Collegial schools are the ultimate goal for administrators to achieve in the 21st century. What are collegial schools and how are administrators to achieve creating such an atmosphere? Collegial schools are schools that have very purposeful interactions and the stakeholders all create and maintain a shared vision. This means that in order to have a school based upon collegiality, it is essential for administrators to operate more collaboratively with their staff as well as communicating in a manner that has very consciously thought out the purpose and respectfully communicated intention.
How do 21st-century school leaders create this collegial culture? Strategically! Culture is a powerful, latent, and often unconscious set of forces that determine both our individual and collective behavior, ways of perceiving, thought patterns, and values. A famous baseball manager Casey Stengel once said, “Getting good players is easy. Getting ‘em to play together is the hard part.” Today’s schools have a plethora of good players. Collegiality is when all those good players can play together building a healthy, effective professional learning community.
Our school is not collegial. It is based upon the traditional or conventional hierarchical structure. In this environment, the administrator gives many top-down directives and staff often feel stifled in their work. The administrator may have the best of intentions, but their lack of ability to truly know the details of every classroom’s challenges, every teacher’s and student’s needs cripples their ability to truly be effective in being the sole source of all directives. This creates an exceptionally stressful situation for the administrator as they are then holding themselves personally accountable to every single event and detail on campus. This is an impossible task and truly has no real constructive solution as long as this format is strictly adhered to.
The reason that the conventional approach is a significant focus of concern is that it has not shown correlation to positive student outcomes. However, the collegial approach has shown substantial gains in student achievement (Tortu-Rueter, 2012). “In organization theory, tightly coupled organizations typically have defining characteristics including the fact that they are self-correcting systems, have consensus on goals, disseminate information, and have the ability to address predictable problems” (Tortu-Rueter, 2012, p. 91). Marzano and Waters (2009) point out that conventional practice is similar to independent schools allowing teachers to operate as independent contractors within their classrooms, thus not facilitating school-wide success goals.
Another area of contention that has taken over school culture throughout America is the test-prep frenzy. Reeves (2000) points out that many teachers fear, or have experienced, the administrators of their schools will focus on the test to the detriment of really thinking, reflecting, and writing. This may even be factually true in numerous school settings by statistics found in the media over entire school districts violating the testing procedures by literally cheating on the exams to alter school-wide scores in order to ensure adequate funding was continued for their schools (Winerip, 2013). Marzano also gives weight to the notion that by utilizing a standards-based instruction, a conversation among colleagues would help to improve the culture of college, which would enhance student achievement (Westerberg, 1997).
There is no question that this country has caught the standards-based instruction and examination system as the new central focus of all school achievement. Whether that has managed to truly create a collegial atmosphere in all campuses remains to be seen. The challenge lies in that many of the tenured teachers are very used to operating as “independent contractors” for their many years of experience and they may already be implementing the state standards into their practice, but the notion of having to no longer do what they have formulated for themselves and know what works for them, they are being told to put their highly thought-out plans to rest and join forces with the masses of teachers who are now teaching the exact same concept in the exact same way. The idea that this would somehow make these teachers feel more collegial seems a bit far fetched. Many of them find themselves disgusted with the demands and may or may not cooperate with the process. The newer teachers are stuck in the crossfire because they don’t know the history of the school and why certain teachers may feel the way that they do. Plus, the hierarchical demand that all teachers do exactly the same thing does not render the feeling of shared or collaborative decision making is taking place.
It is possible that there is a platform from which collaborative efforts are taking place under such circumstances, but the “collegial” aspect is not coming from the forcing of mutual teaching practices. If anything, alliances are being formed between those who feel insulted by the demands and those who just want to stay clear of the tenured teachers who are unhappy with the current theme of events. It is probably more likely that the conventional approach would be the most supportive of teacher autonomy in the classroom, which almost feels like an oxymoron since the hierarchy itself lends itself to being controlled from the top down.
The collegial approach has a good feeling to it, and overall is likely the best strategy for school administration to ensure that the entire staff is focused on the same goals for the students. The idea that collaborative decision making happens is a factor really lends this concept to serious consideration. The only challenge I see is that the standardized curriculum and testing divides teachers more than it brings them together. In order to offer a truly collegial atmosphere, more discussions among staff regarding what they each do in their own individual classrooms must be had so that the collaboration efforts are there without undermining the autonomy so tightly cherished by the tenured teachers. Respecting their knowledge and experience respects them as professionals. Respect really should be the core of any leadership model, but especially so with the collegial leadership model.
Tortu-Rueter, D. (2012). District Leadership that Works: Striking the right balance. JGE: The Journal of General Education, 61(1), 90-95.
Marzano, R. J. & Waters, T. (2009). District Leadership that Works: Striking the right balance. Bloomington, Ind.: Solution Tree Press.
Reeves, D. B. (2000). Standards Are Not Enough: Essential transformations for school success. NASSP Bulletin 84:5. Retrieved from web: http://bul.sagepub.com/content/84/620/5, March 15, 2014.
Westerberg, T. (1997). A comprehensive guide to designing standards-based districts, schools, and classrooms. National Association of Secondary School Principals. NASSP Bulletin, 81(590), 120-121. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216044053?accountid=458
Winerip, M. (2013). Ex-Schools Chief in Atlanta is Indicted in Testing Scandal. New York Times, March 29, 2013. Retrieved from web: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/30/us/former-school-chief-in-atlanta-indicted-in-cheating-scandal.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 on March 12, 2014.