Everyone saves time when we work together smartly

We all face ever-increasing workloads and the pressure to meet and enhance existing standards. Collaborating, pooling resources and reusing, not reinventing, the wheel allows me to deal with this issue, and even to work less while providing quality learning experiences.

A picture showing a pink-iced cake, cut into eight, a hand going to pick up each piece

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Collaborating, sharing and pooling resources eases the workload for everyone

Sharing between schools is well-established practice across Scotland. Pooling resources for qualification classes is easier because there is one Scottish exam board. Chemistry teachers here are used to sharing resources, questions and ideas using a Google group called Strontium.

In Edinburgh, we have expanded on this culture of sharing to collaborate on a few big projects. The first I experienced was when introducing a new course for my school – Advanced Higher Chemistry. This course has a large practical element, which involves a variety of equipment my school did not have. I took my students to a neighbouring high school to do an experiment with their students. This simple solution was effective, and I continued to share equipment with other schools and organisations that year.

A fantastic pool of knowledge, talent and resources

After that, I helped write a mock exam with a number of schools. We produced an effective exam for a fraction of the work it normally takes. During this time, further courses were introduced in Scotland – Standard grades were replace by National qualifications. This change prompted the Bricks project within my local authority – each school gathered resources for part of the course, and these were collated and shared with all schools involved. The project made clear there was a fantastic pool of knowledge, talent and resources that was previously both underused and overstretched.

The realisation made teachers in my local authority wonder if we could work collaboratively in other areas to lighten one another’s workload. Additionally, we thought about ways to let someone with an active interest in one field enjoy producing a body of work that could benefit everyone. During a meeting for local chemistry teachers, I suggested that a group from different schools could get together to write question banks for national courses. I arranged a time and date, and baked a cake, expecting around eight people to turn up. On the day, 26 people came from 18 of the 23 local authority schools. Despite small pieces of cake, we had huge ideas, and it was clear everyone appreciated the benefits of collaboration. This has continued ever since, with working groups to work on risk assessments, mock exam papers and more.

Some of the benefits of this type of working are obvious – an individual’s work is reduced, so their time can be used more effectively. However, some of the benefits are less apparent. One of the most important for me is building links with colleagues, both in my school and in others. This is particularly important for schools that have just one chemistry specialist – someone else to run ideas past is invaluable. In addition, seeing how others work can provide new ideas for teaching. Furthermore, an ingrained culture of collaboration encourages prolific resource-sharing between colleagues.

Tips for introducing and expanding collaboration

Collaboration within your school is a good place to start if your department is not already working together on shared resources. Once you have located a like-minded colleague or two, a bit of planning will make the final job easier. Meet to discuss what you want to get out of collaborating. It may seem like these discussions take time away from writing the resources, but they save time later. Agree what you will produce, and what format it will take. Play to your strengths – for example, if one colleague is well versed in online quizzes, let them take the lead on this (unless another of your team wishes to increase their expertise).

Be prepared for pitfalls and accept you will have less control over what is produced. Sometimes timelines will not be met – have you got a contingency plan? If resources are produced electronically, there will be formatting issues. Build in time to fine-tune, or accept things will not be perfect.

The same considerations apply when taking collaborative practices outside your school, but with additional layers of organisation. If you are setting up a larger collaboration, you have the surprisingly time-consuming job of collating and organising the information and collaborators. Be sure to add this into your calculations to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

What could you achieve by working together?

Email personal and teachmeet contacts to increase the number of colleagues collaborating, which decreases everyone’s individual workload. Think about how the group will work. One person needs to oversee the task, coordinate roles and chase work. This task is not easy, but is essential. We found email is best for this when working over a larger geographical area.

Next, think creatively about how to break up the task. Simply dividing a list of resources to be written may not be the best option. Instead, it can be useful to pair up people to, firstly, write three things, to secondly check each other’s and thirdly to email in when done. Consider a peer review committee to provide valuable feedback and periodic review. Finally, think about how you will share resources. Consider Sharepoint or OneNote as alternatives to emailing a large body of work to a large group.

This is how some large projects have been tackled in Edinburgh – what could you achieve by working together? Can you start a group today, and have more time for cake?