I am a young teacher. With only three incomplete years of professional experience, I would compare myself with an unfeathered chicken that just came into the world of hawks, falcons and owls. My young teaching age did not prevent me from working in different collegial circles of more experienced “birds”, though. Some preferred to “hunt” alone; others united in small flocks. Some deigned to assist with problems; others chose to do little. In either case, the way, in which these birds selected to work, did not leave me unaffected. In this post, I would like to share my understanding of how working in different teacher cultures influences the professional experience.
When entering the school for the first time, you can always feel it: a strong smell of wood and paint, a nimble sunbeam on the wall, loud voices of first-graders in the hall… Each school has its unique atmosphere where teachers play major role. In fact, they build their own teaching culture which significantly influences the atmosphere in schools (Peterson, 1994). Hargreaves (1995) describes teaching culture as “beliefs, values, habits and assumed ways of doing things among communities of teachers” (p. 165). As a rule, the teachers, especially in their early careers, perceive teaching culture as a medium which gives meaning to what, how and why they do things.
School cultures differ considerably. Hargreaves (1995) distinguished four major types of teacher cultures.
Despite being surrounded by different people within school community, the teachers are highly exposed to the work in isolation. Many of them find individual work acceptable and even desirable. Individualism becomes a matter of considerable concern, when solitude becomes indispensable part of teacher’s professional life. The teacher preferring separateness to company could be compared to a thrush in the world of birds.
However unusual the word “balkanization” might sound, it, in fact, is quite common in Kazakhstani schools. Teachers work neither in isolation, nor collaboratively with most of their colleagues. Instead, they choose to work in small groups according to their departments, qualifications and personal preferences. The primary teachers having lunch separately from secondary school teachers could be one of the examples. The balkanized school culture may have a negative impact on learners’ achievement since the teachers do not work in collaboration to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses. These teachers represent kinglets who like dividing in small groups.
- Contrived collegiality
In this type of teaching culture the teachers work jointly: they plan together and team-teach. A distinctive feature of contrived collegiality is that the relationships are enforced by formal administrative regulations. The prescribed nature of this culture does not promote inner desire to collaborate. Such relationships are implementation-driven, superficial and unnatural. Teachers staying together mostly because of the environmental conditions are like penguins who have to group to warm one another.
As its name suggests, collaboration encourages the people to work collaboratively and jointly. It is positively associated with school efficiency and quality of teaching. This type of collegial culture is the most desirable in schools as it stimulates teachers to learn from each other, share and develop on a voluntary basis. In a real collaborative culture there is no competition for principal’s love and recognition, but there is desire to improve for the better; there is no guilt and constraints, but there is will and power; there are no gossips, but there is a dialogue. Of, course it does not develop overnight. This is a long and uneasy in implementation process. This group of teachers are like long-tailed tits among birds.
Just like the forest with various flocks of birds living in it, one school may comprise several elements depending on characteristics of teacher population. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that collaborative culture should be promoted in isolation from other constituents of teaching culture. Instead, it is of vital importance to identify and promote the magic set and proportions of each type to promote a successful school operation.
True to myself, as always I am dying to know your opinions. What kind of bird are you? What is the teaching culture in our school like? What is the best proportion of teaching culture components for an “ideal” school?
P.S.: I apologize for the possible misuse of some birds’ actual role. Forgive me, ornithologists of the whole world! No birds were harmed in writing this post.
Hargreaves, A. (1995). Changing teachers, changing times: Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern. London: Cassell.
Peterson, K. (1994). NCREL monograph: Building collaborative cultures: Seeking ways to reshape urban schools. NCREL’s Urban Education Monograph Series.