Monday, March 20, 2006

From solitary play to collegiality.

  Posted by Picasa Relationships are the key to a quality school.

Relationship can range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive says Roland Barth, Director of the Leadership Centre Harvard University.

Strengthen relationships and you improve professional practice. The relationships between the teachers define all the other relationship in the school and determine the quality of the school culture.

Many schools, Barth writes, are full of ‘non discussables’- important matters seldom discussed. Such things as: poor leadership, issues of race, the underperforming teacher, the place of our own personal visions and, of course, the quality of relationships. Actually we do talk about them, Barth writes, but in the car park after staff meetings. The definition of a 'non discussable' is an issue of sufficient import that it commands our attention but is so incendiary that we cannot discuss it in polite society and they ‘lurk as land mines’.

Barth says there are various forms of relationships

1. Parallel play – a concept from pre school literature where young people play together alone, self obsessed and engrossed, not really sharing or collaborating. This seems a perfect description of how many teachers interact (the ‘self contained’ classroom) and also the relationships between adjoining schools – ‘we are all in this - alone’.

2. Adversarial relationships. This can be as simple of withholding information or not sharing ideas and insights (‘craft knowledge’); ‘guarding their tricks’.This can result in teachers continually repeating failed ideas. Often teachers who share ideas are subtly put down by their ‘colleagues’.

3. Congenial relationships. Such schools abound with positive interactive relationships but rarely about serious school issues. A place to drink and eat but not to think – ‘no talking about teaching in the staffroom’.

4. Collegial relationships. Of the four this is the most important and hardest to establish. ‘Schools are full of good players. Collegiality is about getting them to play together, having learning conversations, about growing a professional learning community.’ A professional learning community is built on continual discussion about what is important – the beliefs shared about teaching and learning. Simple ‘walk and talk’ staff meetings, sharing ideas, are a simple beginning.

Leadership is all about creating the conditions for teachers to share ideas and to foster collegial relationships; about making it clear what is important in the school; developing with the staff clear beliefs and clear expectations and protecting and celebrating those who engage in collegial behavior.

As Barth says, ‘Empowerment, recognition, satisfaction, and success come only from being an active participant within a masterful group – a group of colleagues.’


Anonymous said...

Barth is right - it is all about relationships.

Those non discussables ring a bell! Many schools ( or any orgnisation) avoid the 'gorilla in the room!' To often 'my world/classs is more important' than school-wide issues.

Parallel, adversarial or congenial play is all to common in many schools.

Anonymous said...

Facing up to hard realities is something schools are not good at -far easier to keep heads down and try not to notice. I guess this is why most school change initiatives fail.

Someone once said that many schools are like ten sole charges with a shared car park!

Privatisation of practice is strong in teachers; the right to be right or wrong in the privacy of ones own classroom!

Anonymous said...

Struggling schools are full of parallel, adversarial and congenial relationships. And Barth is right, the most important issues are only grumbled about but never to the right forums. Poor leadership is the worst least openly discussed issue.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Schools are about relationships, relationships and relationships.

Anonymous said...

Too many schools are trapped trying to play some sort of game devised in the 19th century!

Anonymous said...

Changing schools is as easy as herding cats!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Encouraging schools to share ideas is harder than 'herding cats' -they are poor sharers and learners. A legacy of 'Tomorrows Schools' 'stand alone' competitive schools?

It is hard enough for teachers within a school to share ideas - impossible in some secondary schools.