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The Persistence of Privacy: Autonomy and Initiative in Teachers' Professional Relations

by Judith Warren Little - 1990

Teaching has endured largely as an assemblage of entrepreneurial individuals whose autonomy is grounded in norms of privacy and noninterference and is sustained by the very organization of teaching work. This article examines prominent forms of collegiality and discusses their prospects for altering the fundamental conditions of privacy in teaching. (Source: ERIC)

The present enthusiasm for teacher collaboration has spawned a wide array of practical experiments. These range from various forms of coaching and consultation to shared decision making, interdisciplinary teams, subject discipline “collaboratives,” and more. It is precisely this plethora of specially designed arrangements-the fact that they are so designated-that compels attention. How central or peripheral are teachers’ relations with colleagues to their success and satisfaction with students, their engagement in their present work, and their commitment to a career in teaching? What is the contribution that teachers’ collegial involvement makes to the quality of the work force and the productivity of schools?


The term collegiality has remained conceptually amorphous and ideologically sanguine. Advocates have imbued it with a sense of virtue-the expectation that any interaction that breaks the isolation of teachers will contribute in some fashion to the knowledge, skill, judgment, or commitment that individuals bring to their work, and will enhance the collective capacity of groups or institutions. Researchers have ascribed various benefits to teacher collaboration, among them student achievement in inner-city schools, teacher morale in times of stress, support for innovation, and an easing of the “reality shock” visited on beginning teachers.[1]


When I attend closely to the accounts of teachers’ professional relationships that have accumulated over the past decade, however, I am confronted by certain inescapable conclusions. A few schools stand out for the achievements wrought collectively by their faculties but much “that passes for collegiality does not add up to much.”[2] Teachers’ collaborations sometimes serve the purposes of well-conceived change, but the assumed link between increased collegial contact and improvement-oriented change does not seem to be warranted: Closely bound groups are instruments both for promoting change and for conserving the present. Changes, indeed, may prove substantial or trivial. Finally, collaborations may arise naturally out of the problems and circumstances that teachers experience in common, but often they appear contrived, inauthentic, grafted on, perched precariously (and often temporarily) on the margins of real work.


A harder look is in order-at what might be meant by collaboration, at the circumstances that foster or inhibit it, and at the individual and institutional consequences that follow from it. This article attempts an analysis of the accumulated literature on collegial relations with the intent of formulating a more robust conception, one that accounts for variation in teachers’ involvements with one another, the circumstances that surround those involvements, the meanings teachers and others attach to them, and the consequences that flow from them.


Three bodies of literature inform my thinking. Studies of school culture place teachers’ professional relations in the context of larger matters of school purpose and organization. Prominent among the contributors to this line of work are the detailed ethnographic and life-history studies of teachers and teaching in British comprehensive schools and primary schools,[3] and the case-study tradition in the United States employing ethnographic and other qualitative methods in the close investigation of “innovating” or “effective” schools.[4] These studies draw our attention to the school as a whole, and to the way in which teachers’ involvement with one another as colleagues is fundamentally bound up-for good or ill-with their orientation toward their work as classroom teachers. In doing so, such inquiries also attend to the values that are expressed and the purposes that are pursued (or thwarted) through teachers’ encounters with one another.


Studies of specific group or team arrangements detail the internal workings of interdisciplinary teams, departments, and decision-making groups. This literature has contributed to our ability to consider both the form and content of actual collaborative arrangements by concentrating on certain instrumental aspects of success in equal-status work groups: the nature of the task and task interdependence, the internal policies governing participation on teams, access to resources, and the like.[5] When informed by “micro-political” or other intra-organizational perspectives, this literature has also drawn attention to some of the political and organizational dimensions of teachers’ group affiliations. In sum, this line of work offers a productive orientation toward the task and the group that is sometimes missing when schools are treated as more homogeneous environments.


Finally, studies of one-to-one teacher interactions adopt a “colleagues up close” orientation, often in the context of special initiatives to foster specific collegial practices (for example, peer observation in classrooms) or specialized teacher roles (for example, teacher consultants or mentors) as elements in teacher induction, professional development, or planned innovation.[6] Such studies have focused on the conditions under which such practices and roles emerge in the first place and on the interpersonal dynamics of teacher-to-teacher work. Many of these developments signal departures from prevailing professional norms among teachers; these studies, therefore, force us to confront the boundaries of collaboration that are established (or mediated) by traditions of classroom independence and equal status. Problems of autonomy and initiative come to the fore.


Each of these separate lines of work provides partial but substantial ground for a conception of collegiality that goes well beyond a loosely constructed sense of “getting along” and “working well together.” Each also contains unexamined assumptions about the nature, extent, and import of those interactions. In sum, the available research suggests that inquiry into teachers’ professional relationships can be advanced by distinguishing “weak” from “strong” ties among colleagues. To do so is not to make a judgment about teachers’ competence or performance, but rather to examine the degree to which colleagues constitute a relatively weak or strong source of influence on teachers’ practice or commitments. In addition, inquiry is furthered by attending seriously and in detail to the content of collegiality the beliefs, ideas, and intentions that are collectively held and pursued-and to the way in which such content shapes or is shaped by collegial intercourse. It is precisely such “content” that renders teachers’ collegial affinities consequential for pupils. At issue in this closer examination of the form and content of collegiality is the capacity of teachers’ collegial relations to accommodate the intellectual, emotional, and social demands of teaching.


In this article, I distinguish among prominent forms of collegiality on the basis of their prospects for altering the fundamental conditions of privacy in teaching. I argue that the most common configurations of teacher-to-teacher interaction may do more to bolster isolation than to diminish it; the culture that Lortie described as individualistic, present-oriented, and conservative is thus not altered but is indeed perpetuated by the most prevalent examples of teacher collaboration or exchange.[7] The organizational structure of teaching work itself is central to this analysis: To what degree do schools structure the tasks of teaching to require and reward interdependence among teachers? Also central are occupational norms that stimulate or inhibit collective conceptions of autonomy and teacher initiative on substantive matters of principle and practice.




Recent academic and professional literature subsumes a wide array of teacher-to-teacher exchange under the broad terms collegialityor collaboration. We encounter references to story-swapping, sharing, helping, teaming, and the like. Such terms, I propose, constitute more than a simple inventory of activities. They are phenomenologically discrete forms that vary from one another in the degree to which they induce mutual obligation, expose the work of each person to the scrutiny of others, and call for, tolerate, or reward initiative in matters of curriculum and instruction. Four such conceptions, prominent in the case-study and survey literature, serve as ideal types for purposes of this discussion. I have arrayed them in Figure 1 to suggest their probable relation to conditions of mutual independence or interdependence among teachers.


The move from conditions of complete independence to thoroughgoing interdependence entails changes in the frequency and intensity of teachers’ interactions, the prospects for conflict, and probability of mutual influence. That is, with each successive shift, the warrant for autonomy shifts from individual to collective judgment and preference. With each shift, the inherited traditions of noninterference and equal status are brought more into tension with the prospect of teacher-to-teacher initiative on matters of curriculum and instruction. Figure 1 is provisional. I am quite confident that we can and must distinguish forms of collegial relations in terms of their demands on autonomy and initiative, because only in doing SO do we begin to account for the consequences felt in the classroom. I am reasonably confident of certain basic distinctions that range 


Figure 1. A provisional continuum of collegial relations.


from sporadic contacts and idiosyncratic affiliations among peers to joint work of a more rigorous and enduring sort. In this article, I begin to speculate about the relation these ideal types bear to each other, to the underlying dimensions of autonomy and initiative, and to teachers’ practice, identity, and commitment. The matter is made more complex if we must retain a place in this conception for respected and competent independent practice as well. Figure 1 is best treated for the moment as a heuristic, and the four conceptions as independent ideal types.


Storytelling and Scanning for Ideas


Under conditions of nearly complete independence, teachers satisfy the demands of daily classroom life by occasional forays in search of specific ideas, solutions, or reassurances; this is the image of the “tinkering artisan” or the “independent entrepreneur.”[8] Contacts among teachers are opportunistic. Teachers gain information and assurance in the quick exchange of stories, but the casual camaraderie of the staffroom and even enduring friendships among teachers remain at some distance from the classroom. Friendships may in fact suffer considerable strain when teachers attempt to carry fundamentally social relations into the classroom, the heart of the professional enterprise.[9]


This conception of collegial relations is consonant with portraits of teachers’ work that have altered little over decades.[10] One cannot examine the boundaries of teachers’ professional relations without taking account of this pervasive “ordinary reality” of sporadic and informal exchange. A school’s staff may be described as “close,” offering large doses of camaraderie, sympathy, and moral support, but the texture of collegial relations is woven principally of social and interpersonal interests. Teacher autonomy rests on freedom from scrutiny and the largely unexamined right to exercise personal preference; teachers acknowledge and tolerate the individual preferences or styles of others. Independent trial and error serves as the principal route to competence. In all these ways, the modal conception of collegiality is both characteristic and reinforcing of a culture of individualism, presentism, and conservatism.


Observers (including teachers) tend to agree that classroom independence punctuated by occasional contacts among colleagues is the modal reality, but dispute its import. Critics have argued that teachers’ “idiosyncratic specialization” retards the ability of individuals and groups to make sense of teaching and to improve it.[11] Other observers are inclined to discount the negative effects of isolation, especially among experienced teachers, and to weigh carefully the public cost of investing greater resources in teachers’ time together. The teacher-student relation is at the heart of schooling. Deeply personal and emotionally dense relations between teachers and students rest precisely on the special dispositions and talents of individual teachers.[12] Even acknowledging the limitations of isolated work, is it not possible that independent artisanry as a model of the school is quite adequate to fulfill the obligations and engender the rewards of teaching? Schools are “essentially like this” according to Michael Huberman: “The main sources of professional self-esteem, competence and outside expertise are either private (in the [classroom]) or external to the building.” Further, he argues, “for some powerful functional and professionally normative reasons, they are unlikely to become anything else. And . . . we can make a go of this situation. . . . We need to slightly increase the interdependencies . . . increase dramatically the access of staff members to congenial, higher quality sources of information and expertise in the surrounding environment.”[13]


The most prominent sources of “information and expertise in the surrounding environment” presently reside in the performances that teachers witness (even in mere glimpses through the classroom door) and in the stories of teaching rendered by students and by teachers themselves. Where the organization of space, time, and task seriously constrain interactions, colleagues learn indirectly and informally about their own and others’ practice through moment-by-moment exchanges. Yet we have scant knowledge of the ways in which teachers’ work is affected by these glimpses of work in progress and these stories told in passing. Some observers denigrate storytelling, holding it to be a weak substitute for more robust forms of deliberation about practice. By this view,, teachers use stories to gain information indirectly when they are confronted with powerful occupational norms that suppress more instrumental forms of help-seeking.[14] Such stories have been characterized as offering only incomplete accounts of a complex and subtle performance, thus exacerbating rather than relieving the endemic uncertainties of the classroom. To the extent that stories comprise no more than a litany of complaint, they may act to inhibit analysis and inventiveness,[15] and by placing a premium on the concrete details of daily classroom life, stories act as a reinforcer of the exclusive “classroom warrant” that sustains a conservative and present-oriented perspective.[16]


It is conceivable, however, that stories of teaching may exert undetected influence of quite another sort. The primacy that we as researchers place on rational discourse may have led us to underestimate the cumulative and potentially rich effect of staff-room stories on teachers’ conceptions of their work. Despite paeans to teachers’ “practical knowledge,” organizers of structured collaborations typically work to supplant teachers’ own talk with a “shared technical language” derived from classroom research, learning theory, or other sources external to teachers’ immediate experience. Yet even a casual reading of the case-study literature reveals stories of vastly different character and perhaps vastly different consequence. Some stories reveal more than others of teachers’ knowledge, intentions, and practice. Some stories reveal faith in children, while others disparage them. Some are oft-told stories, part of an oral tradition that captures the essential culture of the school; most are anecdotes of the moment, but display a common tenor that both marks and reproduces the ethos of the group or the institution. In the staff room exchanges described by Hammersly, stories serve to “defend [teachers’] collective sense of competence in the face of potentially discrediting evidence . . . posed by the behaviour of pupils.”[17] In other staff rooms, among staff less committed to defending traditional modes of instruction against pressures to change, stories exemplify and reinforce a culture of innovation.[18] Purpose, details, and tone are qualitatively different.


I am skeptical that brief stories told of (not in) classrooms could advance teachers’ understanding and practice of teaching. Where the performances of teaching themselves remain barely visible, stories do little to illuminate the principles that underlie teachers’ planning or teaching-in-action. Under such circumstances, storytelling as the dominant or exclusive mode of teacher interaction probably serves to sustain rather than to alter patterns of independent practice. Nonetheless, this is skepticism grounded in meager evidence. Certainly we know little of the contribution that teachers’ stories make when embedded in a wider pattern of professional interaction. In school environments where norms of privacy have been supplanted by norms of mutual support, teachers continue to engage in storytelling even while they pursue other modes of professional interaction.[19] Nias argues that in collaborative school cultures, teachers are able to exploit the advantages of brief moments every exchange is “densely coded.”[20] Anthropologists have opened yet a different window on storytelling, showing how it both consolidates group identity and accomplishes collective instruction or mutual problem solving.[21] In any event, by failing to attend to the patently variable nature of the stories that are told and the circumstances of their telling, we remain unable to grasp the significance of this omnipresent feature of teachers’ work lives.


Aid and Assistance


A second conception equates collegiality with the ready availability of mutual aid or helping. This is a conception that dominates studies of one-to-one interactions among peers, as well as studies of teacher induction and some studies of innovation and professional development.


Perhaps the single most pervasive expectation among teachers is that colleagues will give one another help and advice when asked. Nonetheless, teachers carefully preserve the boundary between offering advice when asked and interfering in unwarranted ways in another teacher’s work. Most teachers expect to supply advice when asked-and only when asked; a teacher in one study went so far as to declare that other teachers are “none of my business.” Teachers with many years’ experience, armed with well-formulated and well-grounded views on effective teaching, nonetheless refrain from advocating specific approaches even to beginning teachers.[22]


A central tactic by which teachers initiate professional discussion about teaching (“just ask”) thus turns out to be one with powerful implications for professional status and for the possibility of meaningful scrutiny of teachers’ practices. The principal limitation is that questions asked by one teacher of another are interpreted as requests for help. Questions stimulated by a more general curiosity about the business of teaching are reportedly and observedly more rare. Discussion about practices of teaching, under such circumstances, becomes difficult to separate from judgments of the competence of teachers. Understandably, teachers may show little inclination to engage with peers around matters of curriculum and instruction if doing so can only be managed in ways that may jeopardize self-esteem and professional standing. Under the rubric of aid and assistance, the prevailing model for professional interaction is one that treats the matters of teaching in piecemeal fashion while resting on implied asymmetries in teachers’ status.[23] As a basic form of collegiality, or as an outer boundary on expected interactions among teachers, learning by asking seriously limits the degree to which teachers possess what Lortie has termed a “shared technical culture.”[24]  The tendencies toward individualism, presentism, and conservatism are sustained rather than altered.


Two related bodies of work illuminate the “mutual aid” construction of collegiality. Social-psychological perspectives on help-seeking offer a substantial but largely unexploited resource in conceptualizing the helping relations in teaching. Ranging widely from bystanders’ responses to victimization to the relations between donor (funding) agencies and recipient Third World countries, this literature begins to account for occasions on which help is sought or not, offered or withheld, accepted or rejected.[25] Some conditions expand the occurrence of aid and assistance; others depress it. The choices persons make to solicit aid or to accept assistance when it is offered are determined in large part by their assessment of the psychological and social costs: the costs to one’s own sense of competence, the status one has with important others, the obligations one incurs by accepting resources. Advice-giving has been assessed as a productive but problematic form of collegial exchange that emerges where local commitment to traditional norms of privacy and equal status is weak, thus permitting more overt expressions of help-seeking.[26] Teacher-induction programs and other consultative arrangements that are premised on the utility of “help” confront both the occupational prohibitions surrounding interference and the wider cultural ambivalence about help-seeking.


In addition, research and theory development on work redesign and role innovation are fruitfully applied to the study of help-giving, ‘which is promoted as a central feature of career-ladder plans, teacher-induction programs, or differentiated staffing arrangements. The tensions surrounding the evolution of the “mentor teacher” role, for example, highlight the problematic character of help-giving in an occupation grounded in strong egalitarian traditions. The implementation of a mentor role confronts school districts with a two-part challenge: Districts must introduce persons to roles and relationships for which they typically have had little preparation, and they must introduce the role itself to an institution and occupation in which it has few meaningful precedents.[27] In a series of vignettes written by mentors and compiled by Shulman and Colbert, the titles alone convey the main issues: “reluctant to ask,” “never got a chance,” “everything is fine,” “mutual benefit,” “defensive.”[28] Nearly all of the forty-seven vignettes reveal dilemmas associated in some way with help-giving, among them the attributions of competence or incompetence that either person makes about the other, the tensions surrounding nominal status differences introduced by the mentor title, and the demands for reciprocity. Other factors constrain mentors’ support for new teachers-in a study purporting to examine the “hidden costs of sharing expertise,” mentors have been characterized as “misers” who withhold their store of knowledge, methods, and materials in order to preserve their individual reputations.[29]


The literatures on helping behavior and role development productively intersect in pursuit of key issues that surface when one makes mutual aid a prominent construct of collegiality. Under what conditions is one-to-one assistance considered legitimate? Beginning teachers (like newcomers to other organizations or occupations) may ask for some help, but not too much or too often. Experienced teachers who accept a radical change in teaching assignment may make certain requests of those more familiar with the subject area, grade level, student population. Some schools more than others make help-seeking an accepted activity; in such schools, teachers may be frowned upon for withholding requests or offers of assistance. Further, how might we assess the potencyof advice? Might we find instances of advice-giving in which the advice is of sufficient depth, detail, and contextual sensitivity to be worth following and possible to apply? Does the content of advice reflect more than a pooling of classroom habits? Are exchanges of aid and assistance frequent enough, widespread enough, and sturdy enough to do more than resolve crises? (Are we filling potholes, resurfacing the road, or inventing new modes of transport?) In cursory or infrequent exchanges, teachers may offer reassurance that serves only to confirm present practice without evaluating its worth. They may supply sympathy of the sort that dissuades teachers from the kind of closer analysis of practice that might yield solutions to recurrent problems.[30] By confronting these aspects of aid and assistance, we equip ourselves to account for the persistence or gradual demise of individualistic, present-oriented, and conservative orientations in teaching.




A third conception of collegiality highlights the routine sharing of materials and methods or the open exchange of ideas and opinions.[31] This is a conception found to some extent in all the literatures. Through routine sharing, teaching is presumably made less private, more public. In principle, the pool of ideas and methods is expanded. The coordination of teachers’ work and students’ careers is made possible in ways that cannot be achieved through other forms of collegial contact. By making the ordinary materials of their work accessible to one another, teachers expose their ideas and intentions to others. Unlike periodic advice-giving, which tends to atomize and fragment teachers’ grasp of their own and others’ practice, widespread sharing may reveal an entire pattern of choices with regard to curriculum and instruction. Further, the ground is laid for productive discussion and debate regarding curricular and instructional priorities. In British primary schools marked by a well-established culture of collaboration, such sharing of professional work and personal lives in the public forum of the daily assembly serves to “drip-feed” the culture of the schools.[32] By displaying selected samples of their work to the scrutiny of the entire school, teachers communicate their own expectations of their pupils and themselves; they also provide a visible performance that subsequently serves as the point of departure for staff-room talk. Sheer visibility provides an opportunity to learn about others’ work, and to gauge one’s own. Teaching in such schools, Nias says, is construed as “personal but not private; teachers are prepared to reveal a good deal of themselves in the public arena.”[33]


Sharing is a term that invites commonsense interpretations, appearing to promise a robust but harmonious exchange of insights and methods. In fact, however, sharing is variable in form and consequence. It may prove normatively permissive or obligatory, may engage more or fewer teachers, may be fully reciprocal or only marginally so. Teachers may reveal much or little of their thinking or practice in the materials and ideas they share. Grade-level or department chairs intend much when they issue an invitation to “share a favorite lesson” at a monthly meeting, but such tactics promise little in light of discoveries that experienced teachers conceive of their planning not in discrete lessons but in terms of whole days or weeks-or units.[34] By contrast, the thorough compilation and review of all materials, activities, and assignments used by an English department to teach a specific play or novel, or by social studies teachers to examine the conditions of revolution, offers at least the prospect of coherence in the curriculum even while it risks (or promises) vigorous debate over priorities.


Nias’s account of British primary school assemblies-daily gatherings of pupils and staff-underscores the variable nature and impacts of sharing. Even in the most collaborative of the schools, sharing does not extend to direct commentary on curriculum and instruction. Nor should we assume that the mere opportunity to witness one another’s work necessarily influences teachers’ day-to-day practice. Further, in schools where a collaborative culture is less clearly established, sharing appears to be truly problematic. Relations among teachers are found to be fragile, potentially damaged by actions that teachers might interpret as “competitive.” Such accounts of whole-school cultures, together with studies of teacher-support programs, suggest some of the conditions that operate to enable or constrain sharing. Sharing appears to be suppressed by commitments to traditional occupational norms of noninterference, but stimulated by collective commitments to alternative norms of experimentation and mutual support.[35] Resource-impoverished and isolating environments may prompt teachers to hoard “a few good ideas”; resource-enriched environments in which teachers value mutual support may demonstrate a solid “return on investment” in sharing. In principle, sharing expands the collective pool of resources; in practice teachers describe the painstaking accumulation of an individual store of resources that may be diminished, depleted, or compromised when revealed to others. Among the “hidden costs of sharing expertise” are the risk of an added planning and preparation burden (as teachers replace the ideas that have been “given away”) and an erosion of the corpus of ideas, methods, and materials that serve as the basis of individual reputation, giving teachers distinctive identity and status.[36]


Joint Work


I reserve the term joint work for encounters among teachers that rest on shared responsibility for the work of teaching (interdependence), collective conceptions of autonomy, support for teachers’ initiative and leadership with regard to professional practice, and group affiliations grounded in professional work. Joint work is dependent on the structural organization of task, time, and other resources in ways not characteristic of other forms of collegiality, and thus is both responsive to larger institutional purposes and vulnerable to external manipulations.[37]


Collegiality as collaboration or as joint work anticipates truly collective action-teachers’ decisions to pursue a single course of action in concert or, alternatively, to decide on a set of basic priorities that in turn guide the independent choices of individual teachers. The cases stand out. Teachers in a middle school form interdisciplinary teams whose members debate curriculum priorities and monitor the progress of specific students; their classroom teaching reflects both their individual personalities and their common emphasis on achieving literacy among their linguistically diverse students. Teachers in three high school departments share a concern about high student failure rates; they meet daily over lunch to discuss what they are learning from quite different action research projects in their classrooms. Members of a junior high school math department decide on criteria and procedures for diagnosing the math competence of seventh graders; their agreements will affect the curriculum each employs in the first weeks of school.


In these and other similar accounts, the intellectual, social, and emotional demands of teaching supply the motivation to collaborate. Quite apart from their personal friendships or dispositions, teachers are motivated to participate with one another to the degree that they require each other’s contributions in order to succeed in their own work.[38] One theorist observes that “greater task interdependence stimulates greater use of all coordination modes.”[39] Motivation is lessened when it appears that success and satisfaction can be readily (or even better) achieved alone, or even in competition with others. To get a practical grasp of “interdependence,” we might call to mind some examples of complex work that cannot be accomplished by even the most knowledgeable individuals acting alone. Without an appropriately configured team, brain surgery is inconceivable. So is a symphony performance. Nor could a container ship be piloted into a congested harbor. Short of true interdependence, of course, one might imagine cases in which the quality of solutions to recurrent and difficult problems is enhanced by consultation with others, even while the work itself can be (and typically is) conducted independently. To what extent does the work of teaching benefit from teachers’ joint deliberation over difficult and recurring problems of teaching and learning, or from teachers’ joint involvement in the actual work of teaching?


Felt interdependencies in teaching are few. Asked to specify essential relationships, those others without whom they simply could not do their work, teachers identified an average of one person; the average number of close consultative relationships was higher (about four), hardly approaching a meaningful proportion of most faculties.[40] Such a finding suggests that teacher collaboration is largely “voluntaristic” and generally peripheral to the main work of the organization. Case studies of “collaborative” schools often highlight the socioemotional support that teachers offer one another, the generosity of spirit that prevails; they offer fewer examples of teachers who somehow balance personal support with hard-nosed deliberation about present practice and future direction. The case examples offered above suggest how the press toward interdependence may be supplied internally by the social organization of work and by the stance that school leaders assume. For good or ill, the press may also be exerted on the school by external sources. As policymakers and the wider public press schools to achieve more ambitious and complex goals, school leaders in turn press teachers to collaborate in the service of those goals. In Britain, the advent of a national curriculum has been the occasion for teacher collaboration.[41] In Norway, policy-level changes have


created a certain redefinition of teachers’ work in the direction of more collectivity. For the local school to fulfill its obligations, it is no longer sufficient to base itself on individual work by individual teachers. More of the tasks are of such a character that they can hardly be dealt with at least not properly-without involving the collective of teachers in them. . . . A possible consequence of this change is that there may be an increased demand on teachers to develop consciously-collective rather than individual practical theories of work.[42]


Commonly held conceptions of professional autonomy are rendered problematic by the demands of joint work. Among the psychological costs associated with rigorous collaboration is the loss of individual latitude to act on personal preferences-or to act on personal preference unexamined by and unaccountable to peers. Collegial relations that center around storytelling, mutual assistance, or sharing issue slight challenge to autonomy conceived as personal prerogative. Teachers in productive teams, departments, groups, and projects express an alternative conception. The demands and the prerogatives of professional autonomy shift from private to public, from individual to collective. Personal prerogative is made subject to collectively developed values, standards, and agreements; but personal initiative is also accorded greater collective and institutional force. Independent action is both constrained and enabled. Teachers open their intentions and practices to public examination, but in turn are credited for their knowledge, skill, and judgment. Indeed, the close scrutiny of practice within a group perhaps is sustained only where the competence and commitment of the members is not in doubt.


Finally, constraints on independent action-the substitution of collective autonomy for a “private” version of autonomy-do not require and will not ensure consensus of thought or uniformity of action. Rather, a staffs beliefs and practices become more publicly known and publicly considered. Deeply held beliefs may be in conflict, with proponents of competing views each holding their own to serve the best interests of students. “Involvement” and “participation” require greater contact and visibility, greater awareness of one another’s beliefs and practices, and greater reliance on verifiable information as a basis for preferred action. In an effort to arrive at “decisions,” teachers join discussions that sometimes link them to like-minded colleagues; those same discussions, however, may force teachers to confront peers whose perspectives and practices they do not share or cannot admire. A move to increase teacher-to-teacher interaction has the prospect for making the micropolitics of the school more visible, as teachers and administrators discover which aspects of school and classroom life are legitimately open to scrutiny, debate, and decision. To contain conflict, all may be inclined to reserve joint deliberations to those arenas in which agreement is most likely, arenas that may have only marginal significance for the lives of either students or teachers. However, moderate levels of social conflict have been found to be essential to the development of integrative agreements; conflict is “often necessary for the emergence of high joint benefit.” Conversely, the desire to avoid conflict (a frequently cited feature of teacher groups) can undermine the development of such agreements.[43] Without abandoning basic canons of courtesy, teachers who are engaged in joint work displace the norm of non-interference; an alternative norm prevails, one that favors the thoughtful, explicit examination of practices and their consequences. Joint work enables teachers to engage in direct commentary on the moral, intellectual, and technical merit of classroom practices and school-level programs or policies. Teachers both accept and expect initiative on matters of professional principle and craft.


Further, joint work can be tested against a standard of teachers’ professional influence. In the empirical literature, teacher influence has been narrowly conceived both theoretically and methodologically. Studies of teacher influence in school-level decisions have defined teacher influence almost exclusively as teachers’ felt impact on school-level decisions (that is, as influence in the context of school governance). There has been relatively little examination of teachers’ influence on other teachers’ thinking or classroom performance.[44] Second, studies have been dominated by questionnaire self-reports of perceived influence. Few researchers have made use of observational data or in-depth interviews to describe and assess influence.[45] Most references to the content of decision making list topic areas in which decisions have been attempted: curriculum planning, methods of instruction, program planning, classroom management and discipline, school priorities and goals, textbook selection, staff development, staff evaluation, staffing (hiring and placement), and the like. Yet we have little in the way of close-up description of the work people do together versus what they attempt alone, or the actual decisions that arise from deliberately “participatory” interactions. Rarely do we read the case history of a consequential decision.[46] Teachers, administrators, school boards and other policymakers, teacher educators, all will require a clearer picture of what the gains (and sacrifices) are when teachers work together and arrive at decisions collectively.


First, initiative by teachers should be manifest in choices that affect students’ opportunity to learn. The study of teachers’ influence must have at its core the standard of student benefit. Yet there has been little attention to the relationship between teachers’ involvement and teachers’ productivity conceived either as student opportunity to learn or demonstrated student learning. Second, teachers’ initiative and influence can be traced in teachers’ own evolving identity as teachers. Teachers’ work beyond the classroom, including their participation in joint decision making, can be expected to have an effect on their capacities and commitments as teachers. Teachers’ technical capacity to teach can be enlarged through access to a larger pool of ideas, methods and materials.[47] In a broader sense, involvement with colleagues and administrators on matters of schoolwide importance may shape a teacher’s sense of self as a classroom teacher, as a member of a faculty, and as a member of a profession. It may intensify (or shake) teachers’ commitment to teaching, both with regard to long-term intentions to remain in teaching and with regard to the energy and engagement that teachers bring to daily work. Third, teachers’ influence presumably bears fruit in organizational capacity and adaptability. The collective capacity of a school, program, or group to serve students is arguably improved by joint decision making on matters of curriculum, instruction, and testing.


My basic argument here is that teachers’ main motivation and reward for involvement with one another will be found in the work of teaching. This is not to say that teachers do not have other motives for seeking one another out, but to argue that they are unlikely to sustain a pattern of significant out-of-classroom involvement in the absence of interdependent work-related interests. To the extent that teachers find themselves truly dependent on one another to manage the tasks and reap the rewards of teaching, joint participation will be worth the investment of time and other resources. To the extent that teachers’ success and satisfaction can be achieved independently, the motivations to participate are weakened. At one extreme, teachers conduct their work as fully independent entrepreneurs. In this conception, individual discretion takes precedence and teachers’ initiative on matters of practice is constrained by norms of noninterference and equal status. At the other, teachers as members of an “occupational community”[48] exert reciprocal influence on one another and on the school as an organization in the interests of a student clientele for whom they accept joint responsibility. In this latter conception, professional autonomy and discretion reside collectively with the faculty; put more forcefully, each one’s teaching is everyone’s business, and each one’s success is everyone’s responsibility.




The greater the prospect for mutual influence among teachers, the more consequential becomes the substance of teachers’ joint work: the beliefs teachers hold and their substantive knowledge of subject and student. Although the richest of the school ethnographies provide us with detailed accounts of the beliefs and substantive interests that bind teachers together or alienate them from one another, studies focused directly on the phenomena of collegiality and collaboration have given precedence to form over content. The treatment of content has tended to take two forms: (1) categorical distinctions between merely social talk and more richly substantive discourse; and (2) descriptions of the program content or the innovation that constitutes the ostensible occasion for joint work. Neither of these substitutes well for a more close-grained account of the moral and intellectual dispositions that teachers bring to or develop in the course of their relations with one another; neither has been well-informed by careful scrutiny of the actual talk among teachers, the choices teachers make in concert, or the ways in which individual actions follow from the deliberations of the group.




The arguments that teachers make to one another, the preferences they express, and the choices they promote or challenge all inevitably express a set of beliefs about children. An unspoken and unexamined ideological stance is present in the apparent assumption that if teachers are talking intensively about instruction and curriculum, they are doing so in the best interests of pupils. Rarely have we considered the ways in which teachers’ collective endeavors confirm or compromise standards of care and justice in the treatment of children.


The content of teachers’ values and beliefs cannot be taken for granted in the study or pursuit of teachers’ collegial norms of interaction and interpretation. Under some circumstances, greater contact among teachers can be expected to advance the prospects for students’ success; in others, to promote increased teacher-to-teacher contact may be to intensify norms unfavorable to children. Some forms of “experience-swapping,” for example, are consistent with collegial norms that emphasize reassurance and sympathy while discouraging close scrutiny and skepticism.[49] Such norms may provide teachers with collective permission for poor performance and marginal commitment.


Much of the press toward collaboration has occurred in the context of reform movements or on behalf of specific organizational innovations. What is missing is what the various parties bring to the exchange: what values and affiliations and orientations bind the group-and with what apparent implications or consequences for the kind of classroom experience that pupils encounter or the kind of moral and intellectual stance the group or school adopts. Hargreaves warns that some staff-development strategies that emphasize collegial interaction “reduce questions about ends, goals and values in teaching to questions of means, techniques and procedures. The nature of teaching as profoundly moral craft . . . the intensely personal dimensions of teachers’ knowledge and action . . . unfolding values and life interests . . . all these essential features of teaching, of what motivates and informs the teacher, are ignored.”[50]




The intellectual capabilities and dispositions that colleagues bring to their work, and the quality of the products that follow from joint ventures, are no less crucial. Arguments in favor of collaboration assume that teachers’ understanding of their work will be advanced through time spent with others. A more ambitious curriculum will be achieved and more inventive instruction attempted. Such assumptions deserve examination. Bluntly put, do we have in teachers’ collaborative work the creative development of well-informed choices, or the mutual reinforcement of poorly informed habit? Does teachers’ time together advance the understanding and imagination they bring to their work, or do teachers merely confirm one another in present practice? What subject philosophy and subject pedagogy do teachers reflect as they work together; how explicit and accessible is their knowledge to one another? Do some collaborations in fact erode teachers’ moral commitment and intellectual merit?


At issue here is the knowledge that teachers draw on, apply, or develop in the course of work with and around colleagues. Teachers’ general exclusion from the curriculum-policy and other decision-making process would seem to underscore the “dim view of teachers’ knowledge”[51] that has pervaded much of educational research (and, one would have to add, much of educational policy). Recent case studies of teacher thinking and teachers’ classoom practice have countered this view by revealing the diversity of practical or craft knowledge on which teachers rely, Such studies have acknowledged and given special accord to teachers’ practical knowledge.[52] By involving teachers more closely with one another, schools are presumably in a better position to make use of teachers’ practical knowledge and to accord proper status to teachers as knowledgeable professionals. However, certain problems arise that are associated with the immediacy and intensity of classroom practice and with the isolation in which most teachers work.


Teachers face a challenge in making their knowledge explicit and accessible. They describe their knowledge as intuitive; in Margret Buchmann’s description, they rely on “folkways” that are “learned by acquaintance which yields familiarity without insight, through participation in cultural patterns containing trustworthy recipes, and as common sense, which claims palpable obviousness and sagacity.”[53] The taken-for-granted, invisible character of “just teaching” is only with difficulty rendered problematic and open to scrutiny and debate. Teachers’ affiliations with one another on the basis of “likemindedness” do not appear to call for or provoke close examination of their shared assumptions.


To emphasize the importance to teachers of their reference groups is not to suggest that they hold lengthy philosophical discussions. Teachers in primary schools decide whether or not they have enough in common to be able to work together by, for instance, watching each other’s actions, looking at children’s work, holding brief conversations about common interests, not by seeking the articulation of deeply-buried beliefs.[54]


Teachers may not know what they know, or how to say what they know. Using what one knows to shape a curriculum unit or navigate live successive periods of mathematics teaching is different, both intellectually and socially, from articulating one’s accumulated knowledge as a set of principles and practices to guide others as they deliberate “best practice.” In addition, teachers’ knowledge has been criticized as incomplete, derived predominantly from a small, narrow sample of classrooms (their own) in which their ability to detect significant patterns is further constrained by the performance imperative. Those who defend teachers’ context-specific practical knowledge argue that “the purpose of practical knowledge is to inform wise action-not to advance general understanding. The goal of wise action and the practical contexts of teaching provide the appropriate terms for describing what teachers know, how they acquire this knowledge, and how they put it to use.”[55]


Critics imply that wise action is in fact compromised by the experience bound character of teachers’ practical knowledge. The criterion of “wise action,” informed by privately held and unarticulated knowledge, becomes problematic when an independent course of action is inadequate to the school’s larger purposes and tasks. Caught up in the immediacies of the classroom, and isolated from comparative practice or theory, teachers “take strong stands against practices different from their own and rely on personal experience to defend what they do. The meanings they give to abstract terms are limited to the boundaries of their own experience.[56]


In addition, teachers’ joint work is made problematic by the very character of teachers’ thinking and experience and how it comes to be represented verbally. Though teachers construct schemata to represent classroom events and patterns, and to account prospectively and retrospectively for their actions, classroom work itself remains held in performance, like theater. Concepts of composition and improvisation may account more readily for knowledge-in use than do concepts associated with rational planning and design.[57] Fellow improvisors can in fact describe the principles of improvisation to one another,[58] but such principles prove difficult to illuminate if the performances themselves are neither seen nor heard. In this regard, the persistence of privacy has its roots in the organization of the work of teaching itself, and in the immediacy and fluidity of classroom experience. The very complexity, immediacy, and subtlety of classroom life not only render “shared knowledge” problematic, but also intensify the primacy of the classroom war rant in teachers’ shared work. Even when teachers have access to a broader base of knowledge (gained through reading, university study, in-service education, talk with colleagues, or observation), there is some evidence that such “outside” knowledge is selectively discounted when decision-making groups come together. A conservative bias is introduced when the most powerful warrant for action is personalized and localized classroom history. “Experience counts, theory doesn’t,” in the words of one close observer of curriculum decision-making teams.[59] The classroom overwhelms other sources of information. Individual preferences and prerogatives shape conclusions that might have been cast otherwise if informed by a more systematic and dispassionate comparison of practices and their consequences that reaches beyond classrooms. To the extent that successful decision making requires informed consideration of alternatives, teachers’ general isolation places them at a disadvantage.




What teachers hold in common-the basis of their affiliations with one another may suggest something of the limits and possibilities of their collective action. In teachers’ own accounts of colleagues, pronouns are significant: “We,” “ I,” and “they” convey meaningful boundaries. In the ongoing life of schools, teachers find reason to collaborate  or not-regarding the students or subjects they teach, the extracurricular responsibilities they assume, the stance they take toward matters of district policy and politics, or the interests they pursue outside school. These connections may lead teachers to pursue new courses of action and support one another in the attempt-or to join together to preserve and reinforce the status quo. Teachers may act in common to secure resources, yet have little to do with one another on more substantive matters; thus Cusick describes the departments in two high schools as an administrative convenience but not an intellectual home.[60] Or teachers who are nominally members of the same unit (department, grade level, pro gram) and presumably of like mind may find themselves at odds on matters of subject philosophy or pedagogy. Sarah, the Canadian high school teacher studied by Elbaz, was enthusiastic about the teaching of English but alienated from her department when the group persisted in what she perceived to be a short-sighted allegiance to a basic skills curriculum.[61] Four English departments studied by Ball and Lacey varied substantially in their philosophic and pedagogical cohesion.[62]


A rich and growing literature alerts us to the salience of subgroups within organizations and occupations. On the whole, students of teachers’ professional relations have only begun to take advantage of a long and productive body of work on the internal structure of organizations and on the nature of work groups and their relationship to larger organizational wholes. From whole-school studies informed by a micropolitical perspective, and from other recent work on the nature of subunits in organizations,[63] we can derive four aspects of professional community that bear on our understanding of joint work and the other forms of collegial interaction: (1) the number and heterogeneity of meaningful reference groups within schools; (2) differences among groups with regard to professional beliefs and practice, and with regard to institutional status; (3) the individual teacher’s multiple affiliations within the school and among a wider professional community; and (4) the degree of fit between naturally occurring reference groups and the collaborations that are promoted or induced in the service of special programs or initiatives.


Emphasis on the school as the unit of interest obscures the sheer multiplicity of teacher reference groups. Even in small and remarkably unified primary schools the collaborative culture is the dominant culture but not the only one.[64] Other observers describe schools in which the staff is deeply divided over fundamental educational purposes and pedagogical strategies, and in which teachers form cohesive and mutually competitive subgroups.[65] Thus, one primary school is populated by four distinct teacher groups, each of which


defined in different ways the purposes for which they, as teachers, were in school. Accordingly, they set different standards for their pupils, expected different behavior from them, and treated them, as classes and individuals, differently. . . . Archetypally, Rockfield was a primary school in which the existence of different staff reference groups made it possible for individuals to collaborate within cohesion sub-groups but impossible for them to work together as a whole staff.[66]


Groups may be formally designated on organizational charts (departments or grade levels); they may be established de facto through shared assignments or other functional links (tracks and special programs); or they may be informally constituted in cliques, factions, and in-groups and out-groups whose boundaries and significance are harder to detect. The various groups, formal and informal, may be in agreement or in opposition over basic educational matters. They may vary significantly in the status they are accorded inside and outside the school, and the access to resources they enjoy. Among the groups, norms of collegial interaction and interpretation may vary widely.


Few studies take account of all of the ways in which groups are constituted, or the manner in which the “groupness” provides a set of lenses through which to portray a school’s culture or cultures. Subgroup analyses reveal not only differences of perspective and practices, but also differences in institutional leverage. Stephen Ball[67] details the history of a decision at Beachside Comprehensive, where the headmaster’s interest in promoting mixed ability grouping was met with support by one group of teachers, who were committed to principles of equity, and with opposition by a second group, who were equally committed to protecting the opportunities of “the more able pupil.”


Ball summarizes:


Clearly, at one level there are two distinct and opposing ideologies at work. These may be viewed in simple terms as meritocratic . . . and egalitarian. . . . Here we have an opposition between contending definitions of the comprehensive school: one stresses equality of access; the other, equality of outcome. These contending definitions are associated with the alternative conceptions of the purposes of schooling, of appropriate teacher-pupil relations . . . and of the pedagogical role of the teacher.[68]


Nor can these ideological debates be passed off as mere “differences of philosophy.” Philosophy, it appears, is closely bound to one’s broader political commitments and to one’s identity as a teacher: “The teachers’ ‘preferred view’ of themselves as academics or educators is at stake. Furthermore, personal work-satisfaction is at risk. For the academic teachers the introduction of mixed-ability represented real threat to their substantive identities.”[69] Some of the academics at Beachside Comprehensive were won over to mixed-ability grouping by debate, discussion, and incremental implementation. Others were not. Over a three-year period, a mixed-ability orientation became dominant but not exclusive; the longer-term struggle for power and influences in the school continued to be a struggle over competing values and interests.


Individual teachers may hold multiple memberships in the internal groups of the school. Although teachers are likely to be more firmly identified with one group than another, the point remains that the motivations and opportunities associated with collegial action (or inaction) derive from multiple sources- sources that may be in conflict with one another. Secondary teachers, for example, may be members of a department and members of a coaching staff; they may teach part time in two or more departments; their orientation toward their subject (and department) may be colored by the number of low-achieving or high-achieving students they teach (track assignment) or by the apparent fit between the school curriculum and “cutting edge” developments in the field; and so on. At issue here, in part, is the degree of fit between naturally occurring teacher affiliations and the artificially constructed links that are introduced (or imposed) in the service of externally de signed or otherwise specially constructed improvement initiatives.


Significant reference groups are not confined to the school, but extend to a wider professional community reaching beyond the walls of the school. Viewed from the organizational (school) perspective, teachers’ participation in external reference groups assumes some probable but largely unexamined importance for their engagement in daily work and their longer-term career commitment. Such out-of-classroom and out-of-school involvements may either reinforce or distract from the daily round of teaching. Teachers’ affiliations with professional associations, their involvement in externally sponsored special projects, or the special roles they fill in curriculum or staff development may bolster or diminish the loyalty they feel to the schools that employ them; similarly, the “pull” of teachers’ external ties bear on the ease with which schools are managed or led. The secondary art teachers portrayed by Bennet conceived of themselves as artists as well as teachers; their affiliations with the art community formed an essential part of their identity, but were also a problematic factor in their commitment to teaching.[70]


Finally, we confront the specific forms of induced collaboration: coaching, mentoring, peer observation, peer support, and other kinds of structured collaboratives. The prospects for their influence on individuals and organizations rest in part on their congruence with established norms of interaction and interpretation among colleagues, and with the degree to which they fit or conflict with the meaningful reference groups with which teachers align themselves. At issue here is the congruence or fit between naturally occur ring relations among teachers and those collaborations that emerge in the course of institutionally sponsored initiatives. According to one analysis, the conditions and demands of specially constructed teacher collaborations may conflict with psychological orientations of teachers, the taken-for-granted social order of the school, and the customary norms of interaction within teachers’ natural reference groups.[71] Regardless of stated intentions, such collaborations thus run counter to other forces that constrain mutual support and collective initiative.




Schoolteaching has endured largely as an assemblage of entrepreneurial individuals whose autonomy is grounded in norms of privacy and noninterference and is sustained by the very organization of teaching work. Teachers are now being pressed, invited, and cajoled into ventures in “collaboration,” but the organization of their daily work often gives them scant reason for doing so. Long-standing occupational and organizational traditions, too, supply few precedents; rather, they buttress teaching as a private endeavor. Finally, there are high transaction costs to participatory work-most prominently in time (an opportunity cost) and the risk of conflict (a cost to organizational cohesion). Organizational theorists have argued that individuals “burrow into and maintain organizational niches in which perceived efficacy is high.”[72] Some observers maintain that teachers remain behind the class room door because they can be certain of controlling the work in that do main. Lortie’s[73] discussion of the “endemic uncertainties” of the classroom casts some doubt on that interpretation, however, and suggests an alternative explanation for teachers’ nonparticipation in school-level decision making or in smaller collegial work groups. Group settings more readily reveal the uncertainties of the classroom. Although the promise of praise and recognition is greater, so too is teachers’ exposure to criticism and conflict. Will more collective involvement reduce the uncertainties of the classroom-or only serve to expose them? More superficial and sporadic interchange may be sufficient-may in fact be essential-to sustain the “logic of confidence” that both enables teachers’ largely independent existence and warrants the absence of scrutiny.[74]


The conditions of individualism, presentism, and conservatism persist, nourished in part by the very forms of “collegiality” that enthusiasts admire for their ability to penetrate the walls of privacy. The various forms of teacher exchange that pass as collegiality comprise fundamentally different conceptions of teachers’ professional relations. “Weak” and “strong” versions of collegial relations plausibly produce or sustain quite different conditions of teacher performance and commitment. Patterns of interaction that support mutual assistance or routine sharing may account well for maintaining a certain level of work-force stability, teacher satisfaction, and a performance “floor.” They seem less likely, however, to account for high rates of innovation or for high levels of collective commitment to specific curricular or instructional policies. They seem less likely to force teachers’ collective confrontation with the school’s fundamental purposes or with the implications of the pattern of practices that have accumulated over time.


To specify the nature and significance of these multiple conceptions of collegiality will require research designs and measurement adequate to reveal the situated meaning or value teachers attach to various interactions, and what those interactions require of teachers by way of autonomy and initiative. There have been few explicit attempts to encompass multiple conceptions or dimensions of collegiality in single studies, to discriminate among these various forms of collegiality, and to trace their apparent consequences. We might productively extend the conception and measurement of collegiality to specify the forms and content of collegiality, and the conditions that require, permit, or inhibit teachers’ initiative toward one another with regard to matters of curriculum and instruction. The result will be a more robust conception that will enable us to examine the relationship among norms of collegiality, teachers’ performance, teachers’ career commitment, and schools’ academic productivity. I have tried to suggest the power that might reside in such inquiries; the current scale of practical experimentation presents the opportunity to pursue them.



[1]Some studies report direct associations between levels of teacher collaboration and student achievement; see, for example Susan J. Rosenholtz, Teachers’ Workplace (New York: Long man, 1989); and Michael Rutter et al., Fifteen Thousand Hours: Secondary Schools and Their Effects on Children (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979). More frequently, the literature on teacher collegiality concentrates on benefits that accrue to teachers as individuals or groups, or to the school as an organization-for example: Jennifer Nias, Geoff Southworth, and Robin Yeomans, Staff Relationships in the Primary School: A Study of Organizational Cultures (London: Cas-.532 Teachers College Record sell, 1989); Joan Lipsitz, Successful Schools for Young Adolescents (New Brunswick, NJ.: Transaction Press, 1984); and Judith Warren Little, “Teachers as Colleagues, ” in Educators’ Handbook: A Research Perspective, ed. Virginia Richardson-Koehler (New York: Longman, 1987).

[2]Little, “Teachers as Colleagues,” p. 505. For examples of schools that exemplify collective achievements of a faculty, see Deborah Meier, ‘Success in East Harlem: How One Group of Teachers Built a School That Works,” American Educator, Fall 1987, pp. 34-39; the account of Noe Middle School in Lipsitz, Successful Schools; and that of four primary schools with “collaborative cultures” in Nias, Southworth, and Yeomans, Staff Relationships.

[3] See, for example, Stephen Ball, Beachside Comprehensive (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Andy Hargreaves, Two Cultures of Schooling: The Case of Middle Schools (London: Falmer Press, 1986); Patricia Sikes, Lynda Measor, and Peter Woods, eds., Teachers’ Careers: Crises and Continuities (London: Falmer Press, 1985); and Nias, Southworth, and Yeomans, Staff Relationships.

[4] For example, Louis M. Smith et al., The Fate of an Innovative School: The History and Present Status of the Kensington School (London: Falmer Press, 1987).

[5] Some of these studies have centered on the innovative reorganization of schools. See, for example, the Stanford University studies of teaming in open-space elementary schools summarized by Elizabeth Cohen, “Sociology Looks at Team Teaching,” Research in Sociology of Education and Socialization 2 (1981): 163-93. Other investigations treat conventional subunits in schools-for example, Stephen J. Ball and Cohn Lacey, “Subject Disciplines as the Opportunity for Group Action: A Measured Critique of Subject Subcultures,” in Classrooms and Staffrooms: The Sociology of Teachers and Teaching, ed. Andy Hargreaves and Peter Woods (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1984), pp. 232-44.

[6] Although this literature can be traced to the study of helping-teacher, specialist, and advisor roles in the 1960s and 1970s, the bulk of attention in recent years has been devoted to studies of coaching or to studies of mentor or mentorlike roles. For an example of research on expert coaching, see Beverly Showers, Peer Coaching: A Strategy for Facilitating Transfer of Training (Eugene: Center for Educational Policy and Management, University of Oregon, 1984). For a critical review of the coaching literature and logic, see Andy Hargreaves and Ruth Dawe, “Coaching as Unreflective Practice: Contrived Collegiality or Collaborative Culture?” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Symposium on Teachers’ Work and Teacher Culture: Changes and Continuities, San Francisco, March 27-31, 1989). Among the studies of mentoring see Joan Ruskus Allen, “Mentors as Misers: The Hidden Cost of Expertise” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989).

[7] Dan Lortie, Schoolteacher (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), especially pp. 183-84. I am grateful to Andy Hargreaves for the observation that many of the practices commonly interpreted as breaking teachers’ isolation are in fact perfectly consistent with an individualistic organization of teaching.

[8] See Michael Huberman, “Teacher Professionalism and Workplace Conditions” (Paper prepared for the Holmes Group Seminar, Conceptions of Teachers’ Work and the Organization of Schools, East Lansing, Michigan, September 1988); and Philip A. Cusick, A Study of Networks among Professional Staffs of Two Secondary Schools (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1982).

[9] John Zahorik, “Teachers’ Collegial Interaction: An Exploratory Study,” Elementary School Journal 87, no. 4 (1987): 385-96; and Dawn Riley, “Evaluation through Observation: The Master Teacher’s Dilemma” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989).

[10] Willard Wailer, The Sociology of Teaching (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961[1932]); Estelle Fuchs, Teachers Talk: Views from Inside City Schools (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1969); and Lortie, Schoolteacher.

[11] See Roland J. Pellegrin, “Schools as Work Settings," in Handbook of Work, Organizations, and Society, ed. R. Dubin (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976); Rosenholtz, Teachers’ Workplace; and.John C. Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems: The Teaching Profession,” in New Directions in Helping, vol. 3, ed. Arie Nadler, Jeffrey Fisher, and Bella DePaulo (New York: Academic Press, 1983), pp. 189-212.

[12] See, for example, Ken Macrorie, Twenty Teachers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).

[13]Huberman, “Teacher Professionalism and Workplace Conditions,” pp. 3-4.

[14]Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems.”

[15]Susan J. Rosenholtz and Susan Kyle, “Teacher Isolation: Barrier to Professionalism,”

American Educator, Winter 1984, pp. 10-15.

[16] Andy Hargreaves, “Experience Counts, Theory Doesn’t: How Teachers Talk about Their Work,” Sociology of Education 57 (October 1984): 244-54.

[17]Martin Hammersly, “Staffroom News,” in Classrooms and Staffrooms: The Sociology of Teachers and Teaching, ed. Andy Hargreaves and Peter Woods (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1984), p. 212.

[18] For example, Tom Bird and Judith Warren Little, Instructional Leadership in Eight Secondary Schools (Boulder, Colo.: Center for Action Research, 1985). Final report to the National Institute of Education, 1985.

[19]Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems.”

[20] Jennifer Nias, “Meeting Together: The Symbolic and Pedagogic Importance of School Assemblies within a Collaborative Culture” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989).

[21] For informative perspectives on the nature of storytelling in the shaping of work competence and identities, particularly in the course of apprenticeships, see Brigitte Jordan, "Cosmopolitical Obstetrics: Some Insights from the Training of Traditional Midwives,” Soc. Sci. Med. 28, no. 9 (1989): 925-44; and Julian E. Orr, “Narratives at Work: Storytelling as Cooperative Diagnostic Activity,” Field Service Manager, June 1987, pp. 47-60.

[22] The specific examples derive from Judith Warren Little, School Success and Staff Development (Boulder, Colo.: Center for Action Research, January 1981). Final report to the National Institute of Education. The basic observations are supported in other studies of teacher induction and socialization.

[23] There are some precedents for cases in which criticism can be offered without status attributions; such examples deserve closer attention with regard to teaching, especially in light of the expanded interest in peer observation and peer review. See D. G. Pruitt, and P. J. D. Carnevale, “The Development of Integrative Agreements," in Cooperation and Helping Behavior: Theories and Research, ed. V. J. Derlega and J. Grzelak (New York: Academic Press, 1982), pp. 151-81.

[24]Lortie, Schoolteacher.

[25] See, for example, the three-volume series New Directions in Helping, ed. Jeffrey D. Fisher, Arie Nadler, and Bella M. DePaulo (New York: Academic Press, 1983); and the chapters devoted to helping behavior in Cooperation and Helping Behavior, ed. Derlag and Grzelak.

[26]Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems.”

[27] Judith Warren Little, ‘The ‘Mentor’ Phenomenon and the Social Organization of Teaching,” Review of Research in Education 16 (forthcoming); and Tom Bird, The Mentors’ Dilemma (San Francisco: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, 1986).

[28] Judy H. Shulman and Joel A. Colbert, eds., The Mentor Teacher Casebook (San Francisco: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, 1987).

[29] Allen, “Mentors as Misers.” For other applications of role theory and work redesign concepts to the restructuring of teachers’ roles, see Ann Weaver Hart, “Role Politics and the Redesign of Teacher Work” (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1988).

[30] Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems”; see also Rosenholtz and Kyle, “Teacher Isolation.”

[31] For example, Jennifer Nias, “Meeting Together: The Symbolic and Pedagogic Importance of School Assemblies within a Collaborative Culture” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989); and Rosenholtz, Teachers’ Workplace.

[32]Nias, “Meeting Together,” p. 30.

[33]Ibid., p. 28.

[34] Recent advances in the study of teacher thinking suggest that some of the most common modes of “sharing” teaching or “advising” teachers fail to take into account of (or even run directly counter to) the ways in which teachers think about and conduct their work. See Christopher Clark and Penelope Peterson, “Teachers’ Thought Processes,” in Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd ed., ed. M. Wittrock (New York: Macmillan, 1986) pp. 255-96; and Robert Yinger, “By the Seat of Your Pants: An Inquiry into Improvisation and Teaching” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C., 1987).

[35] Judith Warren Little, “Norms of Collegiality and Experimentation: Workplace Conditions of School Success,” American Educational Research Journal 19, no. 3 (Fall 1982): 325-40.

[36] See Allen, “Mentors as Misers.” This may explain part of the reluctance of experienced teachers to “share” fully with beginning teachers, who are less likely to grasp the etiquette surrounding the use of others’ materials or lesson plans and who are less able to reciprocate with fully developed ideas of their own.

[37] See Andy Hargreaves, “Teachers’ Development and Teachers’ Work: Issues of Time and Control” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989); and idem and Dawe, “Coaching as Unreflective Practice.”

[38] See Roland J. Pellegrin, ‘Schools as Work Settings," in Handbook of Work, Organizations, and Society, ed. Dubin; also M. Deutsch, “Interdependence and Psychological Orientation,” in Cooperation and Helping Behavior, ed. Derlega and Grzelak.

[39] Thomas G. Cummings, “Designing Effective Work Groups,” in Handbook of Organizational Design, ed. W. H. Starbuck (London: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 253.

[40]Pellegrin, “Schools as Work Settings,” p. 368.

[41]Hargreaves and Dawe, “Coaching as Unreflective Practice,” p. 2.

[42] Gunnar Handal, “The Effect of Changing Frames on Teachers’ Collective Practical Theories of Work” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989), p. 4.

[43] Pruitt and Carnevale, “The Development of Integrative Agreements,” p. 169.

[44] In one exception, researchers asked teachers to estimate both the degree of influence they exerted on others and the degree of influence that individuals and teacher groups exerted on them. See John Meyer and Elizabeth Cohen, The Impact of the Open-Space School upon Teacher Influence and Autonomy: The Effects of an Organizational Innovation (Stanford: Center for Research and Development in Teaching, Stanford University, 1971).

[45] There are a few exceptions. In a study of “balanced” and “unbalanced” participation on teacher teams, observed patterns of teacher participation were associated with teachers’ perceptions of influence at both the team and school levels. See Sheila Molnar, Teachers in Teams: Interaction, Influence, and Autonomy (Stanford: Center for Research and Development in Teaching, Stanford University, 1971).

[46] For one illustration, see Stephen Ball’s summary of the debate over multi-ability teaching at Beachside Comprehensive, in The Micro-Politics of the School: Towards a Theory of School Organization (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 33-40.

[47] For example, Jo-Ann Intili, “Structural Conditions in the School That Facilitate Reflective Decision Making” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1977).

[48] The term occupational community is derived from the work of John Van Maanen and Stephen Barley, who use the term to introduce a conception of “career” that is grounded in a group’s orientation to the work they do, and in the social identity that persons acquire over time; this is an alternative to a linear, hierarchical conception of career as a series of promotional opportunities. It places emphasis on the. collective meaning of work rather than on individual career trajectories (“Occupational Communities: Culture and Control in Organizations,” Research in Organizational Behavior 6 [1984]: 287-365).

[49]Glidewell et al., “Professional Support Systems.”

[50] Hargreaves and Dawe, “Coaching as Unreflective Practice,” pp. 16-17.

[51] Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Robert Floden, “The Cultures of Teaching,” in Handbook of Research on Teaching, p. 512.

[52] See Clark and Peterson, “Teachers’ Thought Processes,” for a review of the literature on teacher planning, teachers’ interactive thinking in the classroom, and teacher theories and beliefs.

[53] Margret Buchmann, “Teaching Knowledge: The Lights That Teachers Live By,” in Teacher Thinking and Professional Action: Proceedings of the Third ISATT Conference, ed. J. Lowyck (Leuven: University of Leuven, 1986), p. 8.

[54] Jennifer Nias, Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work (London: Cassells, 1989), p. 161.

[55]Margret Buchmann, cited in Feiman-Nemser and Floden, “The Cultures of Teaching,” p. 513.

[56]Feiman-Nemser and Floden, “The Cultures of Teaching,” p. 512.

[57]Robert Yinger’s “By the Seat of Your Pants” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C., April 1987) traces the parallels between teaching and traditions of principled improvisation in oral poetry, music, and theater, and distinguishes between the “language of design” and “language of performance.”

[58]For example, David Sudnow, Ways of the Hand: The Organization of Improvised Conduct (New York: Harper, 1978).

[59]Hargreaves, “Experience Counts, Theory Doesn’t.” For an example of a richly theoretical treatment of classroom experience by teachers, see Eleanor Duckworth, The Having of Wonderful Ideas (New York: Teachers College Press, 1988).

[60]Philip A. Cusick, A Study of Networks among Professional Staffs of Two Secondary Schools (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1982).

[61]Freema Elbaz, Teacher Thinking: A Study of Practical Knowledge (London: Croom Helm, 1983).

[62]Stephen J. Ball and Colin Lacey, “Subject-Disciplines as the Opportunity for Group Action: A Measured Critique of Subject Sub-cultures,” in Classrooms and Staffrooms, ed. Hargreaves and Woods, pp. 232-44.

[63]W. Richard Scott, ‘Work Units in Organizations: Ransacking the Literature,” commissioned paper (Stanford: Center for Research in the Context of Secondary Teaching, Stanford University, April 1988).

[64]Nias, Southworth, and Yeomans, Staff Relationships.

[65]Mary H. Metz, Classrooms and Corridors: The Crisis Of Authority in Urban Desegregated Schools (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); Ball, The Micro-Politics of the School; Andrew Pollard, “Primary School Teachers and Their Colleagues," in The Primary School Teacher, ed. S. Delamont (London: Falmer Press, 1987); and Hargreaves, Two Cultures of Schooling.

[66]Nias, Primary Teachers Talking, pp. 160-61, citing D. Hartley, Understanding the Primary School (London: Croom Helm, 1985).

[67]Ball, The Micro-Politics of the School: Towards a Theory of Organization.

[68]Ibid., p. 35.

[69]Ibid., p. 36. Emphasis in original.

[70]Carey Bennet, “Paints, Pots, or Promotion? Art Teachers’ Attitudes toward Their Careers,” in Teachers’ Lives and Careers, ed. S. J. Ball and I. F. Goodson (London: Falmer Press, 1985), pp. 120-37.

[71]Mark A. Smylie, ‘Teachers’ Collegial Learning: Social and Psychological Dimensions of Helping Relationships” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, 1989).

[72]Bruce Fuller et al., “The Organizational Context of Individual Efficacy,” Review of Educational Research 52, no. 1 (1982): 8.

[73]Lortie, Schoolteacher, ch. 6.

[74]John Meyer and Brian Rowan, “Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony,” American Journal of Sociology 83, no. 2 (1977): 340-63.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 91 Number 4, 1990, p. 509-536
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 406, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 11:46:36 AM

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