Thursday, November 24, 2011

Don't give me that, you snotty faced heap of parrot droppings! (Monty Python)

A colleague gave me an article recently called, Forgetting about friendship: using conflict in teacher communities as a catalyst for school change by Jorge Avila De Lima (thanks Jan).

Along the way he makes some challenging comments about collaboration, collegiality and communities of teachers. For instance he says;
It is ...clear that not all communities of teachers are favorable to educational change. The propensity of these communities to foster this change will vary with the nature of the elements that bond its members together.
My past experience has certainly been that some staffrooms are much more receptive to change than others. In fact I can only think of two staffrooms where the whole staff was united as one community and moving in the same direction as the Principal. The first was Macleans College when I was an English teacher there from 1985 to 1989, and the second is my current school - Ali bin Abi Taleb School in Al Foah (Al Ain, UAE).

But I didn't really want to focus on that bit of the article.

In analysing the community of teachers he identifies three elements.

1.      Community of understanding (common values, shared beliefs)
2.      Community of practice (mutual support, collaboration, collegiality)
3.      Community of affection (meaningful relationships)

In a statement that I know my friend PJ will embrace whole-heartedly De Lima says:

The only thing that seems to be absolutely imperative that teachers share in order to form a community of professionals is a deep commitment to students’ learning, development and well being. Strong personal bonds are by no means essential (my emphasis).

But I didn't really want to focus on that bit of the article either.

De Lima goes on to discuss the idea of trust in close relationships. Trust in close relationships reflects ‘confident expectations of positive outcomes’ from a partner.

Interpersonal trust can be defined as ‘the confident expectation that a partner is intrinsically motivated to take one’s own best interests into account when acting – even when incentives might tempt him or her to do otherwise’.

My company has embraced the concept of a ‘Performance Enhancement Payment’ scheme this year and we are required to submit a ‘stretch goal’ (see earlier posts on this concept).

A colleague who is also a friend, let’s call him Colin Donald, suggested we work on ours together as we have a history of working together on Professional Development ideas in Qatar a few years ago.

I had no problem placing my faith in his benevolent intentions and saying, “Yes – great idea”. We have that interpersonal trust and I have that confident expectation of a positive outcome.

It comes from history and the mutual professional trust that has built up. He trusted me in Qatar to do my job. I trusted his leadership abilities.

Of course, Colin and I didn’t need to be friends to work in this collegial way but it helped that we trusted each other’s abilities and motives.

But I didn't really want to focus on that bit of the article either.

De Lima makes a good distinction, when discussing collegiality and interpersonal ties in teaching between being friendly and being friends with colleagues.
While friendship ties us to others through positive sentiments of affection; due to our desire to establish some interaction beyond the relationship implied by our formal role, we often maintain friendly relations with others to whom we are not particularly attracted or whom we may even dislike somewhat.
[This is very blokey isn’t it? I can just imagine saying to Colin – I’d like to work with you because of a personal sentiment of affection. Yeah right!]

The point of the article promised in the title is coming soon I promise. But we need another slight digression.

When I attend meetings called by representatives of my company I can’t help notice how the men always sit together and the women sit separately. Partly this reflects the segregated nature of schools and society in the UAE. I am in an all boys’ school with no female teachers. Girls’ schools have no male presence beyond the security guard at the gate. Boys and girls have staggered bus timetables so they are not on co-educational buses.

But there’s more to it than that.  

The male advisors gravitate towards each other, so do the women (although less so). Friendship, especially at deep levels, is developed among people who view one another as similar. The male advisors are similar not only in race and sex but also in interests. Yes we do like to talk about sport and masculine pursuits.

De Lima’s thought is that in a schooling change scenario teachers not in close friendship groups can open doors of change wider than can the ties that bind together very close friends.

This is contentious. Andy Hargreaves says that in order to work successfully teachers need to feel some kind of commonality with the people with whom they gather and work.

As indicated above, for men that means other men.

Okay so…cognitive conflict (De Lima’s term and no pun intended with the company I work for – Cognitive Education).

De Lima’s point (yes we got there) is
Instead of pursing deep levels of friendship and harmony among teachers, sponsors of educational change in schools would be better off by going after cognitive conflict, by arranging ways of bringing together previously unacquainted colleagues in new and innovative combinations across subject areas, grade levels and even school buildings.

Basically – conflict is good. Even more than that, ‘school cultures will not flourish and develop dynamically without internal controversy’.


If you’ve made it this far you deserve some more Monty Python.

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