ERIC Identifier: ED363676
Publication Date: 1993-09-00
Author: Inger, Morton
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Teacher Collaboration in Urban Secondary Schools. ERIC/CUE
Digest, Number 93.
Many current major educational reforms call for meaningful, extensive
collaboration among teachers--collaboration that goes well beyond their
requesting and offering advice to one another. Teachers are expected to work
together to alter the curriculum and pedagogy within subjects, such as infusing
a multicultural perspective; and to make connections between subjects, such as
integrating academic and vocational education.
BENEFITS OF TEACHER COLLABORATION
In most schools,
especially urban high schools, teachers are colleagues in name only. Some
schools, however, do foster substantial collegial relationships among teachers,
and when schools are organized to support such teacher collaboration the
benefits are substantial.
IMPROVEMENTS IN STUDENT BEHAVIOR AND ACHIEVEMENT
who work together have seen significant improvements in student achievement,
behavior, and attitudes. In schools where collaboration is the norm, students
can sense program coherence and consistency of expectations, and their improved
behavior and achievement may well be a response to a better learning
environment. Urban career academies and theme schools, where teachers must plan
together to develop a unified program, are examples of successful
INCREASED TEACHER SATISFACTION AND ADAPTABILITY
collaboration in urban schools breaks the isolation of the classroom, leads to
increased feelings of effectiveness and satisfaction, and to "a more elaborate
and exciting notion of ...teaching" (Popkewitz & Myrdal, 1991, p. 35). For
beginning teachers, this collegiality saves them from the usual sink-or-swim,
trial-and-error ordeal. For experienced teachers, collegiality prevents
end-of-year burnout and stimulates enthusiasm. For teachers in urban schools in
particular, who are faced with fiscal crises and a variety of student problems,
the risk of burnout is especially great. In such schools, collaboration helps
teachers cope better and get more control over their daily work lives.
Over time, teachers who work closely together become more adaptable and
self-reliant. Together, they have the energy, organizational skills, and
resources to attempt innovations that would exhaust an individual teacher. The
complexities introduced by a new curriculum in an urban school or by the need to
refine an existing one are challenging. Teacher teamwork makes these complex
tasks more manageable, stimulates new ideas, and promotes coherence in a
school's curriculum and instruction. In short, the collaborative environment
fosters continuous learning by the teachers that enhances their effectiveness in
BARRIERS TO COLLABORATION
Despite the advantages of teacher
collaboration, there are substantial barriers to it, and the barriers are of
NORMS OF PRIVACY
A school faculty is an assemblage of
entrepreneurial individuals. Teachers usually see each other at odd moments
before the school day begins, between periods, at lunch, and at occasional
after-school meetings. More formally, they see one another during an assigned
preparation period. Because teacher autonomy is grounded in norms of privacy and
non-interference, most teachers feel that other teachers' activities are "none
of my business."
SUBJECT AFFILIATION AND DEPARTMENTAL ORGANIZATION
secondary schools are organized by subject matter, and most teachers view
themselves as subject matter specialists. The subject gives teachers a frame of
reference, a professional identity, and a community, all reinforced by the
teachers' preparation, state curriculum frameworks, standardized test protocols,
textbook design, university admission requirements, and teacher licensing
Working within departments organized by subject, teachers affiliate with
others in the same field in professional associations and informal networks.
Inevitably, the privacy in which teachers work--the insularity of the
classroom--sustains their stereotypes regarding the nature and importance of
subjects other than their own. Thus, the capacity of teachers to pursue new
curricular and organizational forms is limited not only by their relative
isolation from one another during the school day, but also by subject and
departmental boundaries. Some departments, to be sure, foster collegiality
within the department, but teachers traditionally have scant basis, opportunity,
or reason for meaningful collaboration with teachers in other departments.
BARRIERS BETWEEN VOCATIONAL AND ACADEMIC TEACHERS
set of barriers stands between vocational and academic teachers. Vocational and
academic education are, particularly in the urban comprehensive high school, two
different worlds, separated organizationally, physically, educationally, and
socially. The formal organization of the school and the patterns of isolation or
involvement that develop among colleagues reinforce the separation between
vocational and academic teachers.
Academic disciplines have higher status, command greater institutional
respect, and compete more successfully for resources. These differences are
sustained by the value attached to the two different student bodies in the two
curricular tracks. Preparation of college-bound students sets the standard,
marginalizing the non-college-bound along with their teachers and curricula.
The social and organizational isolation of most vocational teachers is
exacerbated by the physical separation and programmatic fragmentation in
secondary schools. Vocational facilities are in different parts of the school
from academic classrooms. Often, there is no single space that is either large
enough to hold the disparate teaching groups or congenial enough to attract
TEACHER COLLABORATION: HELPING IT WORK
obstacles, meaningful collaboration is taking place in some urban high schools.
Support for teacher collegiality and collaboration has six dimensions.
ENDORSEMENTS AND REWARDS
Teachers work together best in schools where the principal and other leaders
convey their belief that interdisciplinary teams serve students better. Vague
slogans in favor of collaboration are ineffective; leaders must spell out in
detail why they believe collaboration is important.
SCHOOL-LEVEL ORGANIZATION OF ASSIGNMENTS AND LEADERSHIP
School-level reorganization into teams stimulates cooperative work, but does
not guarantee it. For teams to be effective, leadership must be broadly
distributed among teachers and administrators. In some schools, for example,
teachers are given reduced teaching loads in exchange for leading curriculum
LATITUDE GIVEN TO TEACHERS FOR INFLUENCE ON MATTERS OF CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION
Teachers' investment in team
planning rests heavily on the latitude they have for making decisions in areas
of curriculum, materials selection, instructional grouping, and student
assessment. Indeed, teachers need to be involved in the development of the goals
and objectives of the collaborative efforts. Teaming for the sake of teaming
leads to disillusionment; teams should be created to deal with matters of
Opportunities for collaborative work are either enhanced or eroded by the
master schedule. Schools must foster cooperative work among teachers by
establishing common planning periods and regularly scheduled team or subject
area meetings, and providing released time for these activities. Further, time
for staff development must be free from the distractions of the day-to-day
routine of school operations.
TRAINING AND ASSISTANCE
Since cooperative work places unfamiliar demands on teachers, schools must
provide them with task-related training and assistance to help them master the
specific skills needed for collaboration, develop explicit agreements to govern
their work together, and gain confidence in their ability to work with one
another outside the classroom.
The quality and availability of reference texts and other materials,
consultants on selected problems, adequate copying equipment, and other forms of
human and material support are crucial to teachers' ability and willingness to
work together successfully.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Serious collaboration in urban
schools--teachers engaging in the rigorous mutual examination of teaching and
learning--is rare, and where it exists, it is fragile. Yet it does occur, and
the enthusiasm of teachers about their collaborations is persuasive.
To make teacher collaboration possible and effective, two fundamental
conditions appear to be crucial: interdependence and opportunity. The practices
of colleagues are most likely to make a difference where they are an integral,
inescapable part of day-to-day work. Teachers' main motivations and rewards are
in the work of teaching. To the extent that they find themselves interdependent
with one another to manage and reap the rewards of teaching, joint work will be
worth the investment of time and other resources.
Joint action will not occur where it is prohibitively costly in
organizational, political, or personal terms. If teachers are to work often and
fruitfully as colleagues, school policy must solidly support it. Schedules,
staff assignments, and access to resources must be made conducive to shared
work. The value that is placed on shared work must be both said and
demonstrated. The purpose for it must be compelling and the task sufficiently
challenging. And the accomplishments of individuals and groups must be
recognized and celebrated.
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