An Excerpt: The Difficulties in Establishing Collegiality
The following is an excerpt from "Community and Collegiality: Conversation Without End,'' written by Lynne Strieb, a member of the Philadelphia Teachers' Learning Cooperative. The chapter appears in a book published this school year by the University of North Dakota, Speaking Out: Teachers on Teaching, which includes writings by teachers from across the United States.
The book was written and edited by a group of teachers, including Ms. Strieb, Cecelia Traugh, Rhoda Kanevsky, Anne Martin, Alice Seletsky, and Karen Woolf. Permission to print this excerpt was granted by the North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation at the University of North Dakota.
The organizational complexities of large schools with many teachers and children, large classes, and unwieldy schedules make it difficult to find time to converse and make communities difficult to establish. Within any one school, many different styles, values, and beliefs may be represented. People can separate themselves from those with whom they do not agree. For many teachers, this is a way of protecting themselves. "You just close your door and do your thing.''
Curriculum and expectations for classroom practice are formulated at the top level of administration, and staff development is often used to enforce directives. Traditional methods of staff development effectively keep people separated. Faculty meetings, which are often believed to be the most effective places for staff development, are usually held once a week and run by administrators or their designates. One person talks to many, with very little discussion. Experts from the outside, selected by the administration, are frequently hired for longer in-service education sessions. We are not only not responsible for our own learning, but our considerable knowledge is unrecognized or dismissed:
"Often, staff development means telling teachers what to do and how to do it. They are herded from one end of town to the other, where they join with colleagues from several other schools to listen to 'experts' tell them how to insure that all the items listed on the scope and sequence charts for their grade levels are 'covered.' The teachers are deluged with materials and schemes that guarantee success if properly 'implemented.' Certainly, this approach undermines anyone's ability to trust in her judgments.''
"In an effort to sustain and encourage teacher growth, many school systems initiate in-service workshops. Usually, attendance is mandatory and for important meetings, we are released early from our classes so that we are more alert. A guest speaker, or a specialist in the system, makes a formal presentation, followed by a period of questions and answers. On the surface, there is nothing unusual about this. Presentations and workshops are given in many occupations, and their existence is taken for granted. It is rare, however, that one's heart or mind is touched in a way that has any lasting effect.''
"Last year, the Superintendent asked teachers to make goals and plans for their schools for this year. But most of the school plans were rejected by administrators in sub-district offices and sent back to be revised according to their wishes. This year, when we were asked to do it again, teachers fell silent, refusing to participate. No one ever thought of asking us, what do you think is important? What do you think about the curriculum? What about pacing--does it work? Are the tests effective? They were most concerned about getting us to cover the curriculum.''
As these excerpts show ... schools frequently run the risk of being collections of individuals connected primarily by top-down communications systems. However, the nature of schools can be otherwise, their possibilities otherwise. Schools are not made up of random collections of individuals. People within a school share broad purpose, and they share space. There are many natural places within schools which can support connection: talks over coffee, in hallways, in lounges, at meetings. In these places and in these ways, teachers come together to discuss shared issues, to commiserate, to rejoice.
On the other hand, much of the talk which naturally occurs in schools seems to have very particular qualities--of being on-the-run, of short-term encounters. It lacks continuity over time. It is polite, sometimes distant, and generally lacks intimacy. Circumstances allow teachers' talk to turn to gossip or complaint. Because it can be difficult to get beyond these qualities, talk does not always lead to the kind of conversation needed for strong collegiality. Yet, because school talk may contain the germ of possible conversation and is important for day-to-day survival in a school, it should not be discounted.
Copies of Speaking Out: Teachers on Teaching are available for $5 each, plus postage and handling charges of 15 percent for 1 to 10 copies, from the North Dakota Study Group, Box 8158, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D. 58202. A check, payable to the North Dakota Study Group, must accompany each order.