I was visiting a friend who is a principal and found myself frequently alone as another “usual” school issue arose. As I often do, I began pursuing the bookshelf for a distraction and a chance to find out what I might be missing. I found a copy of Improving Schools from Within by Roland Barth (Jossey-Bass 1990).
While I had read and quoted from several articles by Barth, I hadn’t read this book. Reading a few pages lead to a request to “borrow” the book which I finished reading over the next three days. If you have missed this earlier as I did, its worth a read now (used copies available). I was surprised by how Barth’s descriptions of difficulties facing teachers and principals were still the same and in many cases even more severe.
My work with school improvement, professional development, coaching and professional learning communities is built around my belief that collegiality is a critical element of increased student achievement:
My statement: Until a school becomes collegial it will not reach maximum student achievement.Positively phrased: If we can increase teacher collegiality, it will have a positive impact on student achievement.
Barth: “My years in school suggest that the quality of adult relationships within a school has more to do with the quality and character of the school and with the accomplishments of students than any other factor. (163)“Unless adults talk with one another, observe one another, and help one another, very little will change.”(32)
In working with instructional coaches I have suggested that one of their job descriptions should be the building of teacher collegiality. One reason I have suggested that is that rarely is there sufficient time for the coach to provide all the coaching that needs to occur. By getting teachers to be collegial and coaching each other, the coach’s work is more likely to impact students. Building a collegial culture takes conscious, purposeful actions.
Barth’s words reinforce the need to “work at” collegiality-“… collegiality is not the natural state of things in schools and never will be. It will not occur on its own.. It seems that collegiality will come to schools only if it is valued and deliberately sought after, only if someone deliberately takes action to overcome these obstacles.” (32-33)
I have written several times in this blog about the instructional coach and principal partnership.The coach should make the principal look good. The principal should make the coach look good. In that situation teachers are most likely to place confidence in both the coach and the principal as a culture of collegiality is modeled by these two school leaders. I often recommend the coach and principal publicly coaching each other.
Barth writes: “There are many important relationships within a school… I am convinced that none of these relationships has greater effect on the quality of life under the roof of the schoolhouse than the relationship between teacher and principal. I have found no characteristic of a good school more pervasive than a healthy teacher-principal relationship– and no characteristic of a troubled school more common than a troubled, embattled administrator-teacher relationship. (19)
Now that the school year is underway, it may be a great time to pull the school leadership team together and consider:
What signs indicate the quality of collegial relationships currently existing among our staff? Do we see signs of teachers being congenial but not being collegial? Are there signs of parallel teaching (near each other not with each other)? Are interactions among teachers improving teaching and learning?
What actions can we take as leaders to build the culture of collegiality? Are we seeing collegiality in PLC’s, departments, grade levels? Where is collegiality evident across content areas and grade levels? Can we make it easier for teachers to have time for observing and coaching each other? Are we using our professional development resources to build collegiality?
How much is collegiality being modeled by the leadership team?