A city is a lonely place. Towers of steel and artifice, standing side-by-side in the horizon, surrounded by throngs of hearts and souls all begging for some semblance of meaning to be found in passing shadows. In many ways, teaching in a class is much the same – a profession of multiple shifting persona, learners filtering through the educational system to some mysterious end, staying awhile and then walking out the door. For the teacher, Fallon and Barnett argue, professional isolation is a reality. Teachers become experts in their particular environments, astride mental carriages of their own design; while they may pass by another carriage on the road to learning (and perhaps throw a wave or two) they remain safely ensconced in their particular spheres. Fallon and Barnett argue, however, that the professional isolation of a teacher is supported by the organizational structure of the school, and so with restructuring that isolation can become collaboration. The authors set about an experiment wherein they conducted interviews at a school, prompting the teachers to use their weekly meetings not as trials-by-fire (as faculty meetings go) but as creative and collaborative storytelling sessions, devising ways to build leadership capacity and begin the “shifting of professional boundaries.”
Fallon and Barnett’s goal was to encourage the teachers at the school to move from Little’s weak collegiality into strong collegiality (1990). Weak collegiality is defined by the literature as sharing, storytelling, and assistance, while strong collegiality is defined as joint work. To do this, the teachers restructured the leadership at the school, endowing those with power and authority as “sponsors” while lifting up normal teachers as “champions” (intending, of course, to encourage sponsors to uplift the teachers rather than use their authority to demean them). In their weekly meetings, they discovered new strategies to interact more frequently, although perhaps not to the end the authors desired.
Fallon and Barnett recognized that the key failure in the experiment was the lack of value. When instituting any change, the members of that change must have a value commitment, as values are core to critical discourse, which in turn is required for what Lavie calls a “discourse of possibilities” (2006). Smith (1996) also argues that “critical collaboration” is necessary in order to, as the authors explain, increase the level of collegiality from weak to strong as “critical collaboration” allows for collaboration to grow rather than fester, or what Fullon and Hargreaves term “comfortable collegiality” (1992). Of the five discourses Fallon and Barnett discuss (culture, effectiveness, school-as-community, restructuring, and critical) I believe the foundation is effectiveness, with school-as-community as a goal, culture/critical as mediators, and restructuring as methodology.
In my work as a teacher, I fully recognize the simplicity and ease of weak collegiality. Encouraging another teacher to change without the necessity of a systematic restructuring towards effectiveness is like trying to move a mountain. Furthermore, in a multicultural setting culture acts like temporal variables altering the streams and paths constantly lending credence to a critical understanding of how culture interacts with effectiveness. The restructuring model must be centered around the goal, if the goal is for the school-as-community.
I have often shared my ideas with other teachers, and they have shared their ideas with me. We have “comfortable collegiality,” but in order to truly be effective we need organizational restructuring. Setting up classes so that we can visit other teachers’ classes, writing personal evaluations, meeting school standards, and being able to critique department rules in a positive, encouraging, and non-threatening capacity are all key to an organizational restructure. Lightening the load of the leadership by delegating tasks (with reward, such as reputation/additional pay), squashing the vertical threshold by inviting leaders to informal events, but most of all creating community as a role model within the cohort of teachers and encouraging community within the classroom – with using culture not as a hammer but rather as a language, learning to communicate with each other through the heart.
Fullan, M.G., & Hargreaves, A. (1992). What is worth fighting for? Working together for your school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Teachers’ Federation.
Lavié, J.M. (2006). Academic discourses on school-based teacher collaboration: Revisiting the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(5):773-805.
Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teacher College Record, 91(4):509-534.
Smith, B. (1996). What did we mean when we argued for “critical collaborative communities”? In J. Smyth (Comp.), Schools as critical collaborative communities. Adelaide, Australia: The Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching.