collegiality... relationships in our work communities. Roland S. Barth's "Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse"

"Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse" by Roland S. Barth

from the article:

"One incontrovertible finding emerges from my career spent working in and around schools: The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else. If the relationships between administrators and teachers are trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative, then the relationships between teachers and students, between students and students, and between teachers and parents are likely to be trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative. If, on the other hand, relationships between administrators and teachers are fearful, competitive, suspicious, and corrosive, then these qualities will disseminate throughout the school community."

"Consequently, the issues surrounding adult relationships in school, like other nondiscussables, litter the schoolhouse floor, lurking like land mines, with trip wires emanating from each. We cannot take a step without fear of losing a limb. Thus paralyzed, we can be certain that next September, adult relationships in the school will remain unchanged. School improvement is impossible when we give nondiscussables such extraordinary power over us..."

Barth goes on to discuss various types of relationships that are found in educational settings, relationships that end up characterizing the community itself. Here are his categories:
Parallel Play
Adversarial Relationships
Congenial Relationships
Collegial Relationships

This article is becoming a classic for leaders who want to change school cultures. It's a great beginning point for conversations between colleagues who work together. I'm posting it here for discussion about the essence of the article, that relationships count, that they matter perhaps more than anything else.

Discussion points for Future of Education could be several: what do you think about what Barth is saying... In your experience, is it true? Have you seen educational settings transform once people become attuned to the importance of faculty interactions?

Other questions: have you found that online relationships can move in the direction of collegiality, and perhaps make up for some of what might be missing in the F2F environment, providing inspiration, support, and motivation?

Also, do you know of other articles, books, or leaders we should be thinking about, that emphasize the importance of the tone--the spirit--of human connections?

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As a parent and not a professional educator, I think a key thing is to have genuine relationships between adults, and between adults and youth, in a school environment. The youth need to be addressed as full partners in their education not as passive recipients of transmitted authoritative knowledge.
Hi Cooper,

Yes, you are so right about the relationships in a school being key. How the relationships are going makes up the school climate, the school culture--and your point is essential: listen to students, collaborate with them, assist them in developing in their own learning plans. Thank you for the response!

Here's another article by Barth that relates to what you're saying:

"The Culture Builder"

It may seem a bit offbeat to put up articles like this on the Future of Education, but the essential points Barth makes are directly relevant to the creation of collaborative environments, the type of learning habitats we need to make the most of both "traditional" teaching and 21st-century learning. At least that's what I think. What do you think?
Collegiality is VERY important in every community - schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods. It would be a big mistake to disregard he importance of human relationships.

It often amazes me what can be done if you know who can help or who can suggest resources and you just ask. A colleague is someone who helps rather than competes and information sharing is vital. When there is no collegiality a workplace can become hazardous.

I imagine organizational culture gurus will have much to say about this!
Based on my personal experience, both as a teacher and as a parent, I agree with Barth about the importance of school culture and about the impact on student achievement of students.

My own middle school, where I have taught English for 12 years, has a great culture, but it has not always been that way. When I arrived 12 years ago, there was some congeniality, but little collegiality. There were factions and divisions that, while not exactly hostile most of the time, were divisive. Individually, I think my colleagues cared about kids in their own classrooms, but there was little focus on teachers working together.

Over the years, that has changed. Our principal made it clear that we were to treat our students with respect at all times, and that we were to do the same with each other. She worked hard to create an atmosphere of fun, and she celebrated successes publicly. Teachers who were not respectful, either to their peers or to their students, were challenged privately (in her office), and gradually most of them left or retired. Twelve years later, we have an healthy culture where we support each other and, for the most part, disagree respectfully. In the past few years, we have begun to translate this great congeniality into more productive collegiality, the kind that results in meaningful collaboration around student learning. We are moving from the collaboration lite, that Dufour refers to in his work on Professional Learning Communities (I could probably find this link if someone needs it), towards real collaboration on student learning. That couldn't happen without the foundation of our school culture.

In contrast, my twin daughters, now 10, went to a school through 3rd grade where the principal destroyed any hope of school culture. My wife taught in the school for 10 years, including 4-5 before the principal arrived, and it had a wonderful culture of shared responsibility and shared vision. Teachers regularly socialized together, back then, but they also worked together to further the mission of the school. When our kids were born, we were excited to have them attend the school once they were old enough.

My wife left the school two years ago, when our girls were still in 2nd grade, because the atmosphere had become so toxic and negative. Most of the great culture of years before was gone by then, as the principal made working there difficult, especially for teachers that she perceived as threats to her authority, and one by one, some of the strong leaders left. Turnover in the school is huge, at this point, and most of the institutional memory is dead.

The impact on the students of this school was also dramatic. In earlier grades, thanks to great teachers who STILL worked closely together, the students did well. However, as classes moved through the school, and more and more kids struggled with boundaries and rules, the culture of each grade deteriorated. Teachers did not receive support when they tried to enforce rules in their classes, and disruptive and disrespectful behavior increased, so that by the time kids reached 5th and 6th grade, discipline problems were epidemic. Consequently, teachers felt more harassed, and learning suffered.

My wife and I did not feel comfortable sending our kids to the school after 3rd grade, so we have moved them to the district in which I teach. The school that was so wonderful a decade ago has fallen apart, and it's been very hard to watch. When I contrast that school to mine, the single most important factor is school culture. Teaching is a tough job. Teachers must feel supported by their administration, and they must support each other. The benefits when this happens are huge, and the consequences when it doesn't are dire.

Sorry about the soapbox - I almost forgot the initial connection to this Ning, the Future of Ed, and Connie's question about the learning habits of both traditional and 21st Century teaching. Can Web 2.0 tools lead to increased collaboration and an improvement in school culture? Most definitely. Any tool that facilitates discussion and collaboration will help. However, like any new tool, we must help each other (colleagues and students) to use these tools in productive and positive ways. The same rules of respect and honesty must apply in the virtual realm that are so critical to the physical school space. If Web 2.0 tools are used to spread negativity, they can undermine culture just as fast (or faster) than they can aid it.

It's up to those of us who are starting to use these tools to help model how they can be used productively. Rather than attempting to block their access when we encounter trouble, we need to embrace their potential and address the trouble directly. We need to make it clear what is acceptable use and what is not, and continue to promote positive results. This is no different that what we do in classrooms and school buildings everywhere.
Thank you for the responses, Cooper, Cheri and Peter. Cheri, yes, sharing resources and getting out of competitive mode lead to less workplace hazard and more learning--so true.

What a thoughtful reply, full of observations from experiences. Isn't it amazing that in so many schools what is expected behavior for the students in class is not modeled by the teachers as colleagues within their own group of peers? Actually, it seems to take a whole lot of work to get to being a true learning community, through and through, across and amongst all levels in a school. I'm not sure it happens all that often. So glad it is happening for you now--and look at how it took years to get there!
Another thing that your comment illustrates clearly is how fragile an environment may be; the collegiality crumbles when it's not constantly nurtured.
You're right about the essence of collegiality being necessary whether F2F or online. Such important work, building it up...
Yes, if you'd be willing, how about sending the link to the Dufour article?
David Gerard, the science fiction writer, once wrote,

[M]assive collaboration is hard. The main problem is how to work with idiots you can’t get rid of, who consider you an idiot they can’t get rid of.

Now, he was talking about Wikipedia (and it's an excellent read for anyone wanting to rebut people who disparage Wikipedia because of the supposed bias against 'experts'), but this holds true in almost any place where people, often working at odds with each other, nonetheless need to continue to work together.
I think a very important part of any working environment has to be collaborative, even when convinced that the other person is wrong. In office situations (since I can't address teaching situations), the nature of my work is often to come in and fix things, often while the person who messed them up is still there. In those situations, I've found that just keeping track of someone's interests, and IMing them or mailing a 'saw this, thought of you' once or twice a week, often defuses things immensely, resulting in social collegiality leading to it professionally.

It doesn't surprise me at all that the unseen and often unattended levels of a school environment can have that effect on the school itself. We often think of tension as being a personal thing, but when even just two people aren't getting along, the tension transmits to others who deal with them.
In a series of School Policy Luncheons held in Chicago, one of the speakers, Charles Payne, talked about his new book titled "So Much Reform, So Little Change," One of the big challenges is the lack of trust and positive relationships within the poorly performing schools.

At is a web site where you can listen to the presentations from these policy events.

I think a lot of lip service goes into "getting kids involved" and not enough real strategy. What I mean by this is that you can have someone in the room with you, and they don't really have a voice. This goes for parents, volunteers, teachers, and youth. That's because of the way group dynamics work, with some people intimidated, some people ill prepared, and some people dominating the meeting.

I've learned over many years that the more research you do on a problem and its solutions, the more prepared you are to have a voice in a meeting. Furthermore, if the meeting is on the internet any one can share their ideas and be heard and everyone can talk at one time.

Thus, if we want kids and parents in the discussion in a meaningful way we need to find ways where the kids are learning about the issues of their own community, and their own school, as part of research projects they might be doing in civics, English, or history classes. They might be learning to share what they are learning as part of speech, writing and/or technology activities. Such learning has to be continuous, starting as early as elementary school for kids to build habits of learning, reflecting, brainstorming, and working in teams to solve problems.

If schools, or teachers, or local businesses or faith groups, encourage this process of learning and collaborative problem solving, it might build the social capital that bonds people together, gives kids a voice, and leads to better education outcomes. Imagine if every school/community in the country had a forum like this, with youth and adults in active roles.
Wanted to add in some thoughts on the topic from current news and discussions. Here's a letter by Diane Ravitch on merit pay over at the Bridging differences blog at edweek. "What's Wrong with Merit Pay."

My worry about merit pay is that it is likely to negatively affect collegiality, even destroy the fragile beginnings we've made in this area. That hasn't been much a part of the conversation on the Bridging Differences blog.

The emphasis should be on setting up support systems, professional learning communities, professional learning networks, positive leadership. That's the way to promote educators' growth.

Here are some conversations on Fireside Learning that go with the topic:

"Diane Ravitch on Bridging Differences: 'What's Wrong With Merit P...

"Professional social networks as a mentoring tool

"Learning By Heart, Roland Barth"

"Leadership and Hope"

Please send some of your references for development of collegiality; together we can create an antidote to shortsighted, misguided, or destructive trends, and instead build up positive, growth-producing collaborations.
I have been an educator for quite some time and in a way, I do agree with Barth's article . Relationship matters. I notice that when harmonious relationship is taking place in the workplace, unprecedented success of any school undertaking is achievable. There seems to have a unifying force that rallies every concerned individual to work behind the completion of such undertaking. However, when relationship gets tough especially among the employees, things get jeopardized. For that reason, I make sure that relationship in the working place among the students, faculty, staff, parents and other stakeholders must be within the frequency of harmony, cooperation and mutual respect.


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