Relationships among educators within a school range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive. Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.

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.

Our View: It is time that schools are looked up as organizations and teachers are given the rights to freely express their views. A healthy exchange of a teacher’s classroom experiences can help in building a large knowledge bank which can then be used an effective teaching tool by several others. A teacher tends to face various challenges every day. It is important to document these experiences, share with her colleagues and be open to new ideas. If the interactions are solution oriented they are sure to deliver results in the classrooms. Students tend to learn better in an environment that encourages free-dialogue. So are we ready for to change the way our schools functions?

In short, the relationships among the educators in a school define all relationships within that school’s culture. Teachers and administrators demonstrate all too well a capacity to either enrich or diminish one another’s lives and thereby enrich or diminish their schools.

Types of Professional Relationships within a School

The author describes four kinds of relationships among the teachers within the school.

These relationships are:

Parallel Play

People working in isolation indicate parallel play. The author explains, “An example of parallel play in education is the self-contained classroom, with the door shut and windows covered so as to isolate yourself from colleagues who might cause you to examine and improve your practices”.

Adversarial Relationships

Teachers often become adversaries in a subtle way by withholding information and insights. Teachers carry around extraordinary insights about their practice-about discipline, parental involvement, and staff development etc., acquired over the years. The author calls this “craft knowledge” and points out, “If one day we teachers could only disclose our rich craft knowledge to one another, we could transform our schools overnight!” People also become adversaries through competition. They become competitors for resources and recognition, which are quite scarce in the world of schools. Barth cites an example of a teacher who said, “I teach in a culture of competition in which teaching is seen as an arcane mystery and teachers guard their tricks like great magicians!”

Congenial Relationships

Congenial relationships are personal and friendly. An example of this is the friendly sharing of food and niceties across the table. Maintaining congeniality in relationships is important.

The author explains: “The promise of congenial relationships helps us shut off the alarm each day and go to work!” However, the if the relationships between the school management and teachers are trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative, then in turn the relationships between teachers, students and parents will probably be the same.

State expectations explicitly. (Eg. “I expect all of us to work together this year…”)

Model collegiality. (Eg. Visibly join in cheering on others…)

Reward those who behave as colleagues. (Eg. Recognition to those who collaborate.)

Protect those who engage in these collegial behaviours.

Collegial Relationships

Collegial relationships are the highest and the most desirable forms of relationships. At this level, people are not just friendly, but connected at a higher level. Teachers passionately discuss and work to improve their craft and build an invigorating culture around them. A sports coach once said, “Getting good

players is easy. Getting them to play together is the hard part.” Of the four categories of relationships, collegiality is the hardest to establish, but provides the greatest benefits.

Creating a Culture of Collegiality

The author provides ways in which we can replace parallel play and adversarial relationships with congenial and collegial relationships in our schools:

Teachers talking with one another about practice

Teachers do not restrict their discussions to small talk and niceties, but spend a significant amount of time discussing their classroom. This can be encouraged through sharing questions faced in classrooms with other teachers in the staff room.

Teachers sharing their knowledge craft

Once the exchange of ‘craft knowledge’ becomes institutionally sanctioned and there is a repeated practice of this, teachers no longer feel pretentious or as violating taboos by sharing their insights.

Teachers observing one another while they are engaged in practice

No one wants to risk being exposed as incompetent. Yet there is no more powerful way of learning and improving on the job than by observing one another practice in a classroom. For a school leader, it is difficult to create a school culture where mutual observations by teachers are commonplace, as one needs to overcome the individual teachers’ fear about it. However, it is essential as it increases the likelihood of worthwhile learning.

Teachers rooting for one another’s success

All too common in the profession of “Education” is widespread awareness of a fellow teacher in trouble. Each teacher instead of observing the other’s problem should try to help in solving it.

This an abridged version of Roland S. Barth’s Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse.

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