Promoting collaborative learning cultures

by Various


Read the article online. (Scroll down the page to the title.)

This issue of Ideas into Action discusses the necessary conditions for establishing an authentic collaborative learning culture in a school, and how we can build collaborative relationships across and between communities of schools.

Collaborative learning cultures (CLCs) represent a profound shift – from isolation and autonomy to deprivatised practice.

Realising an authentic CLC requires school leaders to recognise the depth of the task; the need to address a multitude of challenges along the way; and that it requires knowledge, skills, and persistence. It is a complex and adaptive challenge that can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.

Such cultures are not established quickly, but when they become business as usual, they can lead to dramatic shifts that build teaching effectiveness and improve student achievement.

Moving towards a profound cultural change like this means that leaders need to understand the local context and what people bring with them, then design the change process accordingly. Clearly setting out the vision, the purpose, the impact, and the expected benefits is important for bringing people along with the thinking. People resist change that they do not understand.

The key to achieving this change is purposeful peer interaction. Fullan suggests this works best when the broader values of the school and those of individuals and groups mesh, when information and knowledge are shared openly, and when monitoring mechanisms are installed to detect ineffective actions and identify effective practices.

Relational trust is foundational to this process, and Robinson, Hohepa, and Lloyd (2009) make this point as well. One person’s success is dependent on the contributions of others.

In planning for building collaborative learning cultures, school leadership teams need to:

  • emphasise to teachers that they can succeed – together
  • expect teachers to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date
  • share decision-making and prepare others to lead
  • make data accessible
  • teach and model discussion and decision-making skills
  • show teachers the research
  • take time to build trust.

Four principles underpin networked learning or CLCs. They are:

  • moral purpose 
  • shared leadership
  • inquiry-based practice (evidence and data driven learning)
  • adherence to a model of learning that draws on the practitioner, the public, and the new.

Collaboration means working smarter together, rather than harder alone. Part of this means looking at opportunities for using technology to enhance collaboration. Look at the table that illustrates how to promote CLCs (on p.14 of the article).

The article also has useful research comments all the way through, and a helpful list of references at the end.

Reflective questions

  • As a leadership team, discuss what your school would get from using a collaborative learning culture, and how you might implement it.
  • If you already have what you believe to be a CLC in place, how does it compare with what is suggested in the article? Is your whole school on board?
  • Discuss with your senior school leaders the levels of relational trust that you all have with staff. In what ways would you need to develop that as you worked through the ideas related to CLCs?
  • Look at the principal’s role (page 8). As principal what would you need to do yourself and what support would you need for it? What actions could you distribute among your senior leaders? How would they get support to implement a CLC effectively? Talk through what you or they might do.


Ontario Ministry of Education. (Winter 2012–2013). Promoting collaborative learning cultures: Putting the promise into practice. Ideas into Action for School and System Leaders, Bulletin 3. 

Robinson, V., Hohepa, M., and Lloyd, C. (2009). School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why (BES). Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Tags: Collaborative practice

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