To build a culture of co-coaching, using VESS networking is a key part of the VESS model. Sharing our experiences, contributing to the work of others, and building a collective awareness of our ability to positively change education are vital elements for the construction of a VESS Culture of Thinking.
According to John Hattie (2009), one of the variables that has the most impact on students’ learning achievements is collective teacher efficacy. This refers to the belief that the teaching staff, through reflection, communication and decision-making processes, can achieve their goals and affect the students in a positive way. This belief helps teachers to keep their individual expectations high regarding both themselves and their students and to strategically plan how to meet their expectations. To help the teachers to achieve this, the VESS model aims to build a co-coaching culture and make opportunities for teachers to reflect; these are the basis of what we call VESS networking.
For VESS, teachers must recognize that they themselves are also learners and that they are part of a collective that makes them agents of change. At the same time, they are architects of learning contexts. It is only by working with others and constructing a culture of co-coaching and reflection that we will be able to change education. That change would impact millions of individuals.
Ana Maria Conde, an expert in education, VESS mentor, coach, trainer, and Director of the Edu1st VESS Global Services division shares with us her perceptions and experiences regarding VESS networking within a VESS Culture of Thinking framework.
Why is VESS networking among teachers important to the VESS model?
Before talking about VESS networking, I would like to talk about leadership, because the way in which VESS networking takes place comes from how we understand leadership. In order to change an organization’s culture, it is essential to develop leadership as understood from the point of view of those who lead the organization—the director, coordinators, etc.—and the concept of personal leadership. We all become leaders at the moment when we take the responsibility of creating institutional change, and each of us is the leader of our own learning process. When we are implementing VESS and I, as a member of the team, accept responsibility for my own learning process, it empowers me. As a result of that, I can inspire other teachers, parents, students, and directors. It is from this that the VESS networking begins.
Once I take responsibility for my learning process and recognize myself as a learner, I am able to see elements that enrich me and contribute to my learning process in other peoples’ practices and opinions. The moment that VESS networking and sharing begins is when there is an awareness of growth, as that is only possible when we accept that working together is the mechanism by which to achieve our goals.
Part of the VESS model is teamwork. We suggest that the students work in groups, because we know that if you learn alone there is less information, ideas and points of view shared, and there is less productivity, creativity, etc. There is a great richness in teamwork. For example, if we are trying to do a new Thinking Routine and we suspect that we have not done it correctly, if we are alone, if there is no VESS networking, we could get frustrated. But when we begin to see ourselves as learners we talk to others and share our experiences. We can share our ideas, and we all can grow exponentially. Because of this there is less resistance to change, as we all recognize the vulnerability in ourselves. We see each other as living a learning process. We tell each other things like, “I have no idea, but let’s try it,” or “hey, look at how well that went. I am going to try doing it like that.” We celebrate the small achievements, and together we accept opportunities to grow. Then it begins to become a culture of learning and growing; we call this a culture of co-coaching. This allows the VESS culture of thinking to be sustainable, and it ensures that there is an internal mechanism for continuous growth. This type of leadership and the VESS networking that it generates encourages growth.
Finally, the awareness of change and VESS networking allows us, as Hattie says, to expand our perspectives. For example, it allows us to have multiple perspectives regarding our students’ development. It is not my point of view that determines what a student’s learning process should be. Conversations with others expand my understanding of the student. This affects the student’s development and learning process positively as my expectations are also changing.
The VESS Summit is an event that brings together hundreds of teachers from around the world to share their experiences and what they have learned. Why do you think that this meeting is important for collaborative work in VESS? Why is it important to participate in it?
I believe there are three ways in which the VESS Summit is very valuable in relation to VESS networking.
First, one of the things that happens with VESS that I find fascinating is that at the beginning the participants feel that they have to accomplish everything right now, and there is a feeling of frustration. Suddenly, there is a change, and the Summit participants realize that they are living life in a different way—as learners. They accept the challenge of being learners in life. They recognize that the process that allows them to grow is more important than the final result. This realization is supported by the excitement that learners have for the things to be learned and achieved. So, seeing others in the same learning process helps us to see ourselves as learners more easily. The VESS Summit, as I see it, is focused on understanding learning processes—not just what we have achieved, but how we achieved it. This helps the people who are sharing, as well as the people listening to them, to understand their own role as learners.
Also, in my opinion, VESS networking depends on personal leadership, on how I am taking responsibility for my own learning process and the responsibility of building a Culture of Thinking in my school. I believe that the Summit is a way to empower people to take on that responsibility and leadership. It is not only accepting responsibility but being empowered, and sharing and inspiring others.
Finally, the Summit allows us to reflect. All the presentations involve collective work, conversations with others and collective experiences. We are not just talking about reflection among the teachers, but with all the members of the network: parents, teachers, students, and their families.
How has VESS networking changed your personal and professional life?
It has been very valuable in my personal and professional life because it has allowed me to understand myself as a learner and the importance of taking responsibility in any role that I have in society. For example, I inspire others, and at the same time I enrich myself as a result of every encounter. Realizing that, as the famous Martiniano once said, one has ideas that others do not, and vice versa, generates a great richness within individual processes. For example, when I arrive at the classroom for a coaching session I know that I do not have the same experience as the teacher, but I do have an experience that is going to contribute to the teacher. In the same way, I know that I am going to learn from that interaction. I go with the attitude that I am going to learn, and I am going to contribute through the role that I am fulfilling.
I believe that this has helped me to change my own perspective of life. I am able to see and give value to the existence of multiple points of view regarding something. I am always willing to change the way I think because I know that it enriches me and it adds value to the people around me. For me, richness comes from recognizing other people’s points of view, giving them value, and seeing how they are constantly contributing to my growth as well as recognizing my personal process and understanding how my experience, my process, my previous knowledge and my way of connecting contributes to others.
It is in this process, as established by Hattie, that collective efficacy is achieved. We become aware that we are able to achieve something together that we probably would not have been able to do alone. Through this process we develop the initiative, as a group, to plan and effectively achieve what has been proposed.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge.