Conflict Amid Community: The Micropolitics of Teacher Collaboration
by Betty Achinstein - 2002
A major reform surge that began in the mid-1980s has generated a renewed interest in fostering teacher community or collaboration as a means to counter isolation, improve teacher practice and student learning, build a common vision for schooling, and foster collective action around school reform. The term community often conjures images of a culture of consensus, shared values, and social cohesion. Yet, in practice, when teachers collaborate, they run headlong into enormous conflicts over professional beliefs and practices. In their optimism about caring and supportive communities, advocates often underplay the role of diversity, dissent, and disagreement in community life, leaving practitioners ill-prepared and conceptions of collaboration underexplored. This article draws on micropolitical and organizational theory to examine teacher communities. Building from case studies of two urban, public middle schools, this article shows that when teachers enact collaborative reforms in the name of community, what emerges is often conflict. The study challenges current thinking on community by showing that conflict is not only central to community, but how teachers manage conflicts, whether they suppress or embrace their differences, defines the community borders and ultimately the potential for organizational learning and change.
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