 2020). It appeared to afford many students a new level of choice and ownership. For educators, it is unlikely that there has been a time when collaboration has been more important. Teams of educators have supported one another by sharing resources, rethinking timetables and collaborating in synchronous (live, in real time) and asynchronous (pre-set task) formats for learning. Our new focus on blended and online learning required our leaders to focus not only on navigating the pandemic, but also the largely unanswered questions that the Fourth Industrial revolution continues to raise for schools: how do we best harness technology for immersive learning and continue to develop the expertise required for students to build their collaborative skills? Key to our future success is translating these lessons into our collaboration with students as partners in their own experiences. This partnership means giving students ownership, voice and choice regarding how and perhaps, when they learn. There has never been a more opportune time for students to collaborate with us and with one another.
Our Senior School educators have recently launched a collaborative project across the Dulwich College International group of schools, the scale and ambition of which is unprecedented. This is testament to the dedication of educators across our group from Yangon to Seoul and beyond. Each group of collaborators meet online during the academic year to identify and focus on shared priorities. The sharing of opinions, perspectives, expertise and skills enhances the professional learning of the group. Since our September kick-off, innovative ideas have been evident even in these early stages. There are a huge number of examples of this such as data analysis in science, strategic planning in outdoor education and skills mapping in the humanities which demonstrates how effective practice is shared in all subject areas. Many of these practices were already occurring in our campuses but now, their shared visibility invites colleagues to innovate further. The fruits of this project are evolving fast. We now have upwards of fifty groups of collaborators which combined make up a four hundred strong team focused on realising common goals. All groups have a ‘student first’ focus and this acts as a significant catalyst for our collective work. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International 2018 Survey (TALIS) identifies collaboration as one of the five pillars of educator professionalism. The OECD has placed increased emphasis on collaboration in 2020, surveying educators about how often and in what ways they collaborate. It identified the prevalence of educator collaboration and what it means for the wider dimensions of educators’ work. In all cases, collaboration was seen as an essential pathway to professional growth and development of better student outcomes; in challenging circumstances, its impact and significance was even greater!
Our cross-group collaboration also promotes educator collective efficacy which is the collective belief of educators in their ability to positively affect students. Therefore, providing structured opportunities to collaborate but with sufficient autonomy is vital for educators to leverage the power of our Dulwich group of educational experts. This type of experience for educators is well-documented and researched. Kurz and Knight (2004) identified that by collectively searching for solutions to problems, educators build confidence in the team’s collective ability to handle complex challenges. Further, it has also been observed to improve each school-wide engagement. We are working with our partner, Evidence Based Education, to chart the journey of our collaboration groups in a podcast documentary series. The episodes throughout 2020-2021 will provide a reflective and in-depth view of our work and how we can move towards a new way to realise our ‘One Family of Schools’ 
This provides an opportunity to speak about collaboration differently with our students. Instead of hearing that “my Maths teacher is having a professional learning day”, it would be fantastic if students understood that educator collaboration was vital to their success. We can and should make our own collaboration visible and help to model how this can be experienced and extended to our students.
We want to extend the benefits of collective efficacy in our educators to our students so that they experience genuine agency in their learning; ultimately, they are the decisive agents in choosing how they learn, the owner of their learning and a key voice in shaping the community. We want students to hold a collective belief in their ability to positively affect their own learning, the learning of others and shape their community. In order for this to occur students need opportunities. The newly launched Dulwich College (Singapore) student leadership programme seeks to create and develop such opportunities for our students. In the spirit of collaboration, I sought out an esteemed colleague, English Teacher and Head of Enrichment, Sarah Habergham, to learn more about the drive to increase student peer-to-peer voice, choice and ownership within the Senior School.
The Senior School vision for student leadership is clear. Sarah outlined the journey for students as an ambassador model. The model will encourage students to identify areas of passion and interest ranging from the UN Sustainable Development Goals to academic interests and more. This model will be responsive and solutions-orientated and will improve and progress the student community. Collaboration amongst students will be both horizontal, in their own year group, and vertical, working across year groups, calling on like-minds to lead change and make a difference. The model also allows for the Student Council structure to be reinvigorated; to become a living engine room for co-creation and innovation across a diverse range of students. The key is the autonomous nature of student direction which will likely create breadth and scope of projects. The programme is designed to be developmental and, therefore, students will be given the tools and grounding for effective collaboration and project delivery, but much will rest on students embracing opportunity and self-direction. This collaboration aims to encourage a focus on the process of developing authentic student agency, which is just as, if not more, important than the product. The direction is exciting and will no doubt contribute to the success of the wider community.
This brings me back to our students’ question: how does this connect to my future? Thriving communities remain thriving communities only when their members work together. Therefore, we have to remain responsive to what students need in 2020. Collaboration in all its diverse forms is key to achieving an environment where students not only shape but define our community. Our community has been established on our guiding statement: The College emphasises the benefits and responsibilities of working collaboratively together. We must now be ready to rethink inter-generational collaboration, and to combine our skills and experiences, to drive us to even greater measures of success.
1. Francis, T., Hoefel, F. (2018) ‘‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies’, McKinsey & Company, 12 November. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/true-gen-generation-z-and-its-implications-for-companies (Accessed: 26 October 2020).
2. TB Kurz, SL Knight (2004) ‘An exploration of the relationship among teacher efficacy, collective teacher efficacy, and goal consensus’, Learning environments research, 7 (2), pp. 111-128.
3. Li, C., Lalani, F. (2020). ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever’, The World Economic Forum, 29 April. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/ (Accessed: 26 October 2020).
4. OECD (2018). TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II) Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/talis-2018-results-volume-ii-19cf08df-en.htm (Accessed: 26 October 2020).
Episode two is due for release in October 2020.