Judith Warren Little’s work on collegiality is something that should be widely read but it appears little quoted and little known.
In her study of workplace conditions for school success, she unearthed findings that are just as relevant today. She found,
In successful schools more than in unsuccessful ones, teachers valued and participated in norms of collegiality and continuous improvement (experimentation); they pursued a greater range of professional interactions with fellow teachers or administrators, including talk about instruction, structured observation, and shared planning or preparation.
It is the ‘expectations for shared work’ that are the most interesting for any teacher working in a school. The buildings you work in and the people you work with can really make or break your teaching experience.
She found that successful schools depends on the staff being ‘close’ where shared work was the norm “by which teachers discuss, plan for, design, conduct, analyze, evaluate,and experiment with the business of teaching.”
I have worked in schools where that collegial atmosphere powers commitment and the desire to do the best you can.
I’ve also worked in schools where the people I’ve worked with haven’t been ‘close’ but operated as silo teachers and not interested in the business of teaching but just “getting through the day”.
Pursuing “the connections between teaching and learning with aggressive curiosity” in these circumstances is mightily hard to do.
Where people do work together with a shared sense of professional pride they really do go the extra mile for each other.
Little’s inventory of work practices is illuminating and it would be very interesting to read through these as a staff in a professional development session and silently absorb what it is we do or don’t do for each other!
She says that
Each of these situated interactions places more, or less extensive demand on teachers’ time, knowledge, experience, and good will. Each contributes in different measure to persons’ competence, confidence, influence, and satisfaction. Each appears to be more or less powerful in fostering schoolwide norms of collegiality and experimentation. And each, finally, is more or less firmly a part of “being a teacher”…
An inventory of characteristic teacher interactions:
- Lend and borrow materials.
- Create a shared file of materials.
- Design and prepare materials.
- Review materials or books.
- Design curriculum units.
- Research materials’and ideas for curriculum.
- Write curriculum.
- Prepare lesson plans.
- Review/discuss existing lesson plans.
- Ask for project ideas.
- Ask for classroom management ideas.
- Ask for help with specific problems of instruction.
- Ask for help with specific discipline problems.
- Praise other teachers.
- Refer one teacher to another for an idea.
- Credit new ideas and programmes.
- Persuade others to try an idea/approach.
- Dissuade others from an idea/approach.
- Describe to others an attempt to try something new.
- Make collective agreements to participate in a programme.
- Make collective agreements to test an idea.
- Trade teaching assignments/groups.
- Invite other teachers to observe.
- Observe other teachers.
- Discuss theory, philosophy, approach.
- Confront other teachers on issues of race (e.g. “disparaging remarks”).
- Analyse practices and effects.
- Praise individual students or classes.
- Teach others informally.
- Talk openly about what one is learning or wants to learn.
- Attend inservice training as groups or teams.
- Talk about social/personal life.
- Spread the word about good classes or workshops.
- Offer reassurance when others upset.
- Ask informally about what is being covered in other Year groups, levels and classes.
- Convert book chapters,to reflect new approach (e.g., mastery learning).
- Act as a “buddy”, to new teachers.
- Suggest that others “try this.”
- Divide up administrative chores.
- Team teach (voluntary).
- Team teach (involuntary).
- Plan how to use new curriculum packages.
- Defend or explain specific classroom practices.
- Design inservice.
- Work on a presentation for a conference.
- Reach group agreement on solutions to school-wide problems.
- Decide how to use Teaching assistants.
- Train teaching assistants
- Give advice to others when asked.
- Make suggestions without being asked.
Most teachers enjoy a high degree of collaboration but there will be many who don’t and look at this list in envy.
Little says that school improvement is most surely and thoroughly achieved when teachers “engage in frequent, continuous, and increasingly concrete and precise talk about teaching practice (as distinct from teacher characteristics and failings, the social lives of teachers, the foibles and failures of students and their families, and the unfortunate demands of society on the school).”
And that is key. When staff get bogged down with the latter, the focus on the business of teaching is lost. What else they do is frequently observe each other teaching, and provide each other with useful feedback. They plan, design, research, evaluate,and prepare teaching materials together and they teach each other the practice of teaching.