Sunday, April 10, 2011

Building Collaborative Cultures: Seeking ways to reshape urban schools

Petersen, K. (1994) NCREL Monograph: Building collaborative cultures: Seeking ways to reshape urban schools. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

The purpose of this paper is two-fold: first to identify the components of a collaborative culture and secondly to discuss ways that schools can encourage a collaborative culture. As many papers on collaboration seem to do, this one also establishes the solitary nature of traditional teaching where teachers are locked away in their classrooms and there is little substantive adult interaction. This paper argues that in addition to other established characteristics of successful schools, new research shows that collegiality and collaboration are important to school success since they encourage shared problem-solving, professional networking, risk-taking, and increase job satisfaction (to name a few).

The paper then describes noncollaborative and collaborative cultures. Referencing the work of Fullan and Hargreaves, the author describes three kinds of noncollaborative cultures: Balkinization (separate groups seeking power and influence); comfortable collaborations (a superficial kind of pseudo-collaboration with teachers sharing a few materials, techniques or bits of wisdome); and contrived collegiality (where administrators put formal structures in place that force teachers to work together on things like school improvement teams or peer coaching). All of these may help teachers feel closer in some way, but as the author notes, they will “not necessarily foster the deeper, more substantial, and more productive informal linkages, norms, and shared commitment found in collaborative settings” (5) In contrast to a noncollaborative culture, the author then describes the benefits of collaborative schools while acknowledging that they aren’t easy to develop and that attention to collegial relationships, structures, and norms is important.

Collegial relationships are divided into four types (with reference to Little (1990)). Three of the four types (storytelling and scanning for ideas; aid and assistance; sharing) are described as being a more superficial collegiality, while the fourth, “joint work” proved the opportunity “for teachers to interact around problems of practice, fostering relationships characterized by openness and trust, developing a shared technical language, and making educational philosophies more congruent” (7). Examples of joint work include (but aren’t limited to) designing and preparing materials, designing curriculum units, preparing lesson plans, analyzing practices and effects, and working on interdisciplinary units.

For collegiality to develop in a school, the authors note several factors that are critical: 1) committed and generous teachers who are open to change and learning; 2)organizational norms that support collegial dialogue in a safe environment; 3)smaller “reference groups” such as grade-level teams or departments that are conducive to discussion and debate; 4) sufficient time for teachers to “meet, talk, think, and interact. When time is scarce, the dialogue and exchanges of information are more superficial and focused on immediate problems, issues, or obligations”; 5) administration that encourages and accommodates collegiality and fosters teacher leadership.

Another key to creating collaborative cultures is in recognizing what the narrative of the school is and who is telling the story. Is the story told by the “gossips,” “storytellers,” “priests/priestesses,” or the “heroes/heroines”? Is collegiality celebrated? Complained about? What stories are told and retold? How does this affect the school’s culture? In identifying those positive, encouraging voices in an organization and directing new staff their way, the culture of collegiality can be encouraged.

Finally, the author notes that in a collaborative culture, leadership is shared. He dispells some of the myths of leadership, argung that many teachers have leadership skills that can be effectively utilized and noting the importance of encouragement, trust, and building confidence in others in effective leadership.

Quotes: “Collaboration is not simply a group of congenial, happy teachers. As Fullan and Hargreaves point out (1991), “contentment should not be mistaken for excellence: (p. 47). In collaborative school, the natural give-and-take of professionals means that conflict, disagreement, and discord will sometimes occur. But, these situations can be worked out for the good of the students.” (4)

“”Knowing what members of the school define as success is a way to know what is valued (Schein, 1985).

“What teachers, administrators, and others view as the measures of success often shapes how they spend their time, what problems they try to solve together, and what gets their attention” (10)

1 comment:

Stacey Caillier said...

Wow! What a rich synopsis of this article and it's main ideas. I like the framework (or different stages?) described here around types of collegial or noncollegial cultures - this is great stuff for your Understandings! Where do you think you're school is? This could be an interesting first step in your research, to reflect on where you think your school is in your Understandings, and then to ask colleagues where they think your school is. I wonder if there is some sort of survey these authors (or Little or Fullan) have used that you could adapt? Or you could take the qualities they discuss for what makes the different collaborations and design your own questions to give to colleagues! Some great stuff to follow up on here!

Post a Comment