‘Cross-sector collaboration keeps professional learning alive’

Posted on: 07 May 2020

Dr Steven Berryman, director of music at City of London School for Girls, discusses how he has brought together music teachers from both sectors during the lockdown through an innovative blog series.

Teachers are no strangers to webinars and engaging with colleagues through Twitter and other means. Now more than ever these virtual connections have been a vital source of collaboration as we adjust to new ways of working. It was fantastic to see ResearchED, for example, move a scheduled event to be exclusively online to maintain the flow of professional learning and purposeful sharing of practice.

It was a tweet by Christine Counsell that sparked an idea to connect with music teachers during our current remote working arrangements. Christine highlighted the need for classroom teachers to theorise about curriculum (this was in the context of history teaching), and having worked with trainees from Buckingham University recently I had been using ‘Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School’ and was ready to make use of the book with more experienced colleagues. I decided to launch a blog series where we would engage with the tasks in the book; a group of class teachers would respond individually and at the end of the day I would combine the responses to make one post to share on social media. I approached a range of colleagues from different contexts, including primary, secondary and independent schools. The response was overwhelmingly positive! We are well past the 10 post mark now and I’m pleased to see other classroom teachers reaching out to join in. Music teachers are often departments of one in schools, particularly in the state sector, and finding the opportunity to connect and chat with colleagues can be difficult. Remote working has given us the chance to make time for these conversations to take place.

“Being involved in this blog has given me the chance to connect with other experienced subject leaders who understand and enjoy thinking deeply about music education,” said Liz Dunbar, head of music at Huntington School, York, when I asked her how she’s found the collaborative blogging. “We are the same, but completely different. We agree and we disagree. Whatever we think or believe in, the blog has been a great forum to talk about the big stuff with other people who really get it.”

Liz Gleed, head of music at Bristol Cathedral Choir School has also found the process enjoyable. She told me: “I think it’s been really valuable to sharpen up my thinking on why I do what I do. The reading remains so relevant and it was core reading when I did my PGCE. Good teachers are reflective and this has encouraged just that, careful reflection. I like not seeing what the other contributors have read until it’s finally posted, so interesting everyone’s perspectives. I’d recommend it as a process, even if it takes a little bravery to leap in!”

Director of music at Colyton Grammar School, David House, said he found through “engaging with Twitter the best sources of CPD I have encountered in my teaching career. That has led to the recent exercise of rereading a core book, thinking through issues and commenting in the company of other classroom teachers has moved things up a few notches. I have gained on a personal level, learned from the thoughts of others and made important connections with colleagues. All at no financial cost but great professional gain.”

“Being involved in this blog has got me thinking,” says James Manwaring, the director of music for Windsor Learning Partnership. He went on to tell me that “it has also got me collaborating, and at such a time as this, collaboration seems even more important. I hope that as others read the blog they will have a chance to really think about music education. It deserves our thoughts and I am looking forward to more thinking, writing and reflecting.”

I’ve really appreciated the contributions and support from music education academics who have joined in the conversation on the blog as well as on Twitter; Professor Martin Fautley, of Birmingham City University, said: “In the busy hurly-burly of school life there is seldom a chance to take stock and reflect. As an academic researching music education in schools, I welcome this series of blogs as it has allowed a privileged insight into the thinking of experienced classroom practitioners.”

I hope we can continue to keep the conversation going amidst the current school closures. It is proving rewarding to share practice and to be thinking collectively about our curriculum choices and the purpose of our subject. There is considerable strength in being able to share practice between the two sectors and to see how we have much to learn from each other. It is enjoyable for me as the editor of the blog series to combine the posts each day, and I highly recommend colleagues in other subjects to consider this as an approach to adopt as it is quick to set up and quick to contribute to. With so many unpredictable demands on teachers at the moment, having a small piece of writing to do, along with a small amount of reading, has helped to keep their professional thinking alive.

If you'd like to read any of the blog posts so far they can be found here. All class music teachers are welcome to join in. For more information on how to get involved, contact Steven Berryman on Twitter (@Steven_Berryman).

About Dr Steven Berryman

Dr Steven Berryman is director of music at City of London School for Girls, and cultural and creative learning strategic lead for the City of London Education Strategy Unit.