A Summary and Review of “Getting to No: Building True Collegiality in Schools” by Robert Evans
Evans begins by setting us in the context that collaborative skills are recognised as necessary in most schools in North America, and a necessary part of 21st century skills, citing David Sousa and Carol Tomlinson’s work “Differentiation and Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner Friendly Classroom“, and a necessary step in being able to teach those skills is for teachers to be able to exhibit them. This is attempted through the establishment of Professional Learning Communities (though later considers how most any gathering of professionals now inappropriately use this title), and refers to Roland Barth in saying that these, professionally-critical or ‘collegial’ relationships are the “least common form of relationship among adults in schools“.
He talks about how congenial relationships; kind, caring, nurturing and supportive relationships, are far more common and a natural and necessary part of schools, saying “A school without this kind of mutual supportiveness is a deeply unhappy place“. He considers the Structural and subsequently Personal obstacles encountered in trying to incultivate such relationships in schools. In structural, he looks at the nature of schooling and how “technical communication among teachers is more difficult, less necessary and in some ways even less appropriate than it might seem“. The personal obstacles he identifies refer to the human inertia of teachers, and how “Continuity, more than change, is a core value of school life“.
He explores the ‘conflict avoidance’ nature of teachers, in considering that a school is much more akin to a village community, rather than a corporation, and this obstacle is the result of good relationships needing to be maintained, and discusses how ‘in schools, everything is personal’. Again, he considers that while this is a necessary part of being a good teacher, it is an impediment to collegiality. He refers to Barth’s concepts of “non-discussables” which are important issues that are only discussed outside of professional contexts.
He moves on to talk about how a collegial culture can be established and by using skills teachers are already familiar with, stating first a “commitment to appropriate candor in the service of collective growth” must be agreed upon, the crucial role school leaders play in supporting such changes, and how establishing familiar and personal relationships between staff in learning pairs, can all be supportive techniques. He introduces the “Third-Time Rule” to move gossiping as a stress relief into addressing the problem if it is recurrent, and identifies conflict resolution issues that teachers often use with students.
This sort of thinking is much more interesting to me. At it’s essence, this is looking at the very human nature of change, and has a healthy balance of recognising teacher’s skill sets, and applauding them, while simultaneously recognising that those two skill sets are not inherently congruent. I feel strongly that this is something that could be very powerful in opening conversations about collaboration that would be particularly relevant to schools that have attempted and struggled with initiating collaborative projects amongst their staff.
One of the most useful aspects was Evans’ consideration of how collaborative efforts are not often seen as necessary, and in that, also referring to how teacher’s first reaction is invariably to think of the students, and how this is helping them directly. He makes an interesting soft jibe about the teacher mindset, and how committed to self-sacrifice it is, but having encountered this myself, both in my own practice and in the views exhibited by peers, I can see that there is an uncomfortable grain of truth in this; teachers are very uncomfortable talking or thinking about themselves, and are mostly only comfortable talking directly about the student’s, their needs and wants, their successes and so on. This is something that is a little more prying than I think most would be comfortable with, and any consideration that the teacher’s values, beliefs and indeed person-hood could be up for discussion I think provokes an immediate recoil in teachers.
What is valuable though, is in recognising these traits as indicative of good teachers, and that the task ahead which is difficult, is to find a way where teachers can be both collegial and congenial.