Below the Green Line: Collaboration, Constructive Conflict and Trust
in Teacher Professional Communities
This mixed method, multiple case study explored the conditions that nurture and
support the development of productive, student-focused collaboration aimed at fostering
teacher engagement and learning, which is the foundation of instructional improvements
in practice. This study examined the role of social relationships, especially mutual trust
and the ability to constructively address conflict, in the development of teacher
professional communities based on authentic collaboration.
Data collection included a survey, interview responses and site observations. The
survey included items that measured aspects of the teacher learning community, faculty
trust in colleagues and the principal, social interactions and perceptions of the school.
Quantitative data was analyzed using SPSS to conduct independent samples t tests and
Pearson product moment coefficients. Interviews were digitally transcribed and analyzed
for key thematic patterns that provided richness to the interpretation of the survey results.
Key findings from the study suggest dimensions of trust that are most critical for
effective collaborative work. Benevolence, reliability and competence were found to be
important dimensions of trust in colleagues; whereas, honesty, benevolence and
competence emerged as the basis for trust in the principal. Trust serves as a necessary
precondition for collaborative work among teachers in that it reduces feelings of
vulnerability and creates an atmosphere of safety in which educators can take risks and
explore new practices. However, while trust may be a necessary condition for supporting
collaborative efforts among teachers, it is not sufficient. Even in a high trust work
environment, teachers may not address conflict directly and this may limit the
effectiveness of their joint work. Findings also suggest that being able to engage multiple
perspectives and address divergent points of view directly is essential in moving a
professional community toward student-focused collaboration.
Implications for practice focused on developing the necessary communication and
conflict resolution competencies necessary to facilitate cultural change. Directions for
future research are presented to further develop our understanding of the interconnections
between trust, constructive conflict and teacher collaboration.
I would like to express my gratitude to the teachers and principals at the two
elementary schools who participated in this study. Even in the midst of their busy and
demanding lives, they devoted their time and attention to providing valuable insights that
formed the basis of this work. Their willingness to openly share their experiences greatly
enhanced my understanding of our collaborative work as educators.
The staff at Schaefer Elementary School deserves my thanks and appreciation.
Throughout this journey, they provided encouragement and humor. At key moments,
they afforded me the space in which to explore and engage in the process of inquiry and
I extend my gratitude to my fellow travelers in Cohort 3 of the Capital Area North
Doctorate Educational Leadership (CANDEL) program. From the beginning of our
journey together, they generously gave of themselves and their time to listen, discuss,
critique and support my process of discovery. I consider myself fortunate to have been in
the company of such talented and courageous scholar-practitioners.
I am deeply appreciative of my dissertation committee for sharing their keen
insights and expertise at critical points throughout the process of research and discovery.
Dr. Paul Heckman challenged my thinking about critical engagement and cognitive
conflict that helped me refine the questions that guided my research. Dr. Michal
Kurlaender provided invaluable suggestions on the methodological issues that framed the
study. In doing so, she helped provide both direction and focus to my research. Dr. Paul
Porter shared a passion and genuine interest in my project from the very beginning.
Through every stage of my work, he provided just the right mixture of encouragement
and constructive criticism that greatly enriched my learning.
I wish to thank my parents, Kenneth and Jeanmarie, for their unwavering support
in all of my endeavors, especially this one. I will always be grateful to them for nurturing
within me curiosity about the world and a heartfelt desire to pursue my own learning and
place within it.
My deepest appreciation goes to Vanessa, my partner in life, who has walked
every step of the path with me. Her love, patience, understanding and continued
encouragement gave me the energy and determination to see this endeavor through to
To Marshall, Ida, George and Mae:
In loving memory
List of Figures
Figure 1: Social Network Analysis Showing Frequency of Interactions at
Elementary School A ………………………………………………………. 91
Figure 2: Social Network Analysis Showing Frequency of Interactions at
Elementary School B ………………………………………………………. 92
Figure 3: Social Network Analysis Showing Types of Help Sought at
Elementary School A ………………………………………………………. 95
Figure 4: Social Network Analysis Showing Types of Help Sought at
Elementary School B ………………………………………………………. 96
Figure 5: The Above and Below Green Line Model developed by Margaret
Wheatley (1992) and Tim Dalmau (2000) (Flavell & Foley, 2006).............151
Figure 6: Model of the Formation of Teacher Professional Community
(Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth, 2001) .............................................. 158
List of Tables
Table 1: Dimensions of Professional Learning Communities ………………………… 30
Table 2: Elementary School A – Academic Performance Index ……………………… 49
Table 3: Elementary School A – 2009 Annual Yearly Progress in English
Language Arts ………………………………………………………………... 50
Table 4: Elementary School A – 2009 Annual Yearly Progress in
Table 5: Elementary School B – Academic Performance Index ……………………… 52
Table 6: Elementary School B – 2009 Annual Yearly Progress in English
Language Arts ………………………………………………………………... 52
Table 7: Elementary School B – 2009 Annual Yearly Progress in
Table 8: Sensitivity Analysis of Non-Responders …………………………………….. 54
Table 9: Comparison of Site Meetings at Elementary School A and Elementary
School B…………………………………………………………………….... 71
Table 10: Descriptive Statistics for Teacher Perceptions of School by Site …………… 73
Table 11: Descriptive Statistics for Teacher Learning Community Measures
by Site ……………………………………………………………………….. 74
Table 12: Results of Independent Samples t tests on Teacher Learning Community
Measures ……………………………………………………………………. 75
Table 13: Descriptive Statistics for Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Principal
by Site ............................................................................................................. 77
Table 14: Results of Independent Samples t tests on Dimensions of Faculty Trust
in Principal ………………………………………………………………….. 78
Table 15: Standardized Scores for Faculty Trust in Principal at Elementary
School A and Elementary School B ................................................................ 79
Table 16: Descriptive Statistics for Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Colleagues
by Site ...............................................................................................................80
Table 17: Results of Independent Samples t tests on Faculty Trust in Colleagues ……. 81
Table 18: Standardized Scores for Faculty Trust in Colleagues at Elementary
School A and Elementary School B ............................................................... 82
Table 19: Descriptive Statistics for Conflict-Avoidance Measures by Site .................... 83
Table 20: Results of Independent Samples t tests on Conflict-Avoidance
Measures ......................................................................................................... 84
Table 21: Descriptive Statistics for Conflict-Embrace Measures by Site ........................ 85
Table 22: Results of Independent Samples t tests on Conflict-Embrace
Measures ........................................................................................................... 86
Table 23: Correlations: Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Principal, Teacher
Learning Community, Conflict-Embrace and Conflict-Avoidance
Table 24: Correlations: Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Colleagues, Teacher
Learning Community, Conflict-Embrace and Conflict-Avoidance……….... 89
Table 25: Demographic Characteristics of Interview Participants…………………….. 99
Table 26: Focus for Collaboration – Elementary School A ………………………….. 114
Table 27: Focus for Collaboration – Elementary School B ………………………….. 115
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures……………………………………………………………………………vii
List of Tables……………………………………………………………………………viii
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………...... 1
Rationale for the Study……………………………………………………………1
Statement of the Problem……………………………………………………….. 10
Research Questions……………………………………………………………... 19
Significance of the Study………………………………………………………...20
CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE………………………………………21
Teacher Privatism and Isolation………………………………………………… 22
Collegiality and Teacher Professionalism ……………………………………....24
School as Community Model ……………………………………………………26
Models of Learning Communities……………………………………….28
Critiques of the “School as Communities” Approaches ………………...31
Types of Organizational Learning……………………………………….35
Organizational Learning and Conflict…………………………………...37
Definition of Trust……………………………………………………….40
Trust in Schools………………………………………………………….40
Trust in Professional Communities ……………………………………...42
Trust and Student Outcomes …………………………………………….43
CHAPTER 3: METHODS ………………………………………………………………45
Rationale for Multiple Case Study Approach……………………………………45
Site Descriptions ………………………………………………………………...47
Elementary School A ……………………………………………………49
Elementary School B …………………………………………………… 51
Data Collection ………………………………………………………………….55
Survey Instrument ……………………………………………………….55
Measures of Faculty Trust……………………………………….56
Measures of Frames of Reference for Approaching
Social Network Analysis Measures ……………………………..58
Limitations of the Present Study ………………………………………………...63
CHAPTER 4: FINDINGS …………………………………………………………………... 65
Site Observations ………………………………………………………………..65
Observations at Elementary School A …………………………………..66
Observations at Elementary School B …………………………………..68
Faculty Survey …………………………………………………………………..71
Perceptions of School …………………………………………...............72
Teacher Learning Community Measures ………………………………..73
Faculty Trust …………………………………………………………….75
Faculty Trust in Principal ……………………………………….76
Faculty Trust in Colleagues ……………………………………..79
Frames of Reference for Approaching Conflict Measures ……...............82
Correlational Analysis …………………………………………………..86
Social Network Analysis ………………………………………..............89
Frequency of Interactions ……………………………………….89
Types of Help Sought by Colleagues …………………………...92
Description of Interviewees ……………………………………………..97
Elementary School A ……………………………………………97
Elementary School B ……………………………………………98
Thematic Patterns ………………………………………………………..99
Schoolwide versus Grade Level Only Focus …………………..100
Faculty Trust …………………………………………...............117
Frames of Reference for Approaching Conflict ………………..124
CHAPTER 5: SUMMARY, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ……………………...133
Research Questions …………………………………………………………….133
Overview of Findings ………………………………………………………….134
Dimensions of Trust Most Critical for Authentic Collaboration ………134
Ways Trust Fosters Authentic Collaboration …………………………..138
Conditions that Support the Development of Trust Among Faculty …..140
Faculty Trust and Frames of Reference for Approaching Conflict ……144
Communication and Conflict Resolution Competencies ………………147
Theoretical Frameworks ……………………………………………………….149
Margaret Wheatley’s Above and Below the Green Line Model ………149
Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth’s Theory of Teacher
Implications for Practice ……………………………………………………….158
Suggestions for Future Research ………………………………………………167
Appendix A: Faculty Survey Questions ……………………………………...183
Appendix B: Faculty Survey Cover Sheet …………………………………….185
Appendix C: Faculty Survey …………………………………………………..186
Appendix D: Teacher Interview Questions ……………………………………188
Appendix E: Experimental Subject’s Bill of Rights …………………………..190
Appendix F: Participant Consent Form ……………………………………….191
Below the Green Line: Collaboration, Constructive Conflict and Trust
in Teacher Professional Communities
For the past several decades, policymakers and the general public have demanded
higher levels of academic achievement for all students. State and federal accountability
mandates have exerted pressure on educators to adjust their instructional practices to
meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. As a result, educators have
undertaken a number of reform efforts to make schools more responsive to the students
they serve. Educational researchers and practitioners have explored teacher professional
communities as one type of school reform to improve student learning and outcomes for
Rationale for the Study
Before educators can begin a process of inquiry to examine the conditions that
foster the learning of children in schools, it is essential that they examine their own
professional learning and growth. Seymour Saranson, in his book, The Predictable
Failure of Educational Reform, argues that it is not possible to enrich the conditions of
student learning in an environment that is impoverishing for teachers. It is, therefore,
equally important to focus on creating the conditions of productive learning for teachers.
He suggests that facilitating the development of both children and adults in schools: “…
increases the chances that more teachers and students will experience the sense of
growth, without which life is a pointless bore” (p. 138) (Sarason, 1993). If educators are
to engage in a collective process of critically examining instructional practices and the
professional knowledge upon which these practices are based, it is essential that we also
work to create conditions that support teacher engagement and growth.
One of the most impoverishing conditions of teachers’ work lives has been the
isolation in which they toil. In his 1975 sociological study, Dan Lortie noted that:
“…work relationships of teachers have been marked more by separation than by
interdependence” (p. 23). Moreover, he concluded that:
The teacher’s craft, then, is marked by the absence of concrete models for
emulation, unclear lines of influence, multiple and controversial criteria,
ambiguity about assessment timing, and instability in the product (p. 136).
Lortie’s research highlighted the deleterious effects of teachers working in the “egg crate
school” (p. 14).
Almost ten years later, John Goodlad made similar observations in his 1984 study,
A Place Called School. He noted that: “The classroom cells in which teachers spend
much of their time appear to be symbolic and predictive of their relative isolation from
one another and from sources of ideas beyond their own background of experience” (p.
186). Teachers work in relative isolation and rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to
participate in collective dialogues with other teachers regarding instructional practices.
Goodlad found that: “there was little data to suggest active, ongoing exchanges of ideas
and practices across schools, between groups of teachers, or between individuals even in
the same schools” (p. 187). This sense of isolation is not conducive to teacher
engagement and learning.
Educational researchers have highlighted the negative effects of isolation on
teachers’ professional growth and learning (Little, 1990c; M. W. McLaughlin, 1992;
Talbert & McLaughlin, 2002). Over the past few decades, the dominant arrangement of
the privatization of instructional practice has been grounded in the “loose-coupling”
model that locates the individual classroom as the site for decision-making regarding
what is taught, how learning is assessed and what instructional practices are used as
matters left to individual teachers (R. Elmore, 2008; R. F. Elmore, 2000; Weick, 1976).
Elmore (2000) argued that critical decisions about the “technical core” of education:
…detailed decisions about what should be taught at any given time, how it
should be taught, what students should be expected to learn at any given time,
how they should be grouped within classrooms for purposes of instruction, what
they should be required to do to demonstrate their knowledge, and perhaps most
importantly, how their learning should be evaluated -- resides in individual
classrooms not in the organizations that surround them (pp. 5-6).
Furthermore, Elmore (2000) noted that placing individual classrooms as the locus for
instructional change has created a “buffer” between instruction and critical scrutiny from
“outside inspection, interference or disruption” (p. 6).
By constructing a “buffer” around the classroom, the “loose-coupling” model has
dampened innovations in teaching and learning (R. F. Elmore, 2000). In practice,
changes in teaching practices are guided by individual values, interests and choices and
may not be “productive for the learning of certain students” (Elmore, 2000, p. 5).
Critically examining teaching strategies and making improvements is largely left up to
the discretion of individual teachers. Elmore concludes: “…because teaching is isolated
work, instructional improvements occur most frequently as a consequence of purely
voluntary acts among consenting adults” (p. 7). The isolation in which teachers work
helps to explains why only superficial changes occur within schools and why more
collaborative approaches to instructional innovation have been so difficult to implement
Starting in early 1990’s, the conception of the isolated classroom began to be
challenged by an emerging body of research that looked at the teacher’s workplace as a
site of professional learning (Louis, 2006b). Judith Warren Little’s research focused on
the ways teachers learn from each other (Little, 1990b). Little posited a typology of forms
of collegiality that included storytelling/scanning for ideas, aid/assistance, sharing and
joint work. She argued that the most common types of interaction among teachers
involved sharing stories about their classrooms or scanning peers’ stories for ideas,
offering or asking for assistance related to a specific area of concern, and sharing tips on
teaching. In seeking out information from their peers, teachers selectively engaged in
exchanging ideas. Consistent with the model of “loose-coupling”, the decision to adopt
suggestions or not were a matter of individual discretion. Despite giving the appearance
of meaningful collaboration, these more superficial types of interactions among teachers
served to reinforce independence and isolation by leaving decision-making about
instructional practices up to each teacher and his or her preferences. In contrast, the more
rare form of teacher collaboration, Little (1996c) noted that joint work involves:
…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 (p. 519).
In her research, Little found few examples of meaningful, collaborative work.
Another related strand of research focused on collaborative efforts in the context
of teachers’ work in schools. Cuban (1992) argued that professional communities were a
key part of teachers’ professionalism and served as “as a way of addressing the
uncertainties, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas of teaching students at different levels of
schooling” (p. 9). Working together in collaborative groups provided teachers with a
forum for resolving issues that arise from their own teaching experiences. By sharing
problems and working collectively, teachers could receive support in dealing with
challenges in the classroom, improve their practices and in so doing, foster a higher
degree of professionalism.
Building on notions of professionalism, another strand of research called for
policy to link support for student achievement and sustained learning opportunities for
teachers. McLaughlin and Talbert’s research placed professional communities in the
context of school reform by emphasizing the importance of the connection between
academic achievement for students and teacher professional learning (M. W. McLaughlin
& Talbert, 1993). Other studies contrasted the notion of professional communities with
efforts to create “effective schools” (Darling-Hammond & et al., 1994; Louis, Kruse, &
Raywid, 1996). For these researchers, developing capacity among teachers provided the
best way of improving schools, instead of focusing on efforts that sought to simply
impose new school structures or implement new curricula as a way of making schools
more effective. By fostering teacher professional learning through collaborative work,
educators could bring about more systemic change aimed at making schools more
engaging and democratic places for adult and children’s learning.
The vision of the potential of collaboration led to studies that began to identify
characteristics or key elements of teacher professional communities grounded in
meaningful, student-focused collaboration. Researchers identified a variety of structural
elements such as time, space, physical proximity, interdependence of teaching roles as
well as processes such as communication systems that facilitated the formation of
professional communities (Hord, 1997; S. D. Kruse, Louis, & Bryk, 1995). They also
highlighted the importance of conditions that characterize social relationships within the
group (e.g., trust, respect, supportive leadership) and organizational qualities (e.g., shared
vision and values) (Hord, 1997; S. D. Kruse, et al., 1995; M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert,
2001; Westheimer, 1998).
Toward the end of the 1990’s, as discussion within the larger policy arena shifted
toward “accountability” both for teacher performance and student learning, the notion of
“professional learning communities” (PLC’s) began to be cast as a school reform strategy
directed toward meeting state and federal mandates for academic outcomes (Dufour &
Eaker, 1998; Hord, 1997). With the creation of standards for curricular areas and the
system of accountability that demands greater levels of student achievement,
policymakers and educational leaders have looked to teacher collaboration as a promising
approach to breaking down the buffer around isolated classrooms and improving student
The potential of collaboration received support from educational research that
pointed to the various benefits of professional communities for strengthening teacher
learning and instructional practices (Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994, 2002). Collaborative
arrangements have been identified as a source of learning that is embedded in teachers’
work with students as opposed to professional development workshops that may only be
tangentially related to their actual work in classrooms (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999).
Others have noted that building a community of learners helps teachers to begin to
understand and critique their own thinking that allows them to move beyond superficial
topics commonly heard in discussions among faculty such as bell schedules, classroom
materials, etc. (Wilson & Berne, 1999). Engaging in more meaningful on-going dialogue
creates opportunities for teachers to move toward deeper learning that leads to
fundamental rethinking and changes in instructional practices (Scribner, Cockrell,
Cockrell, & Valentine, 1999). Collaboration allows for a pooling of intellectual and
material resources to share strengths and provide support for refining strategies (Hord,
1997; Huffman, Hipp, Pankake, & Moller, 2001; Little, 2002; Smylie, 1996). Working
collectively also holds the potential to stave off the impact of stress and demands of
teaching and thereby may help to minimize staff turnover (Little, 1990a). The presence of
collaborative arrangements among teachers has also been linked to greater student
achievement (Goddard, Goddard, & Tschannen-Moran, 2007; Louis & Marks, 1998;
Strahan, 2003). This body of work suggests that when teachers work together on
instructional practices, their professional knowledge and student learning is enhanced.
Given the beneficial outcomes noted in the literature, researchers and consultants
moved in to respond to the widespread interest in developing professional learning
communities. According to DuFour, et.al. (1998), PLCs are distinguished by: 1) a
shared mission, vision and set of values focused on student learning, 2) engagement in
collective inquiry within the context of collaborative teams and 3) an action-orientated
approach to continuous improvement measured by results. The various handbooks and
workshops suggested a range of strategies and structural recommendations to develop
this kind of professional working group among teachers (Dufour, 2004; Dufour & Eaker,
1998; Schmoker, 2006). This literature, devoted to the implementation of PLCs, focused
primarily on creating time, making the group’s purpose explicit, training and support for
staff to collaborate, establishing group norms, and accepting responsibility to work
together to accomplish common goals. The implications of these recommendations
suggest that to implement PLCs, one need only to put the pieces in place and the results
Despite these glowing accounts of PLCs as a reform strategy within the context of
school accountability, advocates noted common pitfalls that could derail collaborative
efforts. Drawing upon the work of Kotter (1996), DuFour, et.al. (1998) argued that
educational leaders, eager to implement PLCs, often: allow too much complacency, fail
to create “sufficiently powerful guiding coalitions,” underestimate “the power of vision,”
“under-communicate vision,” permit “structural and cultural obstacles to block the
change process,” or fail “to create short term wins” (pp. 51-53). While these authors
acknowledge that making changes is hard work, the recommendations presented to
educational leaders suggest that the difficulties encountered in establishing professional
learning communities can be addressed by simply focusing on group processes or
procedural aspects of the collaborative work.
Other educational researchers have offered more cautious assessments of
professional communities as a way of reforming schools grounded in teacher
professionalism. Huberman argued against the model of collaboration and asserted that
teachers’ craft knowledge and professional rewards were firmly rooted in the artisan
model of teaching. He pointed out the conditions of teachers work lives that made
collective work difficult and unsustainable. He also cautioned against the encroachments
of the so-called “effective schools movement” that would stifle teacher creativity and
individuality (Huberman, 1993).
Still other researchers acknowledged that moving toward creating more
collaborative working arrangements might be problematic. Based on her research on
schools that had attempted to create more collaborative cultures, Little (1990b) pointed
out that the connection between collegial work and changes in instruction cannot be
assumed to be direct or sustained. She argued that such work groups can be both a
vehicle for change and for maintaining the status quo (Little, 1990b). McLaughlin and
Talbert’s study of collective work of high school math teachers cautioned against making
collegiality, or personal social ties, the primary focus on professional collaboration
(M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). Their work supported the notion that collegial
working relationships are not sufficient. In some instances, these kinds of working
relationships can serve to reinforce weak instructional strategies. This research suggested
that efforts to create collaborative working arrangements that lack a clear, student-
focused purpose could result in a perpetuation of the status quo with little meaningful
instructional changes that improve outcomes for students.
Still other researchers noted that the potential benefits are difficult to achieve in
practice (L. Leonard, 2002; L. Leonard & Leonard, 2003; L. J. Leonard & Leonard,
2005; Wood, 2007). Leonard and Leonard’s research on teachers’ perceptions of the
value of collaboration and the degree to which these practices occur at their sites offered
insights into the some of difficulties practitioners have encountered. In surveys, teachers
reported that while collaboration was perceived as highly desirable and beneficial for
student learning, the lack of a trusting and caring work environment impeded their efforts
to work together productively toward common goals. These studies suggested that the
relational aspects of the group process such as trust and mutual caring and regard may be
critical in facilitating authentic collaboration.
Statement of the Problem
Questions emerge about why, despite the potential benefits to be gained, efforts to
establish collaborative groups among teachers have missed the mark. Part of the
explanation lies in the lack of precision in defining the terms and application of the
concept of “teacher collaboration.” Little (1990b) noted that despite the enthusiasm for
the notion of teachers working together to improve their practice the concept of
collaboration “has remained conceptually amorphous” (p. 509). More recently, DuFour
(2004) noted that the term “professional learning communities” has been applied to a
wide range of activities involving “every imaginable combination of individuals with an
interest in education” (p. 6). He warned that: “the term has been used so ubiquitously that
it is in danger of losing all meaning” (p. 6). Educators have applied the term
“professional learning communities” to describe activities ranging from grade level or
department meetings to groups of teachers getting together to plan lessons or to meet at a
specified time each week to talk about any given topic or to deep, meaningful shared
dialogue about improving instructional practices.
In his study of teacher communities, Westheimer noted that the lack of conceptual
clarity has made it difficult for practitioners to establish professional communities
(Westheimer, 1998, 1999). He noted that despite their potential for instructional
improvement, “…many reforms aimed at fostering teacher community have met with
resistance. And others have vanished amid the intractability of traditional school culture
and organization” (p. 72). He argued that the reason for these obstacles can be found in
the “very different types of professional community” researchers, consultants and
policymakers envision (p. 72). The common characteristics identified in the literature
(i.e., “shared beliefs, participation, interdependence, dissent and attention to
relationships”) tend to obscure more fundamental differences in the ideologies and
mental models educators bring to the task of facilitating the development of professional
communities. Some groups are defined by the high degree of individualism and perceive
their collective work as secondary; others identify their purpose as a collective venture.
These divergent perspectives make a difference in the process of establishing and
sustaining professional communities. As a result, Westheimer (1999) pointed out “policy
makers and practitioners rarely characterize the nature of such communities, focusing
instead on the conditions necessary for their growth” (p. 77). This lack of clarity in the
nature and purposes of communities has led to a “mix of confusion, mild concern and
doubt” in the implementation process (Westheimer, 1999, p. 77).
Another part of the explanation for these difficulties, addressed in the research
literature on professional learning communities and collaboration, may be found in the
way formal educational leaders, such as school and district administrators, fail to
adequately take into account how mandated forms of collaboration fail to incorporate the
experiences of teachers (Hargreaves, 2003; Wood, 2007). Another weakness in the
literature on the purposes and characteristics of learning communities does not
adequately address the experiences and perceptions of teachers in the process of
developing PLCs. In other words, much of the popular literature on PLCs does not bring
into sharp focus the extent to which the hierarchical, top down approach to
implementation of school reforms, in general, and in this case PLCs, in particular, stands
in direct contradiction to the very notion of teachers working together to examine and
refine their instruction. Some authors (Schmoker, 2006; Strahan, 2003) suggest that by
simply putting certain structures in place such as scheduling planning time, having
common assessments, using specific meeting protocols that teachers will develop a sense
of collective self-efficacy and therefore will lead to improvements in student
The process of creating structures for collective work, however, does not, in and
of itself, lead to the kind of authentic, student-focused collaboration envisioned by school
reform advocates. At the local level, educational leaders in districts and at school sites
grabbed onto the “new” idea of PLCs as a way of grappling with the challenges of
meeting external pressures to improve student achievement. The implementation of
professional learning communities became inextricably linked with the larger school
reform efforts as part of the shift in the policy context to hold schools more accountable.
With many of these local attempts to implement collaboration among teachers at school
sites, practitioners tended to place attention on putting the structural and process pieces in
place (i.e., creating schedules to allow for “team time”, establishing forms/protocals to
log team meetings, review of student work/data, etc.). While this approach holds appeal
for educational leaders who can, in essence, feel “in control” of the process, often time,
these efforts fall short of their intended purpose of facilitating genuine, student-focused,
professional dialogue among teachers.
In the literature, some researchers have critically examined the purposes that
various collaborative efforts serve as a way of contrasting the centrality of power
relations embedded within these interactions. Hargreaves (1991) argued that:
there is no such things as ‘real’ or ‘true’ collaboration or collegiality. There are
only different forms of collegiality that have different consequences and serve
different purposes (p. 49).
In his conception of collegiality “questions of who guides and controls” these interactions
figure centrally (p. 49). He draws a distinction between collaborative cultures that are
teacher guided and those that are administratively controlled. More organic forms of
collaboration are characterized as spontaneous, voluntary, development-oriented,
pervasive across time and space, and unpredictable; whereas “contrived collegiality” is
characterized as administratively regulated, compulsory, implementation-oriented, fixed
in time and space, and predictable (Hargreaves, 1991, 1994). Drawing upon
Hargreaves’s work, part of the explanation for the tendency of well-intentioned efforts to
implement professional communities to become derailed can be found in who steers the
process. If teachers see collaboration as another in a series of top down directives over
which they have little or no control, then there is a greater likelihood, that the process will
be understood as “going through the motions” to fulfill an “administratively regulated”
requirement, not as a valuable forum for meaningful dialogue with one’s colleagues to
enhance their professional learning.
Hargreaves’s work points to the centrality of power relations in distinguishing
between different types of collaboration and the purposes they serve. To fully understand
the conditions that support the development of more authentic, student-focused
collaboration, the issue of the allocation of power needs to be taken seriously. Saranson
(1993) cautioned: “Any effort to deal with or prevent a significant problem in a school
system that is not based on a reallocation of power – a discernible change in power
relationships – is doomed” (p. 28).
Wood (2007) in her study of two middle schools noted the impact of “contrived
collegiality” on teacher learning. She observed that while some teachers enthusiastically
engage in conversations about students and their learning and ways of making their
instruction meet student needs; others seemed to go through the motions, complying with
the objectives of others. Teachers who felt like they had control over the issues
addressed, and who saw a direct link between their collective work and their classrooms
tended to believe that their collaboration with other teachers was meaningful. On the
other hand, teachers who participated in contrived exercises tangentially related to their
work in the classroom tended to view collaboration as going through the motions (Wood,
2007). Although these studies distinguish between authentic collaboration and its more
“contrived” forms, more critical attention is needed to identify the underlying conditions
that make a difference.
Grossman, Wineburg and Woolworth (2000) sought to explore the conditions that
supported the development of professional community among high school teachers. In
their study, they noted that in order to move toward deeper levels of engagement and
critical dialogue groups needed to break through the facades of “pseudocommunity.” At
this stage of group development, participants tend to “play community”, acting as if “we
all agree” (p. 955). There is an illusion of consensus that hides underlying conflicts of
thinking, conceptual models, and assumptions. Conflict is suppressed and not dealt
openly. By avoiding conflict, teachers were not able to address key issues that surfaced in
discussions with other participants. Grossman, et.al. argue that a central “fact lies at the
heart of ‘pseudocommunity’: there is no authentic sense of shared communal space but
only individuals interacting with other individuals” (p. 956). Thus, the presence of
“pseudocommunity” serves to dampen the kind of open and honest dialogue needed to
critically examine and change instructional practices.
A potentially useful conceptual framework for exploring why the well-intentioned
efforts to implement professional communities tend to fall short of their larger purpose –
fostering genuine, student-focused collaboration -- can be found in the work of Margaret
Wheatley. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, she suggests that as educational
leaders attempt to deal with changes, they tend to focus most of their attention on
“rational” elements of their organizations “above the green line” such as strategies,
processes, and structures (Dalmau, 2000; Wheatley, 2006).1 By attending to these more
visible aspects of the organization, they attempt to exert control over the change process
(Wheatley, 2006). In essence, the observable aspects of organizations align with
expectations of the traditional role of school administrators namely to manage people and
procedures aimed at achieving specific objectives. In their initial efforts to implement
PLCs, school leaders have placed their primary focus “above the green line” – toward
those aspects of the organization that are visible, and seemingly “controllable.” Along
these lines, educational leaders focus their efforts on creating schedules and blocks of
The “Green Line” model was originally developed by Tim Dalmau based on the work
of Meg Wheatley.
time for teachers to meet, implementing team meeting logs and agendas to monitor group
processes, as well as structuring protocols to guide goal setting and discussion. In so
doing, many schools reform initiatives that have only attended to the aspects of
collaboration “above the green line” fall prey to “contrived collegiality” or “collaboration
lite” (DuFour, 2003; Hargreaves, 1991, 1994).
Applying Wheatley’s conceptual framework to teacher collaboration helps us to
understand the difficulties noted in the literature with implementing these practices.
Even though much of the literature on professional learning communities has identified
critical processes, structures and strategies aimed at facilitating teacher collaboration that
are focused on student learning (Bolam, MacMahon, Stoll, Thomas, & Wallace, 2005;
Hord, 1997; Louis, Kruse, & Marks, 1996; Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008), this work
does not help us to understand the essential elements “below the green line” – how trust,
mutual relationships based on respect, and the free flow of information – make authentic
collaboration possible. Taken as a whole, these studies highlight the importance of
structural, process and strategic factors in fostering collaboration. These studies have
identified the need for creating time to meet, physical proximity and size of school to
facilitate interaction, interdependence of teaching roles, maintaining a focus on student
learning, communication systems in building and sustaining teacher professional
communities. All of these aspects that bring teachers together for collaborative purposes
lie at the surface. While research suggests that these structures and processes may be
necessary for the development of professional learning communities, they are not
Louis (2006b) noted that practitioners have failed to appreciate the depth and
complexity required to bring about cultural change by portraying “the development of a
PLC as an innovation to be implemented” (p. 8). To ensure deep learning and authentic
engagement also requires going beneath the surface to explore the conditions that
facilitate healthy relationships and open dialogue in which all participants have access to
information about the organization and how it is performing. Moreover, people in the
organization need to feel safe in taking reasonable risks, asking questioning and
challenging each other’s ideas and practices. If educational leaders are truly interested in
fostering the kinds of conditions that support more authentic collaborative working
arrangements among teachers, then, Wheatley’s conceptualization urges us to shift our
field of vision to examine the dynamics “below the green line” to the less visible, but
very powerful aspects of organizations that hold the potential for adaptation and growth.
Wheatley suggests that to facilitate the kind of adaptive change and growth needed for
organizations to thrive, special attention needs to be paid to the open and free access to
information and the development of relationships based on mutual respect and care. In so
doing, people in the organization can develop a deep sense of identity based on shared
values and purposes.
The underlying conditions, noted by Wheatley, are consistent with the literature
on professional learning communities. Findings from this body of research suggest that
key elements such as openness and access to expertise and information, the existence of
supportive leadership and relationships based on mutual respect and trust as well as
shared values support both the development and sustenance of professional communities
(Bolam, et al., 2005; Hord, 1997; Lieberman & Miller, 2008; Mulford, 2007; Stoll,
Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006). Kruse, Louis and Bryk (1994) noted that
the more relational aspects such as “openness to improvement, trust and
respect…supportive leadership…are more critical to the development of professional
community than structural conditions” (p. 6). Mulford (2007) also emphasized the
importance of the social aspects of professional learning communities by arguing that:
“how people communicate with and treat each other” (p. 177) are essential before moving
on to the development professional communities focused on learning. He pointed out
that: “success is more likely where people act rather than are always reacting, are
empowered, involved in decision-making through a transparent, facilitative and
supportive structure and are trusted, respected, encouraged, and valued” (p. 177).
Research has noted the importance of trust in providing conditions supportive of
constructive conflict in the formation of professional communities. Literature on
organizational learning suggests that conflict is an essential element of professionals
challenging underlying assumptions and developing refined practices based on new
understandings (C. Argyris & Schon, 1978). The body of research on trust has identified
the importance of this variable in creating an atmosphere of openness and honesty within
groups (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). Other studies have suggested that a group’s
orientation or frame of reference in dealing with conflict (Achinstein, 2002a; Uline,
Tschannen-Moran, & Perez, 2003) is foundational for organizational learning. However,
while researchers suggest that a group’s ability to address conflict in healthy and
productive ways is grounded in relations of trust, few studies have explicitly explored the
relationship between these two variables.
While studies have identified elements “below the green line” as being important
in fostering meaningful collaboration, there is still a need to explore how the presence of
these conditions help to cultivate the less visible, yet deeper and more critical aspects of
professional communities. This study incorporated the “above and below the green line”
conceptual framework in examining aspects of professional learning communities.
Specifically, this study examined how relational trust and the ability to deal with conflict
productively contributes to developing and sustaining teacher professional communities
focused on authentic, student-focused dialogue.
This study was designed to help develop a deeper understanding of the conditions
that nurture and support the development of productive collaboration aimed at fostering
teacher engagement and learning, which is the foundation of instructional improvements
in practice. As such, it examined the conditions that support the free flow of information
throughout the organization that is critical for people to work together and to be able to
create and sustain relationships characterized by a mutual respect and caring. This study
also explored how the relational foundation within a school organization allows for the
development of core identities grounded in shared values. Based on the review of the
literature, the present study focused attention on the role of social relationships,
especially the ability to constructively address conflict and mutual trust, in the
development of teacher professional communities focused on authentic collaboration.
Specifically, this study was guided by the following research questions:
• What set of conditions support the development of trust among faculty?
• How is trust related to a professional community’s frame of reference for
• In what ways does trust foster authentic collaboration (see definition below)?
• What dimensions of trust (based on Tschannen-Moran and Hoy’s definition) are
most critical to make authentic collaboration possible?
• As teachers collaborate, what communication and conflict resolution
competencies are needed to nurture teacher trust in one another?
Significance of the Study
The current study examined these questions from the perspective of
organizational change processes and a conceptual framework based on the work of
Margaret Wheatley. Given the difficulties encountered in building high performing
professional communities, gaining a clearer perspective on how the elements “below the
green line” such as relational trust and a group’s approach to handling conflicts can
contribute to creating and sustaining healthy working relationships could potentially help
practitioners to develop a broader repertoire of instructional strategies to improve student
learning. An exploration of these questions helps us to discover how to engage in genuine
dialogue and critical reflection to uncover the underlying dynamics that help to develop
and sustain authentic, student-focused collaboration.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
To place the current study into a meaningful context, several broad areas of
educational research are presented. The review of relevant literature begins with an
exploration of the sources of teacher privatism and isolation within the dominant
structure of schools that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. It is precisely this
image of the “cellular” arrangement of schools as composed of isolated classrooms that
the advocates of school reform have sought to counter in the pursuit of educational
improvement. Educational leaders and researchers have called for a fundamental
rethinking of schools, moving away from the notion of schools as “formal organizations”
based on hierarchical controls to “communities” focused on learning and continuous
improvement. Within this framework particular attention is focused on the emergence of
the conceptualization of teacher professional communities as a school reform strategy.
This body of work helps to distill key criteria to develop a working definition of
“authentic collaboration” that is incorporated into the present study.
The review then moves on to highlight the ways researchers have examined
collaboration as a basis for organizational learning. The research on organizational
learning illustrates how constructive conflict can serve as the basis for challenging
existing beliefs and practices. The studies presented contextualize the present study’s
focus on the intersections of professional learning and conflict. Finally, relational trust or
faculty trust has been identified as the “glue” that holds together professional
communities. Educational researchers’ conceptualizations of “faculty trust” have
emerged over the past few decades. Their work suggests strong connections between this
construct and organizational behavior as well as student outcomes. The present study
seeks to understand how the various dimensions of trust are related to a teacher
professional community’s ability to engage in meaningful, student-focused collaboration
that is characterized by an ability to constructively address divergent points of view and
Teacher Privatism and Isolation
For much of the twentieth century, the administrative progressive framework of
schooling gained ascendancy. According to this perspective, educational leaders sought
to create a rational view of school organization along the lines of the corporate model
(David Tyack & Hansot, 1982). The dominant view, according to Tyack (1974),
emphasized “science,” “administrative efficiency,” and “professional specialization” (p.
180) in the pursuit of “bureaucratic control all along the line” (p. 192). In the “one best
system”, “principals and supervisors were mere inspectors, certifying compliance with
the rules; most teaching…was mechanical” (D. Tyack, 1974). The administrative
progressives conducted the business of schooling through top down mandates intended to
ensure the efficient operation of teaching and learning.
The “egg-crate” organization of schools, the focus of Dan Lortie’s seminal study
(1975) emerged in the context of “administrative efficiency.” Lortie documented the
impact of the conditions of teachers’ work lives on the teaching profession (Lortie, 1975).
He noted that the dominant model of schools developed over many decades in which
“teacher separation rather than teacher interdependence” prevailed (p. 14). He further
elaborated on professional norms that emphasized personal choice, privacy and equality
that reinforced teacher isolation. To the extent that colleagues share ideas it is done on a
highly selective basis guided by individual preferences and immediate situational
contexts, not a common understanding of effective practices. Together schools’ structural
organization and teachers’ professional norms have limited the development of a shared
technical culture. In so doing, the isolation in which teachers work reinforces a culture of
“presentism, individualism, and conservatism” (Lortie, 1975, p. 208). Thus, in Lortie’s
view, teacher isolation can be traced to both the formal organization of schools and the
“uncertainties” of the profession.
Almost a decade later, Goodlad (1984) drew similar conclusions about the
dominant working arrangements of the teaching profession. Goodlad’s study,
documented in A Place Called School, drew upon data collected from a national sample,
including 1,350 elementary and secondary teachers at thirty-eight schools across a broad
range of demographic characteristics. Goodlad examined teachers’ perceptions of the
impact of isolation on their professional practice. In general, teachers reported that they
“rarely joined with peers on collaborative endeavors” (Goodlad, 1984, p. 187). Moreover,
the data suggested that “active, on-going exchanges of ideas and practices across schools,
between groups of teachers, or between individuals, even in the same schools” were rare
(Goodlad, 1984, p. 187).
McTaggart (1989) also examined how the conditions of work within schools
contributed to teacher privatism. His study focused on a district initiative to foster action
research among a select group of teachers to bring about instructional changes in
classrooms. He noted that even though district leaders espoused the importance of teacher
knowledge as a source of educational change, bureaucratic ways of working and thinking
limited the effectiveness of the initiative. Modes of communication, evaluation processes
and administrative procedures reinforced hierarchy, conformity to external mandates at
the expense of innovation. In this context, McTaggart concluded: “It was not the walls of
privatism which needed cracking in this school district, but the social milieu and
conditions of work which so effectively undermined the confidence and devalued the
knowledge, wisdom and credibility of its best leaders” (p. 360).
Flinders (1988) focused on privatism in terms of the ways teachers negotiate the
demands of teaching in their day-to-day work lives. Based on his fieldwork in two high
schools, Flinders argued that isolation was an adaptive strategy that teachers actively
incorporated to handle to myriad of competing demands placed on them by their teaching
duties. Rather than see teachers’ reluctance to engage with colleagues as a psychological
deficit or a consequence of the structure of schools, he emphasized the benefits teachers
derived by parsing out their interpersonal commitments (Flinders, 1988).
Collegiality and Teacher Professionalism
In the 1980s, an emerging body of literature began to challenge the impact of
teacher individualism and isolated classroom practices on school performance. During
this period, researchers began to examine the conditions that facilitated teachers’ learning
from each other within schools. Little (1982) studied the workplace characteristics most
closely related to “learning on the job.” Based on data collected through semi-structured
interviews and site observations at six schools, with 105 teachers and fourteen
administrators, Little (1982) concluded that: “staff development appears to have the
greatest prospect for influence where there is a prevailing norm of collegiality” (p. 339).
Schools where teachers regularly and routinely engaged in focused and concrete talk
about instruction, structured observations, as well as shared planning or preparation,
demonstrated greater success in both teaching and student learning. Little’s work
strongly suggested that the organizational context in which teachers worked strongly
influenced their participation in professional interactions with their colleagues (Little,
Susan Rosenholtz’s work (1989/1991) focused on examining the conditions
within teachers’ workplaces that contributed to school effectiveness. Her study drew
upon a sample of 78 elementary schools in eight school districts in Tennessee. Through
surveys and interviews, Rosenholtz noted patterns of interactions among teachers that
facilitated faculty cohesiveness, collaboration and professional learning. Rosenholtz
found that schools in which teachers talked about mutual assistance and advice related to
instructional practice on a regular basis tended to be more “learning-enriched.” Teachers
in these schools saw their professional growth as an on-going process that enhanced their
work. They saw their colleagues as “sources of their professional renewal” (p. 103). On
the other hand, schools dominated by norms of isolation and self-reliance tended to use
“material resources that were immediately accessible to them and that required minimal
effort” (Rosenholtz, 1989/1991, p. 103). More isolated schools tended rely upon a more
limited range of information such as their own experiences and knowledge to address
instructional concerns (Rosenholtz, 1989/1991).
Research on teachers’ workplace conditions as sources of their professional
learning shifted attention to promoting teacher professionalism as a key component of
educational reform. In the mid-1990s, educational researchers and policy advocates
began to argue for “putting teachers at the center of reform” (Darling-Hammond & et al.,
1994; Louis, Kruse, & Raywid, 1996). Several foundational studies looked at
collaborative working arrangements as a way of fostering teacher professionalism and
systemic educational change. These studies highlighted the ways that professional
communities helped teachers handle the “uncertainties,” “dilemmas,” and challenges of
teaching (Cuban, 1992) and served as sources of innovation and improvement of
instructional practices (M. W. McLaughlin, 1993; M. W. McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993).
The early body of work emphasized teachers’ active role in cultivating collaborative
work as a vital element in successful educational change aimed at building the capacity of
School as Community Models
Around the same time, school reform advocates also began to re-conceptualize
schools as communities as a way to “crack the wall of privatism” and foster more
collaborative working arrangements focused on improving teaching and learning (Fullan,
1982, p. 292). Situating our current focus on creating community within schools as part
of a larger educational reform requires a closer look at the historical context in which this
model developed. Sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies analyzed the shift in social relationships
from pre-modern community based ties to more formal ties characteristic of the
emergence of the market economy (Tönnies, 1887/2002). He drew a distinction between
gemeinschaft, social relations based on strong communitarian values and gesellschaft,
more formal individualistic, commercial interactions. Strong community bonds based on
common kinship, place or mind characterize gemeinschaft relations. Of these three forms,
community of the mind “implies only co-operation and co-ordinated action toward a
common goal” and “represents the truly human and supreme form of community”
(Tönnies, 1887/2002, p. 42). In this type of community, people relate to one another
“through their own wills in an organic manner” (p. 42). In his theoretical framework,
mutual obligations, common commitments and a strong sense of belonging form the basis
In contrast, gesellschaft relations are associated with the public world in which
associations are unified by contractual ties, formalized roles and hierarchies. Tönnies
noted that gesellschaft represented an “artificial construction of an aggregate of human
beings which superficially resembles” community based social relationships (Tönnies,
1887/2002, pp. 64-65). Unlike gemeinschaft relations in which people “remain
essentially united in spite of all separating factors,” in gesellschaft relations they are
“essentially separated in spite of all unifying factors” (p. 65). Thus, interactions are
individualistic, transitory and superficial.
The distinction between gesellschaft and gemeinschaft helps to shed light on the
kinds of reforms that began to be pursued in the early 1990s. Around this time,
educational practitioners and researchers began to issue calls for a more communitarian
approach to changing schools. The focus on fostering professional communities
challenged the dominant model of rational and efficient school organization that had been
place for more than a century. Teachers’ professional learning began to take a central
place as educational scholars identified members of school organizations as active
participants in the change process. The key to improving schools could be found in
creating conditions that fostered inquiry, learning and instructional improvement (Barth,
1990; Sergiovanni, 1994). These ideas represented a fundamental challenge to notions of
the hierarchical organization of schools, the purpose of leadership and the mission of the
Sergiovanni (1994) argued that the fundamental theory of school needed to be
changed from organizations to communities. Speaking to the American Educational
Research Association, he stated that: “the time has come for us to take a hard look at the
basic theories and root metaphors that shape the way we understand schools and that
shape the way we understand leadership and management within them” (Sergiovanni,
1994, p. 215). Sergiovanni noted that this shift would require not simply another
innovation to be implemented, but rather a profound rethinking about “what is true about
how schools should be organized and run, about what motivates teachers and students,
and about what leadership is, and how it should be practiced” (p. 217). Schools as
communities would be guided by “common goals, shared values and shared conceptions
of being and doing” (p. 219). Thus, instead of relying on bureaucratic forms of authority
based on monitoring compliance with rules, as envisioned by the advocates of
administrative efficiency, educational leaders would be actively cultivating the supportive
relationships that help professionals learn together.
Models of Learning Communities
The various strands of research and policy advocacy that emphasized fostering
conditions within schools to promote teacher professionalism and to challenge the
dominant model of school organization converged into a body of work that sought to
identify characteristics of learning communities. Drawing upon his work in the corporate
world, Senge (1996/2006) posited a model of learning organizations as:
organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results
they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured,
where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning
how to learn together” (p. 3).
Senge’s emphasis on developing the capacity for new ways of thinking and continual
improvement resonated with educational research that began to support the idea of
building professional communities among teachers.
Guided by this vision of school reform, educational researchers explored the
structures and processes that supported the development of professional communities
focused on instructional improvement. Louis, Kruse and Marks (1995) identified
structural, social and human resources that helped to foster the development of a school
wide professional community. Their framework included shared mission, vision and
values; an attentiveness to student learning; collective inquiry; collaborative teams;
continuous improvement focused on results. Structural conditions such as time to meet,
physical proximity as well as interdependence of teaching roles and process factors such
as communication channels that facilitated the access of expertise were the essential
elements of professional ties (S. Kruse, Louis, & Bryk, 1994; S. D. Kruse, et al., 1995).
Educational researchers have built upon the initial work on school wide
professional communities. In doing so, they have drawn upon educational research and
corporate literature to distill a set of inter-related factors that formed the basis of an
emerging conceptualization of professional learning communities. Based on longitudinal
as well as comparative case studies, researchers examined the essential characteristics
needed for the creation of professional learning communities (Hord, 1997; Morrisey,
2000; Pankake & Moller, 2003). Table 1 shows the key elements that characterize
professional learning communities.
Dimensions of professional learning communities
Shared and supportive Willingness to share authority.
leadership Participation with staff in sharing ideas, learning and inquiry.
Supports and encourages continuous learning.
Shared values and vision Staff actively engaged in developing shared vision.
Undeviating focus on student learning
Shared sense of purpose focused on goals.
Collective learning and Apply new ideas
application Collective inquiry
Expand capacity to collectively create desired results.
Shared personal practice Deprivatization of practice
Teachers openly share successes and challenges.
• Relationships Relationships based on trust, respect and genuine ethic of
• Structures caring.
Structures include school size, physical proximity,
communication systems, time and space that facilitate
teachers engaging in examination of instructional practices.
DuFour and Eaker (1998) in their book, Professional Learning Communities
placed PLCs within the trajectory of school reform efforts. Their work drew upon the
dimensions identified in the existing research literature and added a more explicit action
orientation and experimentation driven by an unrelenting focus on results (Dufour &
Eaker, 1998). In Dufour and Eaker’s “new model” of PLCs, practitioners “turn
aspirations into action and visions into reality” (DuFour and Eaker, 1998, p. 27). To
cultivate the reflective practice, focused on student learning and experimentation among
teachers, the authors argue that educators should consider the National Board for
Professional Teaching Standards “seriously” (i.e., emphasize learning rather than
teaching, design engaging curriculum, focus on student performance, collaborate with
colleagues, accept responsibility for student success, be lifelong learners, and function as
transformational leaders) (DuFour and Eaker, 1998).
Critiques of the “Schools as Communities” Approaches
Skeptics have raised questions about the efficacy of initial efforts to implement
community-based approaches to school reform. Criticisms fall into two broad categories.
The first set of arguments challenges the unproblematic image of the “school as
community” presented in the literature. The second set of arguments casts a critical light
on more recent efforts to implement the professional learning community model as
presented in popular educational leadership literature. Both categories of critiques are
Huberman (1993) countered images of the “schoolhouse as a bonded community
of adults and children” with his “artisan model of teaching” (p. 11). Teaching, according
to his argument, is based on a “highly individualistic and context-sensitive” (p. 22) base
of professional knowledge honed through personal experiences in the classroom engaging
with students. Therefore, efforts to foster collective working arrangements impeded
individual creativity and discretion (Huberman, 1993).
Other educational researchers have criticized Sergiovanni’s metaphor of “school
as community” based on its overemphasis on commonalities. These writers argue that
communities, especially professional communities among teachers, are far from uniform
and cohesive. Differences in values and ideologies emerge when teachers begin to work
together that are not adequately accounted for in images that focus almost exclusively on
common bonds (Achinstein, 2002b; Calderwood, 2000; Furman, 1998; Westheimer,
Hargreaves (1993) has highlighted the fundamental flaw of emphasizing
commonalities at the expense of divergent points of view. He cautioned against placing
too great an emphasis on shared values and ideas at the expense of “the power to make
independent judgments and to exercise personal discretion, initiative and creativity”
(Hargreaves, 1993, p. 69). Hargreaves pointed out that requiring collaboration could
potentially stifle opportunities for independence and initiative that may undermine
teachers’ competence and effectiveness. Mandated collegiality may inadvertently push
dissent underground and outside the realm of public discussion (Hargreaves, 1993).
Hargreaves has also noted that efforts to implement PLCs through top down mandates
run the risk of leading to “contrived collegiality” in which teachers go through the
motions without engaging in deeper examinations of practice (Hargreaves, 1991).
More recently, Giles and Hargreaves (2006) have questioned “the paradox of
learning organizations and communities in education” at the precise moment when
greater pressure for standardized reforms have been exerted upon schools (Giles &
Hargreaves, 2006)(p. 153). Hargreaves (2007) argued that as educational leaders have
taken the ideas behind PLCs and implemented them: “the result …is that their original
meaning is becoming diminished and their richness is being lost” (p. 183). In the onward
march to meet performance targets and avoid sanctions stipulated by state and federal
accountability systems, Hargreaves argues that PLCs run the risk of becoming “becoming
instruments of technocratic surveillance and oppression” (p. 184).
Authentic Teacher Collaboration
An exploration of the conditions that foster “authentic collaboration” requires
clarification of this term. Specificity in the application of this term is particularly
important given the slippery nature of the use of the language describing collective work
among teachers and the broad range of activities that been used to characterize
collaborative practices. For the purpose of the present investigation, Little’s research
suggests key elements in a working definition of authentic collaboration – shared sense of
responsibility for teaching, group ties based on professional obligations, and collective
support for developing professional practices. There is an underlying interdependence
that characterizes this work based on the notion that the success of all is inextricably
linked (Little, 1990b).
Talbert and McLaughlin’s research further elaborates upon this notion of joint
work by highlighting other critical components of authentic collaboration. In their
analysis of teachers’ professional communities, they emphasize the importance of
opportunities to learn, collegial support for learning and experimentation as well as
collective problem solving. In addition to technical knowledge, their work also suggests
an ethic of service that is grounded in mutual respect and caring for students,
expectations for achievement (Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994, 2002).
The present study draws upon the existing body of work to propose a working
definition of authentic collaboration. This type of exchange is characterized by: active
engagement in professional learning (P. Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001;
Wegner, 1998), a shared commitment to and clear focus on improving student outcomes
that are guided by an ethic of service (Little, 1990c; M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001),
grounded in mutual respect and caring for others (S. D. Kruse, et al., 1995; Lieberman &
Miller, 2008). It also involves a process of self-reflection and openness to challenging
existing beliefs and assumptions (Bolam, et al., 2005; Stoll, et al., 2006). In addition,
professional communities engaged in genuine collaborative dialogue address conflict and
divergent points-of-view openly and directly (Achinstein, 2002a; de Lima, 2001;
Hargreaves, 2001). These kinds of interactions are qualitatively different than those
based exclusively on social or personal ties. As Grossman, et. al. and others have pointed
out a collaborative professional community is not simply any group of teachers
assembled (Pamela Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2000).
The move toward creating collaborative working arrangements among teachers
has been guided by a desire to promote teacher learning as a way of making schools more
responsive to a diversity of student needs. Garvin (1991) notes that without learning,
organizations “simply repeat old practices,” resulting in “cosmetic” changes and
“improvements” that “are either fortuitous or short-lived” (p. 78). While there appears to
be broad agreement on the potential benefits of collaboration for organizational learning,
its purpose is oftentimes not made explicit (Dufour & Eaker, 1998; Hord, 2009;
Leithwood, Leonard, & Sharratt, 1998; Louis, 2006b; Louis, Kruse, & Raywid, 1996;
Scribner, et al., 1999). The lack of clarity as to aims has led to slipperiness in terms of
how to foster learning within organizations that makes a difference.
Before proceeding with an examination how collective work can or cannot
facilitate organizational learning, it is necessary to define the assumptions underlying the
call for greater collaboration among teachers. The literature on professional communities
is grounded in the assumption that learning is a collective process (Fullan, 2001).
Through dialogue and critical reflection on their teacher practices, educators develop new
knowledge base within the team that they can apply to their professional work (Mitchell
& Sackney, 2001). Organizational learning, therefore, is not simply an accumulation of
individual knowledge acquisition; but rather, through mutual engagement the members of
the community construct new meanings and create new professional practices (Louis,
1994; Wenger, 2000).
Types of Organizational Learning
Achinstein (2002) and others have identified two broad categories of
organizational learning – 1) focuses on making adjustments by detecting problems and
devising solutions directed at incremental change and 2) focuses on critical reflection and
inquiry as foundation for fundamental change (Achinstein, 2002a; C. Argyris & Schon,
1978; March, 1991; Mezirow, 2003; Servage, 2008). Argyris (1993) characterized these
two types of learning within organizations as single-loop learning or refining specific
techniques within an existing structure and double-loop learning which involves a social
process of engaging in critical dialogue and sharing of understandings that leads to an
examination of the underlying assumptions that supports the existing situation (Chris
Argyris, 1993). Scribner, et.al. (1999) suggest that double loop learning is critical to
sustain professional communities (Scribner, et al., 1999).
Despite its potential for fundamental change of professional practices, deep
learning has proven elusive. According to Argyris, it is, perhaps, sometimes the very
success in “single-loop” learning that stands as an obstacle to deeper levels of learning.
He concludes when these kinds of strategies do not work, professionals tend to respond
defensively by casting blame on others, not themselves (C. Argyris, 1991). Argyris’s
insights suggest that if we are to avoid falling into the quagmire of defensiveness, and
thus closing off possibilities to new learning, educators need to find ways of fostering
conditions that support engagement in a critical evaluation of existing ideas and practices
in light of new information.
Much of the literature on professional learning communities resonates with the
notion of instrumental learning (Dufour, 2004; Dufour & Eaker, 1998; Hipp, Huffman,
Pankake, & Olivier, 2008; Hord, 1997). Dufour, et. al. have written extensively on the
role of these kinds of communities in fostering professional development among teachers
and in improving student learning (Dufour & Eaker, 1998). These authors tend to present
teacher collaboration as a self-fulfilling process that leads to continual improvement.
This work seems to follow a logic that defines successful reform efforts in terms of
teachers working collaboratively, identifying instructional goals, and changing classroom
practices. According to this line of thinking, in the process they develop a sense of
collective self-efficacy as they see the impact of their actions on student learning which
feeds the cycle toward greater improvement (Dufour, 2004; Schmoker, 2006; Strahan,
2003). This work seems to suggest that by simply putting the structures of team meeting
logs, specific and focused instructional goals, common assessments and key questions
into place, meaningful collaboration follows.
The underlying logic of the popular literature on PLC’s, in its emphasis on
process and procedural aspects of collaboration, places this model in a contradictory
relationship with “double loop” learning. Servage (2008) argues that: “The problem with
professional learning communities is that they largely focus on instrumental learning, yet
anticipate…the transformative impact of communicative learning” (p. 69). The
instrumental model of learning posits that with the arrangement of the right pieces aimed
at a specific objective, instructional changes will result.
The current study explored teacher collaboration within the context of
organizational learning that involves active engagement in challenging underlying
assumptions upon which instructional practices are based. Thus, particular attention was
focused on the conditions and intergroup dynamics that support deeper levels of learning.
Organizational Learning and Conflict
Educational researchers’ emphasis on the necessity for “shared” values and like-
mindedness as an essential component to teachers professional communities may
overlook the importance of divergent points of view in the change process (Cole, 1991;
Hargreaves, 1991). McLaughlin and Talbert’s study of collective work of high school
math teachers cautioned against collaboration for the sake of collegiality. Their work
suggests that establishing collegial relationships is not sufficient (M.W. McLaughlin &
Talbert, 2001). In some instances, these kinds of working relationships can serve to
reinforce ineffective instructional strategies (Lima, 2001; M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert,
2001). Based on her research on schools within so-called collaborative cultures, Little
pointed out that the connection between collegial work cultures and changes in
instruction cannot be assumed to be direct or solid. She argued that such work groups can
be both a vehicle for change and for maintaining the status quo (Little, 1990b).
Along similar lines, other researchers have highlighted the emergence of conflict
as teachers begin to enter into collaborative working arrangements (Abbate-Vaughn,
2004; Achinstein, 2002b; de Lima, 2001; Hargreaves, 2001). Lima (2001) argued for a
rethinking of the intersection between professional and interpersonal relationships within
a school community. Lima pointed out that friendships among teachers might actually
serve to reinforce the status quo, because they may be reluctant to challenge each other.
In his work, he noted that friendships may actually work against efforts at school change
(de Lima, 2001). Drawing upon Lima’s research, Hargreaves also noted a tendency
among teachers to value appreciation, personal support and acceptance when working
collectively; however, they also tend to avoid conflicts with those they regarded as close
friends and those they regarded as more distant professional colleagues (Hargreaves,
2001). This avoidance of disagreements and conflict may interfere with the kind of
critical scrutiny and exploration of existing practices required for school improvement
efforts (Hargreaves, 2001).
The role of conflict in organizational learning captures the central paradox of the
need for commonality, yet divergence to continually grow. Uncovering these dynamics
requires an examination of the points of divergence between teachers operating from very
different points-of-view or theories-in-use. Based on case studies of two urban, public
middle schools, Achinstein found that conflict, rather than being a source of pathology
and dysfunction, can be an important source of new learning (Achinstein, 2002a). Her
findings suggest that: “communities that can productively engage in conflict…have
greater potential for continual growth and renewal” (Achinstein, 2002b, p. 448). She
further argues that: “the ability to engage in critical reflection and openly explore dissent
is vital to fostering a renewing and learning community” (Achinstein, 2002a, p. 123).
Based on her own research, Achinstein called for further research to explore
different outcomes of collaborative efforts and their relationship to a group’s ability or
inability to honestly and directly confront critical differences. Moreover, an exploration
of the role of ideologies and their impact on how a professional community experiences
conflict and how teachers respond in these circumstances has been identified as a gap in
the literature (Achinstein, 2002a). Taking Achinstein’s perspective into account, any
exploration of the conditions that foster authentic collaboration needs to include an
examination of the ways teachers handle conflicts in constructing collegial relationships.
Groups that display mutual admiration and arrive at consensus quickly may be operating
under the dynamics of “pseudocommunity” and, thus, skip over essential elements in
deeper levels of learning (de Lima, 2001; P. Grossman, et al., 2001). This study was
designed to explore the relationship between approaches to conflict and organizational
learning within the context of teacher professional communities.
Given the difficulties experienced by educators seeking to facilitate organizational
learning and authentic collaboration, research suggests that trust is essential. Bryk and
Schneider’s work (2002) indicates that: “a broad base of trust across a school community
lubricates much of a school’s day-to-day functioning and is a critical resource as local
leaders embark on ambitious improvement plans” (p. 133). Leithwood, Leonard and
Sharratt (1998) noted that “a willingness to take risks in attempting new ideas,” (p. 262)
“honest, candid feedback” from colleagues, as well as “a strong belief in the value of
honest and open communication” (p. 266) fostered organizational learning among
teachers (Leithwood, et al., 1998). When people in an organization trust each other, there
is a foundation upon which to build supportive relationships, foster the free flow of
information, and develop shared values and identity. Trust, in essence, makes the open,
healthy and productive interactions that have the potential of leading to deeper levels of
organizational learning and performance “below the green line” possible.
Trust serves as a critical foundation for open and honest professional dialogue that
contributes to high performing organizations. Trust creates a sense of safety that allows
for reflective practice within groups. For teachers to feel a level of comfort in admitting
mistakes or uncertainties, trust among colleagues is essential. Another aspect of trust
involves a sense of being able to rely on another teacher to follow through or
Definition of Trust
In their multidisciplinary review of four decades of scholarship, Tschannen-
Moran and Hoy (2000) noted that creating more genuinely collaborative schools depends
upon a serious consideration of the dynamics that support the cultivation of trust. They
argued that: “if schools are to realize the kinds of positive transformation envisioned by
leaders of reform efforts, attention must be paid to issues of trust” (p. 585). Drawing upon
this review of the literature, they posited a multidimensional definition of trust as: “an
individual or a group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on confidence
that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open” (Hoy and
Tschannen-Moran, 2003, pp. 185-186).
Trust in Schools
To gain a more in-depth view of how dynamics of trust work within school
organizations, Bryk and Schneider (2002) provided a useful model for analyzing the
levels of relationships. Bryk and Schneider posited a three-level theory to explain how
relational trust can impact an organization. At the intrapersonal level, individuals engage
in a complex cognitive process of evaluating the intentions of others. At the interpersonal
level, the individual evaluations are assessed in light of institutional role expectations and
the particular characteristics of a school community. There are four criteria used to
discern the intentions of others as well as the degree to which their behavior is consistent
with role and cultural expectations. These four dimensions are respect, competence,
personal regard for others and integrity. A deficiency in any one of these areas can have a
negative impact on relational trust. The presence of all four of these criteria can have
potentially positive consequences on organizational effectiveness in terms of decision-
making, enhanced social support for innovation, efficient social control of adult work,
and “sustains an ethical imperative among organizational members to advance the best
interests of children” (p. 34).
Bryk and Schneider’s insights suggested that certain aspects of teachers’
interactions foster higher levels of trust than others. For instance, sharing a sense of
purpose and commitment to serving students is consistent with mutual respect,
competence, positive regard and integrity. A teacher would assess the intentions of their
colleague in a favorable light if their behavior is consistent with role and cultural
expectations and therefore this would engender trust as a foundation of their working
relationship. The same could be said for perceptions of competence. If a teacher were
perceived to lack skill in meeting the needs of students or in his/her instructional
repertoire, then his/her behavior would be evaluated negatively in terms of competence.
This would create a strain on relational trust. In a grade level team or faculty, this lack of
trust could have deleterious effects on creating a climate of openness and critical
examination of instructional practices.
Trust in Professional Communities
Educational researchers have identified trust as an essential component in
building professional communities (A. Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999; A. Bryk &
Schneider, 2002; Hallam & Hausman, 2009; Louis, 2006b; Morrisey, 2000). Based on
her research on the implementation of PLC’s as part of the Southwest Educational
Development Laboratory (SEDL) initiative, Morrisey (2000) concluded that: “The
development of professional learning communities in the SEDL studies hinged on the
level of trust and respect that had developed within the school community” (p. 29). Bryk
and Schneider (2002) reached a similar conclusion based on their work in schools in
Chicago school system. They contended that: “Trust is a strong predictor of success.
Trust alone won’t solve instructional or structural problems, but schools with little or no
relational trust have practically no chance of improving” (p. 132). Louis (2006) argued
that: “trust is a precondition for developing PLC’s, but few schools (and probably fewer
school administrators) have confronted the issue of how to improve this component of
organizational functioning” (p. 9). For these reasons, Hallam and Hausman (2009)
emphasize that school leaders need to cultivate trust as part of the process of developing
“professional learning communities to improve organizational practices and student
outcomes” (p. 403).
Trust has also been connected to various conditions that support open and healthy
interactions and the organizational climate underlying effective professional
communities. Authentic collaboration involves a critical engagement with ideas,
willingness to take risks, and experiment with new practices that are consistent with what
Hoy, et.al. (2006) call “school mindfulness” or the degree to which teachers are
encouraged to play with ideas, to create novelty in their classrooms, to feel safe taking
risks and to experiment with new practices as well as to stick with the process of change
in the face of challenges. In their research, they found that school mindfulness and faculty
trust were both necessary conditions for each other (Wayne K. Hoy, Gage, & Tarter,
2006). Trust has also been associated with organizational health (W.K. Hoy, Smith, &
Trust and Student Outcomes
Creating conditions that foster trust among teachers has been directly and
indirectly linked to student outcomes. Tschannen-Moran (2001) explored the relationship
between collaboration and trust in light of student achievement. In the study, she defined
collaboration as the degree of “democratic decision-making” and “participation” in
curricular and classroom-based decisions. She found statistically significant links
between collaboration and trust among three key relationships – principal, teachers and
parents – and student achievement outcomes (Tschannen-Moran, 2001). Goddard, et. al.
(2007), in their study of the relationship between teacher collaboration and student
achievement, noted that trust tended to provide for more productive cooperative working
arrangements which led to greater collective efficacy among faculty. In turn, stronger
collective efficacy was associated with higher levels of student achievement.
In conclusion, the present study builds upon and extends the current body of
research on teacher collaboration and teacher professional communities by providing an
exploration of the inter-relationships between dimensions of trust, approaches to conflict
and specific competencies needed to engage in critical dialogue. By drawing upon both
survey and interview data, the current study delves more deeply into the inter-personal
interactions and dynamics that support the development of faculty trust and
organizational learning. Moreover, the present study suggests specific strategies
educational leaders may use to build positive working relationships at their school site as
a foundation for cultivating trust and supporting teachers’ professional learning and
Rationale for Multiple Case Study Approach
The study was guided by a set of research questions that sought to explore the
conditions that nurture and support the development of productive, student-focused
collaboration aimed at fostering teacher engagement and learning, which is the
foundation of instructional improvements in practice. The present study focused attention
on the dimensions of trust that are most critical to making authentic collaboration
possible. It also explored the conditions that support the development of trust among
faculty and how trust is related to the professional community’s frame of reference for
dealing with conflict. As such, the current study also sought to suggest communication
and conflict resolution competencies that might be helpful in facilitating trust among
teachers during the collaborative process.
To explore the conditions that foster teacher collaboration that is focused on
deeper, critical reflection and learning, the present study incorporated a multiple case
study approach. This study examined the dynamics of a school’s professional community
that are less visible, below the green line, such as interpersonal trust and approaches to
conflict. Such an exploration involves a complex set of circumstances that are difficult to
tease out of the context in which they occur. The degree to which professional
interactions are embedded within multi-faceted organizational and interpersonal
conditions is too complex for survey or experimental designs alone. Case study
methodology is useful in helping to answer questions of why or how a complex
phenomenon occurs in a context over which the researcher has little or no control (Yin,
1994). Therefore, a case study approach was well suited for this project, because it holds
the potential for illuminating a more: “in-depth understanding of the situation and
meaning for those involved” (Merriam, 1998, p. 19). In seeking to illuminate possible
explanations for questions regarding how faculty trust and approaches to conflict support
or detract from authentic collaboration, this methodology is particularly useful. The
inclusion of more than one site in the study allowed for analysis of a broader range of the
conditions underlying collective work among teachers, thus bringing into sharper focus
the variables that may or may not contribute to open, healthy dialogue focused on student
Research has identified the importance of trust as a critical component of teacher
professional communities (Bolam, et al., 2005; Stoll, et al., 2006). A number of
quantitative studies have helped to link the importance of the relationship of trust to other
organizational factors as well as student outcomes (A. Bryk, Schneider, B., 2002;
Goddard, et al., 2007; Wayne K. Hoy, et al., 2006; Tschannen-Moran, 2001; Vescio, et
al., 2008). These studies provide practitioners with evidence of the importance of trust as
well as an analysis of organizational patterns and relationships identified as critical in the
definition of more authentic collaboration. However, these studies do not provide a clear
understanding of the process by which communities develop and sustain trust. The role
trust plays in creating an organizational climate that is open and supportive of deeper
levels of professional learning is also less clear.
The qualitative methods included in the present study allowed for a closer look at
the dynamics at work within collaborative groups. Calls for research have identified the
need for qualitative studies to delve more deeply into questions of how trust is cultivated
and supported within schools as well as its impact on conflict and organizational learning
(Achinstein, 2002b; Tschannen-Moran, 2001). Thus, by including qualitative data in the
form of interviews and observations, the present study was designed to fill in this gap in
the literature. By doing so, the study provides a more in-depth exploration of some of the
conditions that may facilitate the development of trust within a professional community.
By combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, this study not only helps
provide practitioners with more useful information on how trust impacts the development
of healthy collaborative relationships, but also how this core resource might be fostered
and sustained within working groups of professionals. The present study draws upon both
qualitative and quantitative evidence in the context of two school sites to provide ways to
reflect upon how the presence of variables such as trust and approaches to conflict
supported or hinder collaboration and to delve into the inter-personal processes that
facilitate more productive and engaging dialogue within a professional community. The
current study extends beyond other research that has identified trust as a critical
component of professional learning communities by exploring elements of trust and how
they are related to a faculty’s collaborative work. The interview and site observations
included in the present study allow for a more in-depth examination of the
communication competencies that facilitate healthy approaches to conflict that emerge
when teachers work together on instructional practices.
A purposive sample of sites was selected for inclusion in the study from a target
population of elementary schools in Northern California. At the outset of the study,
schools selected for inclusion in the study met the following criteria: 1) had existing
structural arrangements for teacher collaboration in place for at least two years (allocation
of time for teachers to meet on a regular basis to discuss teaching and learning, etc.), 2)
had the same principal on site for at least three years, 3) from medium-sized districts with
enrollment ranging from 1500-2000 students, 4) serve students from diverse ethnic,
linguistic and socio-economic demographic backgrounds and 5) were located in Sonoma
County. These criteria were selected because diverse school populations present
teachers with a broad range of student needs that present challenges to adjust
instructional practices. The existence of collaborative structures as well as stability of
principal helped to ensure that patterns and processes noted in the study are not conflated
with issues related to implementing new approaches or transitions in leadership.
Educational consultants from the County Office of Education were consulted to
identify sites within districts that had collaborative arrangements in place. From the list of
districts provided, two districts were excluded from inclusion in the study, because sites
did not meet the criteria for diversity among student populations. Two districts were
identified as having sites that met the first cut of the selection criteria in that they served a
diverse students body. The superintendents of these districts were contacted by phone to
inquire as to which sites within their districts met all of the selection criteria and to secure
permission for participation of sites within their districts. Superintendents identified sites
within their districts that met all of the criteria. Three sites meeting the criteria were
considered for inclusion in the study. The site principals were then contacted to discuss
specific arrangements for survey distribution, interviews and observations. One of the
sites declined to participate. Two principals provided their written consent to have their
sites participate in the study.
Elementary School A
Elementary School A is located in Northern California and serves an ethnic,
socio-economic and linguistically diverse student population of approximately 535
students. Hispanic and white students constitute the two largest ethnic groups, with 49%
and 38% of the total student body, respectively. Approximately 45% of the students
receive free or reduced lunch and 41% students are English Language Learners.
School A has had a relatively stable faculty consisting of twenty-four teachers.
They have an average of fifteen years of teaching experience and an average of thirteen
years working in the district. These averages are slightly higher than the state and county
averages. The teacher staff is predominantly white (92%).
The school has a reputation for academic excellence that is reflected in its student
achievement data. Its 2008 Statewide Rank is 8 (out of a possible 10) and its Similar
Schools Rank is 10. For the past five years, the school has earned an Academic
Performance Index of 800 or more overall. The school’s Academic Performance Index
(API) is 883. Moreover, each of the demographic groups achieved an API of over 800
(see Table 2 below).
Elementary School A - Academic Performance Index
2008 API 2009 API Growth
Hispanic or Latino 809 865 56
White (not of Hispanic Origin) 875 895 20
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 821 858 37
English Learners 827 867 40
Students at School A have also met federal accountability targets for Annual
Yearly Progress (AYP). For 2009, all students needed to reach the benchmarks of 46%
proficiency in English Language Arts and 47.6% in mathematics (See Table 3 and Table
Elementary School A - 2009 Annual Yearly Progress - English Language Arts
Percent At or Met
Above Proficient AYP Criteria
Schoolwide 66.7 Yes
Hispanic or Latino 63.3 Yes
White (not Hispanic Origin) 70.8 Yes
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 62.9 Yes
English Learners 64.5 Yes
Elementary School A - 2009 Annual Yearly Progress – Mathematics
Percent At or Met 2009
Above Proficient AYP Criteria
Schoolwide 82.5 Yes
Hispanic or Latino 78.8 Yes
White (not Hispanic Origin) 86.2 Yes
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 76.9 Yes
English Learners 78.7 Yes
Elementary School B
Elementary School B is located in Northern California and serves a diverse
student population of 467 students. The majority of the students are Hispanic or Latino
(71% students). White and Asian students constitute 11% and 10% of the student body,
respectively. Approximately 74% of the students receive free or reduced lunch and 67%
students are English Language Learners. These percentages are higher than the state and
county averages for English Learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students.
School B has a faculty consisting of nineteen teachers. They have an average of
10.4 years of teaching experience and an average of 9 years working in the district. These
averages are slightly lower than the state and county averages for teaching experience,
which are 13 and 14.98 years respectively. There are three teachers who are new to the
profession and have between one to two years of experience. All of the teachers are
The school is currently in its first year of Program Improvement. Its 2008
Statewide Rank is 1 (out of a possible 10) and its Similar Schools Rank is 1. The school’s
Academic Performance Index (API) is 713. The API growth school wide and for each of
the demographic group is in shown in Table 5 below.
Elementary School B - Academic Performance Index
2008 API 2009 API Growth
Schoolwide 653 713 60
Hispanic or Latino 662 703 41
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 646 709 63
English Learners 662 699 37
Students at School B have also met federal accountability targets for Annual
Yearly Progress (AYP) in English Language Arts by passing by safe harbor, “which is an
alternate method of meeting the AMO if a school, LEA, or a subgroup shows progress in
moving students from scoring at the below proficient level to the proficient level”
(California Department of Education, http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ay/altmethod09.asp,
accessed on September 24, 2009). Students in every significant demographic group met
the federal AYP target in Mathematics of 47.5% scoring proficient or above in 2009.
Elementary School B - 2009 Annual Yearly Progress – English Language Arts
Percent At or Percent At or
Above Proficient Above Proficient
Schoolwide 22.3 29.2
Hispanic or Latino 22.2 26.4
White (not Hispanic Origin) 32.6 50.0
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 21.2 27.2
English Learners 18.8 23.9
Elementary School B - 2009 Annual Yearly Progress – Mathematics
Percent At or Percent At or
Above Proficient Above Proficient
Schoolwide 35.5 51.7
Hispanic or Latino 39.2 51.8
White (not Hispanic Origin) 23.3 56.1
Socioeconomically Disadvantaged 34.7 50.2
English Learners 38.8 50.5
Participants for the study included the census elementary school (K-6) teachers
from the school sites selected for inclusion in the study. There are twenty-four full-time
equivalent teachers at School A and eighteen full-time equivalent teachers at School B.
Participants for interview portion of the study were selected from those who completed
surveys. Initially, an effort was made to ensure representation of teacher perspectives
across Kindergarten through sixth grade at each site. However, based on interview
respondents’ indication of willingness to participate in the survey portion of the survey
constrained the representation of perspectives across grades. At School A, eight interview
participants were selected across first through fifth grades. At School B, there was a more
limited range of teachers at various grade levels who expressed a willingness to
participate in the interview. Therefore, six interview participants at School B were drawn
from Kindergarten through third grade. No upper grade teachers indicated a willingness
to participate in the interview portion of the study.
Table 8 shows the results of the sensitivity analysis conducted with respect to
teachers who did not participate in the study. At Site A, three out of four Kindergarten
teachers participated in the survey or interview portion of the study. One teacher from
first, second, third, fourth and sixth grade levels did not provide responses to the either
section of the study. Of this group of non-responders, one of two of the male teachers at
Site A did not participate. At Site B, two of the four Kindergarten teachers and two of the
three second grade teachers participated in the survey part of the study. Only one teacher
from each of these grade levels also participated in the interview. One of the three
teachers from third grade participated in both the survey and interview. No fifth or sixth
grade teachers responded to the survey or interview. At Site B, none of the three male
teachers participated in the study.
Sensitivity Analysis of Non-Responders
Site A Site B
Grade Gender Grade Gender
K F K F
K F K F
2 F K F
2 F 1 F
3 M 2 F
3 M 3 M
5 F 4 F
5 M 6 F
The survey instrument used in this study included scales drawn from surveys
developed by other researchers to measure faculty trust (W. K. Hoy & Megan
Tschannen-Moran, 2003), the degree to which teachers perceive themselves to be part of
a learning community as well as understandings and approaches to conflict within a
teacher work group (Achinstein, 2002a). In addition, the faculty survey included items to
help determine the patterns of interaction and advice networks among teachers at each
site (Penuel, Riel, Krause, & Frank, 2009).
The faculty survey consisted of four main sections (see Appendix C). The first
part included thirty-four (34) items drawn from the published scales (described below)
for faculty trust, approaches to conflict as well as teacher professional communities that
asked respondents to rate the statements on a Likert scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6
(strongly agree). The second part of the survey asked respondents to indicate their
perceptions of their school in terms of collective responsibility for professional standards
and student learning. These items were rated on a five point Likert scale from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) or “Not sure.” The third part of the survey asked
respondents to select the frequency with which they seek help from colleagues. Using a
numbered roster, teachers indicated frequency along a continuum: “once or twice a year”,
“Monthly,” “weekly” or “daily.” In addition, they selected categories of the types of help
provided (i.e., curriculum and/or assessment, an idea for a student learning activity,
feedback on teaching, problem with a student, problem with a colleague or problem with
Measures of faculty trust. Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003) have developed
the Omnibus T-Scale, “a short, valid and reliable measure of faculty trust for use in both
elementary and secondary schools” (p. 181). This instrument is based on Hoy and
Tschannen-Moran’s multi-faceted operational definition of trust: “an individual’s or
group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on confidence that the latter
party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open” (p. 185-186). They define each
of the elements of trust accordingly:
• “Benevolence – confidence that one’s well-being will be protected by the trusted
• “Reliability – the extent to which one can count on another person or group.”
• “Competency – the extent to which the trusted party has knowledge and skill.”
• “Honesty – the character, integrity, and authenticity of the trusted party.”
• “Openness – the extent to which there is no withholding of information from
others” (Hoy and Tschannen-Moran, 2003, p. 186).
The Omnibus T-Scale includes twenty-six items that measures faculty trust along four
dimensions of social relationships – colleagues, principal and clients (i.e., students and
parents). The survey uses a six-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6
(strongly agree). Teachers are asked to provide a response of the degree to which they
agree with the items. Sample items from the Omnibus T-Scale include:
• Teachers in this school typically look out for one another.
• The teachers in this school have faith in the integrity of the principal.
• Even in difficult situations, teachers in this school can depend on each other.
• Teachers in this school are open with each other.
• Teachers in this school trust each other.
• Teacher in this school trust the principal.
Norms for the Faculty Trust Scales are based on two large scale studies that were
conducted on a sample of ninety- seven high schools in Ohio, sixty-six middle schools in
Virginia, and 146 elementary schools in Ohio to determine the psychometric properties of
the measures. The alpha coefficients of reliability for all three sub-scales ranged from .93
(colleagues), .94 (clients) and .98 (principal). Factor analysis conducted on the sub-scales
support construct validity of the measures. Discriminant validity is also strong as the sub-
scales allowed researchers to distinguish between faculty trust and other related
constructs. Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003) concluded that: “the trust subscales
yielded reliable and valid measures for faculty trust in principals, colleagues and clients”
(p. 203). Items used from the scales for faculty trust in colleagues and the principal can
be found in Appendix A.
Measures of frames of reference for approaching conflict. Achinstein adapted
McLaughlin and Talbert’s survey to include items to measure the degree to which
teachers embraced or avoided conflict. Her survey included the following scales:
Teacher-Learning-Community measures, Embrace-Conflict measures, and Avoid-
Conflict measures. Factor analysis conducted on the scales support construct validity of
the measures. All items had a factor loading of at least .62. Items from these scales were
included in the survey to measure elements of professional learning community as well as
the degree to which conflict is embraced or avoided (see Appendix A). Respondents were
asked to rate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements on a
six-point Likert scale (Achinstein, 2002a; M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). Items
from this instrument used on the faculty survey can be found in Appendix A.
Social network analysis measures. Social Network Analysis offers
methodological advantages for studying the interactions among teachers that form the
basis of professional community. Through social networks, teachers access important
sources of expertise. Examining informal linkages among teachers allows for a better
understanding of the internal structure of a school community. Research on social
networks suggests that teachers’ subgroup exerts a powerful influence over their attitudes
and behaviors. Focusing on the actual patterns of interaction provides a lens through
which subgroup networks can be compared with the school organization as a whole. This
kind of methodological approach also provides a way for educational leaders to identify
those who play a critical role in the flow of expertise throughout the school organization.
To determine patterns of professional interaction, including advice seeking and
receiving, Social Network Analysis items was included on the faculty survey found in
Appendix C (Penuel, et al., 2009). Specifically, teachers were provided with a numbered
roster including the names of all staff members at the school, including teachers and
principal. They were asked to identify their closest professional colleagues and those
from whom they sought and received advice or assistance. Respondents indicated the
frequency of these interactions, along a continuum -- once or twice a year, monthly,
weekly, or daily. In addition, they were asked to provide information on the types of help
they received from their colleagues (i.e., curriculum, assessments, idea for learning
activity, problems with a colleague, problem with a student, or problem with principal).
The purpose of the interview was to delve more deeply into how trust does or
does not develop as well as what conditions sustain trust within professional
communities. Since conflict stances are also a central focus of the present study,
interviews focused on types of differences, strategies for handling divergence and general
approaches to disagreements. Interview protocols included structured, semi-structured
and open-ended questions. Interview items drawn from Achinstein’s study were
incorporated to provide more in-depth examination of teachers beliefs and approaches to
conflict (Achinstein, 2002a). See Appendix D for sample questions for faculty interviews.
Semi-structured interviews also included questions related to the development of trust
within the school community, degree of engagement in and main areas of focus for
collaborative discussions with colleagues. Open-ended questions allowed for a more in-
depth exploration of the rationale behind specific practices and patterns of interaction
among teachers. The interviews also included some questions that flow from direct
interaction with interviewees to seek clarification or to follow-up on information
provided in the survey responses. Interviews focused on how teachers work together,
exploring process of development of trust, experiences of handling conflict with
colleagues as well as the bases for their collaborative work.
To determine the degree to which teachers’ perceptions are reflected in
professional interactions, a series of observations of team and faculty meetings were
conducted at each site focusing on expressions of divergent points of view, openness of
discussion, levels of engagement, and topics discussed. Two meetings were observed at
each site. At School A, two grade level (second and fifth grades) meetings were
observed. The range of grade levels provided a glimpse into the dynamics at different
grade levels across the K-6 spectrum. At School B, a faculty meeting and a grade level
meeting was observed to provide information on whole group as well as grade level
interactions. Observations ranged from thirty minutes to forty-five minutes, up to two
hours per site. Data was collected using field notes. Field notes of observations were
reviewed to glean key themes, topics of discussion and patterns of interaction.
All teachers at each school site were provided with a brief description of the
purpose of the study and the Experimental Subjects Bill of Rights and Consent Form.
Consent for participation in the faculty survey and interview was secured by having
respondents sign the forms. Respondents who signed the consent form were provided
with a copy of the faculty survey with a cover sheet coded with an identification number
to ensure confidentiality. On the cover sheet, respondents were also asked if they would
be willing to participate in a follow-up interview at a later date. The researcher returned a
few days later to collect completed surveys to provide respondents an opportunity. A
second attempt was made to collect surveys. Stamped and addressed envelopes were
placed in teachers’ mailboxes with a note attached. This provided respondents to
complete and return surveys. The time to administer the survey was approximately thirty
Data from each survey was coded and entered into an Excel spreadsheet and
imported into SPSS for further analysis. Data analysis of survey responses was conducted
using SPSS. Survey data was analyzed to determine descriptive statistics of central
tendency and distribution and patterns of responses. The Levene’s Test for Equality of
Variances was also conducted to determine if the differences noted in the dispersion of
scores for each site were statistically significant at the p < .05 level.
Independent samples t tests were conducted on the mean scores for items on each
scale. The purpose of the t test is “to compare the actual differences between the means
of the groups with the difference expected by chance” (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2009, p.
335). The use of a parametric test, such as an independent samples t test, is appropriate if
the following assumptions are met: 1) “the measured variable must be normally
distributed in the population (or at least that the form of the distribution is known); 2) the
data represents “an interval or ratio scale of measurement, although in some cases ordinal
data, such as from a Likert-type scale, may be included”; 3) “the selection of subject is
independent” meaning that “the selection of one subject in no way affects selection of
any other subject”, and 4) “the variance among comparison groups are equal (or at least
that the ration of the variances is known)” (Gay, et.al., 2009, p. 334). In the current study,
the independent samples t-test was selected as an appropriate method for determining
whether or not differences between the sites noted were statistically significant because
the variables measured used a interval scale, and the subjects from each site were selected
independently from those at the other site, and variances between the two groups was
Correlational analysis was also performed to determine the strength of
relationships between key variables of interest. Specifically, Pearson r correlation
coefficients were calculated to test the strength and direction of the relationships between
the five dimensions of trust in their colleagues and principal (benevolence, competence,
reliability, honesty, openness) with teachers’ perceptions of the teacher professional
community at their site, as well as, their self-reported tendency to avoid or embrace
After collecting survey data, the interview phase of the study began. A total of
eight teachers were interviewed from Site A and six teachers were interviewed from Site
B. Subjects selected for a follow-up interview were drawn from those who had indicated
a willingness to participate in an interview on the faculty survey cover sheet. All subjects
selected for interview were contacted by phone or e-mail and invited to participate in the
interview part of the study. Upon receiving either verbal or written consent to participate
in an interview, an appointment was scheduled to conduct the interview in a quiet
location at the subject’s work site to secure their consent to participate in the interview
portion of the study. Interviews took place at the teachers’ workplace after the end of the
school day. Interviews ranged from thirty to forty-five minutes per participant. All
interviews were digital recorded.
Digitally recorded interviews were transcribed. Data was coded, labeled and
categorized into themes based an iterative analysis of the transcriptions. Results of the
qualitative analysis were presented in narrative form with tables incorporated as
necessary to illuminate patterns, themes and categories of analysis.
Site observations of professional meetings were arranged with teachers in
advance. Days and times for observations of team meetings and faculty meetings lasted
approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. A total of up to two hours of observations for
each site was included in the study. Observation log was kept to note patterns of
interaction, topics or themes of discussions.
Limitations of the present study
There are several limitations of the present study. The data collected to measure
aspects of collaboration within a professional community is based largely on teachers’
perceptions of their work with colleagues at their school site. Because external
observations by those not directly related to the school site were not provided,
conclusions drawn from these data are merely suggestive of general patterns and
interpretations based on these data are exploratory in nature. Ideally, efforts would be
made to validate the teachers’ perceptions to provide a basis for stronger generalizations.
Despite these limitations, efforts were made to include different sources of information to
provide contextual interpretation for teacher perceptions. Site observations provided a
way to validate themes and patterns identified in survey and interview responses.
Another limitation of the current study is that data was collected from a relatively
small number of teachers at two school sites. Moreover, the qualitative data collection
included in the study was further constrained by the limited number of teachers who
expressed a willingness to be interviewed. Relying upon responses from self-selected
interview participants may have limited the range of perspectives included in the study.
The patterns of interactions and conditions noted in the study are drawn from a narrow
group of respondents and therefore must be viewed as exploratory and suggestive of
themes that might be analyzed in greater depth in future studies with larger samples.
In addition, the study is limited to two elementary schools located in northern
California. As such, the phenomena under study are sensitive to dynamics that occur
within this specific context. Ideally, future study would include a broader range of sites,
including secondary schools, as well as a greater number of sites to allow for an analysis
of how different contexts influence the process of creating and sustaining meaningful,
student-focused teacher collaboration. A greater variety and scope of sites would
strengthen the external validity and thus, would allow for more definitive statements to be
drawn from this research.
The data analysis that follows includes both quantitative and qualitative data
gathered from the two elementary school sites. The quantitative analysis includes
descriptive statistics of the results of responses collected using the faculty survey. The
survey results provided one lens through which to view the dimensions of teacher
collaboration within professional communities at the two sites. These data help to
identify key themes and patterns of responses in relation to the variables of interest,
namely the level of faculty trust, approaches to conflict and the presence of important
elements of professional communities identified in the research literature. Qualitative
data in the form of in-person interviews and site observations of team meetings provided
another lens through which to view the underlying dynamics of teacher collaboration.
These sources of data provided ways to explore developments and changes that have
taken place over the years at each site as the professional communities have worked to
create more collaborative working arrangements.
Observations of collaborative team meetings were conducted at each school site
(see Table 9). Each observation lasted approximately 30-45 minutes in duration. Field
notes recorded details about the setting, purpose of meeting, patterns of interaction,
specific content of discussion as well as general degree of engagement as reflected in
body language and speech. At Site A, two grade level team meetings were observed and
recorded in field notes. The teams observed included second and fifth grade teachers. At
Site B, one faculty meeting and one grade level meeting was observed.
Observations at Site A
Second grade team meeting. The meeting was a regularly scheduled grade level
meeting that is scheduled during early release day (Wednesdays). The teachers exchange
students for specific instructional purposes such as reading. Each teacher takes a different
group for core reading instruction. The groups are leveled based on assessment
information. The teachers set the purpose and agenda (although no formal agenda was
used). The teachers focused on details of an upcoming field trip, reading rotation,
students’ responses to state testing and end-of-the year benchmark assessments.
The teachers began by generating a list of topics to be discussed. During the
discussion all teachers contributed ideas, asked questions and offered suggestions. The
conversation appeared to be a lively exchange of ideas – participants made eye contact,
listened, asked questions, etc. The general tone of the discussion was relaxed. At different
points, they shared humor and laughter. They asked clarifying questions to check their
understanding of others’ point-of-view. They stated their ideas. When individuals were
talking the others listened. They made eye contact or looked at the material the group
reviewed. They appeared to feel at ease with each other.
During the meeting, teachers talked about teaching but focused almost exclusively
on logistics. They spent about half of the time discussing the end of the year field trip.
Discussions related to end of the year benchmarks and planning for reading rotations
focused on timing (when to administer tests) and content (activities that each group
would be doing for reading instruction in the upcoming week).
Fifth grade team meeting. This meeting was a regular grade level meeting that is
scheduled during early release day (Wednesdays). The teachers set the purpose and
agenda (although no formal agenda was used). The teachers focused on end of the year
benchmark assessment for English Language Arts, preparing students for the upcoming
STAR tests, and planning instruction for the 5th grade Science Fair.
The teachers exchange students for specific instructional purposes such as reading
and math. They also group students for work on projects related to science and arts. The
general tone of the discussion was relaxed. At different points, they shared humor and
laughter. They asked clarifying questions to check their understanding of others’ point-
of-view. They stated their ideas. When individuals were talking the others listened. They
made eye contact or looked at the material the group reviewed. Two teachers appeared to
be more verbal – speaking and asking questions. The other teacher listened and observed
and then shared his ideas or questions. They appeared to feel at ease with each other.
Although the group did not have a formal agenda, teachers did follow a specific
set of topics that focused on current teaching concerns. Throughout the discussion, each
participant was actively engaged in the discussion (sharing ideas/thoughts, asking
questions, raising concerns, etc.). They openly questioned the curriculum and its
approach to teaching concepts. They expressed concerns about elements of the end of
term assessments. The team’s discussion focused mainly on end-of-the-year assessments,
planning for instruction and instructional strategies. The principal had asked the group for
feedback on assessments and they felt comfortable making revisions and explaining their
thinking behind them. Little discussion was noted related to effectiveness or efficacy of
teaching. Teachers had control over topics discussed and ways that they approached their
Observations at Site B
Whole faculty meeting. The general format and purpose of faculty meetings was
to provide information and gain input from teachers across the school. The meeting took
place in the school library. The library was divided into sections with separate tables and
chairs. A table was located to the side with plates of sandwiches, soft drinks, and cookies.
Some teachers were finishing their lunch. For the most part, teachers were seated with
their grade level peers. The principal stood toward the front of the room. During the
course of the meeting the following topics were addressed: The Toolbox Project (an
initiative to teach conflict resolution strategies to students), Visual Thinking Strategies
(an instructional approach incorporating visual prompts to help develop students’ critical
thinking skills), teacher materials orders for next school year, student placement for next
year, the building of solar panels, and approval of application for “Cool School” after
school programs. These topics were discussed in a rather hurried way with a few minutes
focused on each topic.
During the meeting, some teachers expressed vocal opposition to several of the
topics. When discussing the “Toolbox Project”, a first grade teacher raised concerns
about the necessity for the program since “Kindergarten and first grade teachers already
do this.” Another teacher spoke up and cited an example where the program had been
successfully implemented at another school site in another district. The first grade teacher
and principal engaged in a rather tense (slightly raised voices, waving arms, etc.)
discussion about the need for the program. Upper grade teachers seated toward the back
of the room talked about the large class sizes and reduction of instructional assistant time.
While the principal proceeded through the list of topics, some teachers listened
intently, while others talked with people seated near them. When the topic shifted to
student placement for next year, one teacher asked about the class size the district set for
Kindergarten through third grade. The principal responded that she did not know. The
principal then handed out enrollment numbers for next year. The sixth grade teacher
asked “Am I going to have a class of 38 next year?” She said, “38, 48 what’s the
difference?!” Her tone is sarcastic. She returns to her conversation with teachers seated
next to her. There appears to be obvious tension among upper grade teachers who audibly
grumble during the discussion about the numbers of students in classes next year.
The observation illustrated some of the themes identified in the interview
responses. One, the division between primary and upper grade teachers was palpable.
The upper grade teachers have strong feelings about the class sizes. The number of
initiatives discussed during the span of a thirty-minute meeting also supports the
observation of teachers about the continual flow of new directives. The body language
and tones of voice used to communicate suggested an overriding feeling of tension
among the staff.
Kindergarten team meeting. The five teachers who participated in the meeting
consisted of one student teacher, one new teacher and three veteran teachers with over
twenty years of experience. The meeting took place in one of the veteran teacher’s
classrooms. The topics discussed included: 1) the end of the year field trip to
Armstrong Woods, 2) the creation of “ocean packets” (to keep students busy while
teachers assessed other students), the focus of phonics instruction for the next week, and
the end-of-the-year assessments.
During the discussion, two of the veteran teachers who have worked together for
many years (spanning back to another school site) tended to dominate the conversation.
They spoke to each other and tended to direct the others. The other veteran, student and
new teacher sat and listened. The first year teacher spoke only occasionally, mainly to
offer to run off the materials for the work packets or phonics centers.
The time spent focusing on instructional matters was relatively short in duration,
approximately 10-15 minutes. When discussing planning for instruction for the next year,
the two dominant teachers rattled off a list of concepts and materials that could be used in
center activities. One showed how to use word sorts with the phonics blends. The group
also discussed how to conduct the end of the year English Language Development (ELD)
assessments. One of the more vocal teachers asked when they were “stopping ELD”?
The other veteran teacher suggested “this week” to which her peer replied: “Good,”
whispering to the researcher, she said: “You didn’t hear that.” The remainder of the
grade level team’s meeting time was devoted to discussing field trip logistics.
Overall, dialogue among teachers appeared to be limited both in terms of topics
discussed and the degree of participation and engagement among teachers. The dominant
form of communication between the two veteran teachers and the others was to “tell
them” what to do, not to discuss as a group. Little evidence from this observation noted
the existence of “authentic collaboration” as defined in the parameters of this study.
Comparison of Teacher Meetings Observed at Elementary School A and Elementary
Observed Dimension Elementary School A Elementary School B
Frequency of Meetings Staff meetings twice a month; Staff meetings once a week;
grade level meetings once a grade level meetings once a
Who Defines the Agenda or Staff meetings -- principal and Staff meetings -- principal;
Initiates Topics teachers; grade level meetings grade level meetings -- teacher
-- teacher directed. directed.
Who Runs the Meeting? Staff meeting -- principal; Staff meeting -- principal;
Grade level meetings -- all Grade level meeting -- more
participating teachers take veteran teachers in grade level
active role. direct conversation.
Types of Topics Discussed English language arts Staff meeting - Initiatives (ex.
instruction, end-of-the-year Toolbox Project, Visual
assessments; science unit and Thinking Strategies, "Cool
related student projects; field School" program, ELD);
trip logistics. Grade Level meeting -- ELD
assessments; field trip; reading
Level of Interaction High degree of engagement - Uneven level of engagement -
teachers actively listen, make a few dominate the
eye contact with each other, conversation; others sit back
ask clarifying questions, offer and listen or engage in side
ideas and participate in conversations.
Communication styles questioning, clarifying, stating arguing, raised voices; stating
positions, humor. positions; clarifying;
Quantitative analysis of the responses to the faculty survey is provided in the
following section. A copy of the faculty survey can be found in Appendix C. Copies of
the survey were distributed to all teachers (a total of forty-two) at both sites, as described
above in Chapter 3. A total of twenty-seven surveys were returned for an overall response
rate of 64%. At Site A, sixteen teachers completed surveys yielding a response rate of
67%; at Site B the eleven teachers returned completed surveys for a response rate of 61%.
The faculty survey included main groupings of items that measured teachers’
perceptions about their school, the degree to which elements of a professional community
are in place at the school site, faculty trust in the principal and colleagues, and frames of
reference for approaching conflict (see Appendix A). The sub-sections that follow
provide a summary of the results for each of the set of items on the faculty survey.
Perceptions of school
Teachers at both sites were asked to provide their perceptions of their school.
They were asked about the degree to which teachers at their site: 1) feel responsible to
help each other do their best, 2) help maintain discipline across the school, 3) improve the
school, 4) help student develop self-control, 5) set high standards for themselves and 5)
ensure that all students learn. Respondents indicated their general level of agreement with
these statements by providing rating across a four point Likert scale with 1 being
“strongly disagree”, 4 being “strongly agree.” Responses indicating that respondents were
“not sure” were not assigned a value.
The majority of respondents at both sites indicated a high level of agreement with
items related to collective responsibility for the whole school. They tended to see other
teachers as feeling responsible for key aspects of the school community – helping each
other to do their best; improving the school; seeing that all students learn, etc.; the whole
school – to help other teachers, students and for contributing to the improvement of the
school (see Table 10). Independent samples t test analyses conducted on each item
revealed no statistically significant differences between the mean scores for each site.
Descriptive Statistics for Teacher Perceptions of School by Site
Site A Site B
N Mean S.D. N Mean S.D.
Feel responsible to help each other do their best 16 3.81 0.403 10 3.30 0.823
Help maintain discipline in the entire school 16 3.69 0.470 11 3.27 0.905
Take responsibility for improving the school 15 3.81 0.403 11 3.36 0.674
Feel responsible for helping students develop self-
control 15 3.87 0.352 11 3.36 0.674
Set high standards for themselves 15 4.00 0.000 10 3.50 0.527
Feel responsible for seeing that all students learn 15 3.87 0.352 11 3.18 0.751
Teacher learning community measures
A key research question that guided the current study focused on the authentic
collaboration and the conditions that support it among a professional community. The
Teacher Learning Community measures were used to determine the extent to which
meaningful, student-focused collaborative work occurred at each school site. Despite
their similar perceptions of their school, noted above, the two sites differed with respect
to their perceptions of their professional community. Table 11 shows the results of the
responses on the Teacher Learning Community measures for both sites. In general,
teachers at Site A rated most of the key elements of a professional community higher
than Site B. The overall composite score for all items on the Teacher Learning
Community scale for Site A was 5.5 and 4.2 for Site B.
Descriptive Statistics for Teacher Learning Community Measures by Site
Site A Site B
Item Mean SD Mean SD
There is a great deal of cooperative effort
among the staff. 5.84 0.44 4.27 1.27
Teachers at this school are continually learning
and seeking new ideas from each other. 5.47 0.76 4.45 1.13
Teachers in this school keep to themselves.* 5.38 1.20 3.73 1.19
Teachers critically reflect together about
challenges and successes of the school. 5.33 1.11 4.18 1.08
Teachers in this school identify themselves as
being part of a whole school community. 5.81 0.40 4.36 1.21
Teachers in this school believe all students can
succeed. 5.50 0.63 4.00 1.10
Teachers regularly meet to discuss particular
common problems and challenges they are
facing in the classroom. 5.62 0.72 4.45 1.04
Teachers share beliefs and values about what
the central mission of the school should be. 5.38 0.62 4.18 0.87
You can count on most staff members to help
out anywhere, anytime even though it may not
be part of their official assignment. 5.19 0.75 3.82 1.25
Composite Teacher Learning Community 5.54 0.41 4.16 0.94
* Reverse coded
The means of the scores for each site were compared using independent samples t
tests to determine if the differences noted on the Teacher Learning Community measures
were statistically significant at a probability level less than or equal to .05. Statistically
significant differences were noted on all items on the Teacher Learning Community scale
(see Table 12). Teachers at Site A were more likely to engage in cooperative effort, seek
new ideas from one another, identify as a whole school community, and provide mutual
support to their colleagues. They were also more likely to share common values and
beliefs in the school mission and that all students can succeed. These results suggest that
the differences in the responses on the items are unlikely to occur by chance.
Results of Independent Samples t test on Teacher Learning Community Measures
Item t p
There is a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff. 3.94 0.00
Teachers at this school are continually learning and seeking
new ideas from each other. 2.80 0.01
Teachers in this school keep to themselves.* 3.51 0.00
Teachers critically reflect together about challenges and
successes of the school. 2.64 0.01
Teachers in this school identify themselves as being part of a
whole school community. 3.84 0.00
Teachers in this school believe all students can succeed. 4.10 0.00
Teachers regularly meet to discuss particular common
problems and challenges they are facing in the classroom. 3.48 0.00
Teachers share beliefs and values about what the central
mission of the school should be. 4.12 0.00
You can count on most staff members to help out anywhere,
anytime even though it may not be part of their official
assignment. 3.56 0.00
Composite Teacher Learning Community 4.56 0.00
* Reverse coded
Another key research question addressed by the current study involved the aspects
of faculty trust that make authentic collaboration possible. In the next section, results of
the survey analysis are explored with respect to the various aspects of faculty trust noted
in the responses by teachers from each site.
The faculty survey consisted of items related to dimensions of faculty trust noted
in the literature and developed by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003). For the purpose of
the current study, trust is defined as: “one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based
on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable and competent”
(Tschannen-Moran, 2004, p. 17). The key elements of trust measured by the survey
instrument included teachers’ perceptions of the honesty, reliability, openness and
competence of their colleagues and principal (see Appendix A). Separate scales provided
information on how the faculty views their principal and their colleagues with respect to
each dimension of trust. Respondents were asked to rate each item on a six point Likert
scale, ranging from 1 strongly disagree to 6 strongly agree. Four items on the trust scales
were reverse coded.
Faculty trust in the principal. Survey responses suggest that teachers at Site A
have a higher degree of trust in their principal than teachers at Site B along all
dimensions (see Table 13). In general, respondents at Site A rated their level of trust in
the principal highest in the areas of honesty and benevolence. Typically, the principal can
be counted on to show concern for teachers. They also reported that they have faith in the
principal’s integrity. They also viewed the principal as reliable and open about what is
happening at the school site.
The faculty at Site B rated their principal slightly lower with respect to their level
of trust in their principal (see Table 13). In general, teachers rated the principal the
highest on the dimension of competence (5.09 mean score) and the lowest on openness
(4.55 mean score). These results suggest that teachers view their principal as having the
necessary professional skills and competencies and being less open about what is
happening at the school site.
It is also noteworthy that responses to each aspect of trust showed greater
variability. With the exception of items related to the principal’s competence, it should
also be noted that the responses provided by teachers at Site A were fairly consistent with
little variation (see Table 13). The standard deviation for benevolence, honesty, openness
and reliability ranged from .342 to .512 indicating consistency across responses. In
contrast, the standard deviations for responses provide by teachers at Site B ranged from
1.19 to 1.37, indicating a slightly larger spread among the responses (Table 13).
Descriptive Statistics for Dimensions of Faculty Trust in the Principal by Site
Site N Min Max Mean Deviation
Benevolence A 16 5.0 6.0 5.81 0.403
B 11 3.0 6.0 4.73 1.191
Competence A 16 2.0 6.0 5.69 1.014
B 11 2.0 6.0 5.09 1.221
Honesty A 16 5.5 6.0 5.88 0.034
B 11 2.0 6.0 4.64 1.362
Openness A 16 5.0 6.0 5.69 0.048
B 11 2.0 6.0 4.55 1.368
Reliability A 16 4.5 6.0 5.69 0.048
B 11 1.5 6.0 4.86 1.306
The means of the trust in principal scores for each site were compared using
independent samples t tests to determine if the differences noted were statistically
significant at a probability level of less than or equal to .05 (see Table 14). Statistically
significant differences in the scores for faculty trust in the principal were noted on the
dimensions of honesty, openness, reliability and benevolence. These results suggest that
the differences noted between the responses from both sites in terms of the faculty’s trust
in their principal’s honesty, openness, reliability and benevolence were not likely to occur
Results of Independent Samples t test on Dimensions of Trust in Principal
Dimensions of trust t p
Honesty 2.953 0.01
Openness 2.658 0.02
Benevolence 2.353 0.04
Reliability 2.296 0.03
Competence 1.383 0.18
Standardized scores developed by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003) provided
another point of comparison between the measures of faculty trust in the principal from
the two sites. Norms for the Faculty Trust Scales are based on two large-scale studies that
were conducted on a sample of ninety- seven high schools in Ohio, sixty-six middle
schools in Virginia, and 146 elementary schools in Ohio to determine the psychometric
properties of the measures (Hoy and Tschannen-Moran, 2003). The standardized score
for each scale has a mean of 500 and a standard deviation of 100. Therefore, a school
with a standardized score of 700 (two standard deviations above the mean) has a higher
degree of faculty trust than 97% of the schools in the normed sample. For the purpose of
the current study, standardized scores for levels of faculty trust in the principal were
calculated for both sites and compared to norms developed by Hoy and Tschannen-
Moran (2003) based on responses from the sample of elementary schools noted above.
Tables 15 shows the results of each item used to calculate the standardized score
on the trust in the principal scale (see specific items on faculty survey found in Appendix
C). The standardized score for trust in the principal at Site A was 641, which is two
standard deviations higher than the normed sample. At Site B, the standardized score was
529, which falls within the average range. Based on these results, the level of trust faculty
at Site A have in the principal is higher than 84% of the other elementary schools in the
sample from which the norms were developed.
Standardized Scores for Faculty Trust in Principal at Elementary School A and B
Site A Site B
Items for Faculty Trust in the Principal Avg Avg
Item 2 Integrity 5.88 4.64
Item 4 Acts in best interest of teachers 5.62 4.91
Item 5 Teachers can rely upon 5.75 4.82
Item 7 Teachers trust principal 5.62 4.64
Item 9 Doesn't tell what's teachers going on - R 5.69 4.55
Item 10 Does not show concern for teachers - R 5.81 4.73
Item 15 Teachers are suspicious of Principal - R 5.94 5.36
Item 16 Competence 5.69 5.09
Score 640.99 528.64
R = items reverse coded.
Faculty trust in colleagues. Survey responses also suggest that teachers at Site
A have a high degree of trust in their colleagues along all dimensions (see Table 16). In
general, respondents indicated that they trusted their colleagues to demonstrate
benevolence by acting in their best interest (mean score of 5.88) and to be competent in
their professional responsibilities (mean score of 5.81). They also tended to rate their
colleagues highly with respect to reliability (mean score of 5.69). Teachers’ responses
indicate that they tend to believe that they can count on their colleagues to consistently
follow through on commitments. Responses on each dimension of trust were fairly
consistent. Standard deviations ranging from .342 to .706 were noted for each element of
trust in colleagues (see Table 16).
Descriptive Statistics for Dimensions of Faculty Trust in the Colleagues by Site
Site N Min Max Mean Deviation
Benevolence A 16 5.0 6.0 5.88 0.342
B 11 3.0 6.0 4.27 0.905
Competence A 16 5.0 6.0 5.81 0.403
B 11 3.0 6.0 4.73 0.786
Honesty A 16 3.5 6.0 5.22 0.706
B 11 3.0 5.3 4.30 0.714
Openness A 16 4.0 6.0 5.19 0.655
B 11 3.0 6.0 4.73 1.010
Reliability A 16 5.0 6.0 5.69 0.479
B 11 2.0 6.0 4.64 1.120
The faculty at Site B rated their colleagues above four on a six point Likert scale
along all dimensions, but slightly lower than teachers at Site A (see Table 16). In general,
teachers at Site B rated their colleagues the highest on competence, openness and
reliability (with mean scores of 4.73, 4.73 and 4.64 respectively). They rated their
colleagues slightly lower on benevolence and honesty (with mean scores of 4.27 and
4.30, respectively). The distribution of scores for each site indicates much less agreement
between respondents on the dimensions of faculty of trust in colleagues at each site.
Standard deviations on the dimensions of trust related to benevolence, openness and
reliability ranged from .905 to 1.120 for Site B, indicating greater dispersion of responses
on these items.
The means of the faculty trust in colleagues scores for each site were compared
using independent samples t tests to determine if the differences were statistically
significant at a probability level of .05 or less (see Table 17). Statistically significant
differences in scores for faculty trust in colleagues were noted with respect to reliability,
benevolence, honesty and competence. These results suggest that not only did teachers at
Site A rate their colleagues higher on these dimensions of trust, but that the mean scores
noted were not likely to occur by chance.
Results of Independent Samples t tests for Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Colleagues
Dimensions of trust t p
Honesty 3.322 0.00
Openness 1.441 0.16
Benevolence 5.607 0.00
Reliability 2.934 0.01
Competence 4.719 0.00
Standardized scores developed by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003) were also
used to compare the overall perceptions of faculty trust in colleagues at both sites. Table
16 below summarizes the results of the items used to calculate the standardized scores on
the faculty trust in colleagues scale of the survey (see Faculty Survey in Appendix C) as
compared to the scores derived from the normed sample of 146 elementary schools as
reported by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran (2003). The standardized score for faculty trust in
colleagues at Site A was 617, which is two standard deviations higher than the normed
sample. At Site B, the standardized score was 501, which falls within the average range.
Based on these results, the level of trust faculty at Site A have in their colleagues is
higher than 84% of the other elementary schools in the sample from which the norms
Standardized scores for Faculty Trust in Colleagues at Elementary Schools A and B
Items for Faculty Trust in Colleagues Avg for Site A Avg for Site B
Item 1 Look out for one another 5.88 4.27
Item 3 Can depend upon each other 5.69 4.64
Item 6 Trust each other 5.69 4.64
Item 8 Open with each other 5.19 4.73
Item 11 Integrity 5.44 4.41
Item 12 Suspicious of each other - R 5.75 5.36
Item 13 Honesty 5.00 4.18
Item 14 Competence 5.81 4.73
Score 617.53 501.48
R = items reverse coded.
Frames of reference for approaching conflict measures
Another key research question addressed by the current study involved teachers’
frames of reference for approaching conflict as a component of authentic collaboration.
Teachers were asked about their perceptions of and approaches to conflict with their
colleagues. Frames of references for dealing with conflict have been identified in the
literature as an important part of collaboration and organizational learning (Achinstein,
2002a; Uline, et al., 2003). The survey items focused on gathering data on teachers’
tendencies to see conflict negatively or positively as well as their overall responses to
conflict that arise among faculty members (see Appendix A).
The Conflict-Avoidance measures, as developed by Achinstein (2001), consisted
of items that asked respondents the extent to which teachers at their site avoided conflict,
“swept [it] under the rug” and “quickly try to reunite” after a conflict (see Appendix A).
A composite score was calculated by averaging the scores on responses to these three
items (see Table 19). The composite scores for conflict avoidance at both sites were fairly
consistent (with means of 3.87 for Site A and 3.63 for Site B). On the item asking
whether faculty at their school tend to avoid conflict, ratings from teachers at Site A and
Site B were four or above on a six point Likert scale. Despite the pattern that suggested a
tendency to avoid conflict, responses from teachers at both sites indicated that teachers do
not approach conflict by “sweeping under the rug.” Survey responses on this item
indicated a slightly lower rating of just over two out of six on the Likert scale. A key
difference between the two sites was noted in the effort to reunite after a conflict.
Teachers at Site A rated the item on reuniting as a faculty higher than teachers at Site B
(mean scores of 5.06 and 4.00, respectively).
Descriptive Statistics for Conflict-Avoidance Measures by Site
Site A Site B
Mean S.D. Mean S.D.
We tend to avoid conflicts between teachers. 4.25 1.612 4.18 1.328
After a conflict, we quickly try to reunite as a faculty. 5.06 0.772 4.00 1.247
When conflict arises between teachers, we usually "sweep
it under the rug." 2.20 1.373 2.55 1.508
Composite Conflict Avoidance 3.87 0.754 3.633 0.909
The means of the Conflict Avoidance mean scores for each site were compared
using independent samples t tests to determine if the differences noted on these measures
were statistically significant at a selected probability level (see Tables 20). Site A rated
the item that asked the degree to which they “reunite quickly as a staff after a conflict”
higher than Site B. The mean scores on this item were statistically significant (t = 2.696,
p = .01). However, no other significant differences were noted on the Conflict Avoidance
scale (see Table 20).
Results of Independent Samples t test on Conflict Avoidance Measures
Item t p
We tend to avoid conflict between teachers. 0.116 0.91
After a conflict, we quickly try to reunite as a faculty. 2.696 0.013
When conflict arises between teachers we usually "sweep it
under the rug." -0.608 0.55
Composite Conflict Avoidance score 0.699 0.49
The Conflict Embrace measures, as developed by Achinstein (2001), consists of
items that asked respondents the extent to which teachers tend to view conflict as a
productive part of collaboration and learning (see Appendix A). In general, teachers at
Site A indicated that they are slightly more inclined to be open to perspectives different
from their own and to see these differences as opportunities to learn (see Table 21).
Teachers at both sites rated the inevitability of conflict as part of the collaborative process
similarly (with mean scores of 3.7 and 3.6). For both groups, this item was rated the
lowest. In addition, greater dispersion of the scores on this item is noted below with
standard deviations of 1.534 and 1.265, respectively.
Descriptive Statistics for Conflict Embrace Measures by Site
Site A Site B
Mean S.D. Mean S.D.
Teachers are open to perspectives different from their
own. 5.00 0.730 3.82 1.079
The staff seldom evaluates its programs and activities.* 5.56 0.814 4.64 1.120
Teachers in this school acknowledge differences and
conflict as a natural part of school life. 4.56 1.263 4.09 1.136
Teachers at this school understand that conflict is
inevitable when they collaborate. 3.73 1.534 3.6 1.265
Our stance toward our work is one of inquiry and
reflection. 4.63 0.834 4.18 1.079
Teachers at this school see differences and conflict as an
opportunity to learn. 4.63 1.025 3.73 1.272
Composite Conflict Embrace 4.73 0.739 4.08 0.779
* Reverse coded.
Based on the independent samples t test analyses, statistically significant
differences were noted between the mean scores for each site on the extent to which they
embraced conflict. The divergence in mean scores on items measuring the expression of
openness to perspectives different from their own, evaluation programs and activities and
perception of differences and conflict as a source of learning were statistically significant.
On every other measure on the Conflict Embrace measures, no statistically significant
differences were noted between the two sites (see Table 22).
Results of Independent Samples t test on Conflict Embrace Measures
Item t p
Teachers are open to perspectives different from their own. 3.41 0.00
The staff seldom evaluates its programs and activities.* 2.49 0.02
Teachers in this school acknowledge differences and conflict as a
natural part of school life. 0.99 0.33
Teachers at this school understand that conflict is inevitable when
they collaborate. 0.23 0.82
Our stance toward our work is one of inquiry and reflection. 1.71 0.10
Teachers at this school see differences and conflict as an
opportunity for learning. 2.03 0.05
Composite Conflict Embrace score 2.11 0.46
* Reverse coded.
A key research question for the current study focused on how trust is related to a
professional community’s frame of reference for handling conflicts. To test the degree to
which the various dimensions of trust are related a faculty’s views and approaches to
divergent perspectives, correlational analyses were conducted. Table 23 shows the
results of the analyses and the presence and strength of the relationship noted between the
different aspects of trust in the principal, the ratings for teacher professional community
and the tendency to view conflict constructively.
Correlations: Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Principal and Teacher Community,
Conflict Embrace and Conflict Avoidance
Teacher Conflict Conflict
Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Principal Community Embrace Avoidance
Benevolence Pearson correlation 0.365 0.114 -0.109
Sig. (2-tailed) .066 0.587 0.604
N 26 25 25
Competence Pearson correlation .556** 0.481* 0.101
Sig. (2-tailed) .003 .015 .631
N 26 25 25
Honesty Pearson correlation 0.698** 0.544** 0.224
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .004 .282
N 26 25 25
Openness Pearson correlation 0.318 0.152 -0.330
Sig. (2-tailed) .113 .468 .107
N 26 25 25
Reliability Pearson correlation 0.574** 0.517** 0.129
Sig. (2-tailed) .002 .008 .539
N 26 25 25
* significance at .05
** significance at .01
Based on these results, teachers’ perceptions of their principal’s competence,
honesty, and reliability are most significantly related to their perception of the presence
of a “teacher community” as well as their tendency to embrace conflict as a constructive
aspect of the collaborative work (see Table 23). Positive and statistically significant
correlations were noted between a faculty’s perception of a principal’s competence,
honesty, and reliability and the degree to which they viewed conflict as a source of
learning and a productive aspect of collaborative efforts (see Table 23). These results
suggest that if a faculty has a high degree of trust in the principal’s skills and abilities to
do their job, his/her honesty in communicating with staff and consistency in following
through on professional obligations, then there is a greater likelihood that teachers will
also view themselves as a professional community and will approach conflict as a source
of productive learning and a positive aspect of collegial relationships.
Correlational analyses were also conducted to test the degree of a relationship
between the various elements of trust in one’s colleagues, perceptions of the teacher
professional community and its general approach to conflict. Table 24 shows the results
of these analyses. These results indicate that all dimensions of trust are significantly
related to a faculty’s perception of the presence of professional community in their
school. Measures of reliability, benevolence, competence, and honesty revealed a strong
positive correlation with teacher community and conflict embrace. It is also noteworthy
that conflict avoidance was not significantly related to any of the aspects of faculty trust.
Very small positive correlations were noted between benevolence, competence, honesty,
reliability and conflict avoidance. A small negative correlation was noted between
conflict avoidance and a faculty’s perception of openness among members of the
Correlations: Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Colleagues and Teacher Community,
Conflict Embrace and Conflict Avoidance
Teacher Conflict Conflict
Dimensions of Faculty Trust in Colleagues Community Embrace Avoidance
Benevolence Pearson correlation 0.809** 0.515** 0.234
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 0.008 0.260
N 26 25 25
Competence Pearson correlation .738** 0.429* 0.299
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .032 .146
N 25 25 25
Honesty Pearson correlation 0.639** 0.544** 0.205
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .005 .326
N 26 25 25
Openness Pearson correlation .402* 0.384 -0.136
Sig. (2-tailed) .042 .058 .516
N 26 25 25
Reliability Pearson correlation 0.862** 0.603* 0.124
Sig. (2-tailed) .000 .001 .555
N 26 25 25
* significance at .05
** significance at .01
Social network analysis
While respondents at both sites perceived their professional community as
extending to the whole school, a closer examination the social network data suggests that
teachers interact more frequently and on a broader range of issues with those colleagues
in their immediate grade level range.
Frequency of interactions. In general, teachers tended to indicate that their
interactions with their grade level colleagues ranged from daily to weekly (see Figures 1
and 2). In some cases, interactions with colleagues in adjacent grade levels tended to
occur on a regular basis at the same frequency as with grade level peers. Teachers at both
sites indicated that while they did meet and talk with colleagues across the school
community, spanning Kindergarten through sixth grade, these interactions occurred less
frequently (monthly to once or twice a year).
Based on the social network data gathered from each site, unique patterns of
interactions were noted. At Site A, first grade teachers tended to interact with each other
less frequently than teachers at other grade levels (see Figure 1). Based on responses, it
appears that, for the most part, teachers in grades 2-5 interact with grade level colleagues
on a daily basis. The low response rate on the survey for teachers in Kindergarten and
sixth grade does not provide enough information from which to make adequate
Gr. K 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
4 4 4 4 4 2 1 1 2 1 3 1
6 4 4 4 3 2 2
8 1 2 3
9 1 1 1 2
10 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
11 1 1 1 4 4 2 2 2 2 1 1 2
12 4 4 4 4
14 4 4 4 1
15 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 4 4 4 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
16 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4
18 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 4 4 3 4 2 2
20 1 1 1 3 1 2 2 3 3 2 3 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3
21 2 2 2 3 3 3
22 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 1 1 2 3 2 1 1 2 3 3 4 4 4 4 1
23 1 1 1 2 3 3 3 4 3 2 2
24 1 1 2 1 2 4 1 3
Frequency of Interactions – 1 = yearly, 2 = monthly, 3 = weekly, 4 = daily
Social Network Analysis showing frequency of interactions at Elementary School A.
The general pattern of more frequent contact with grade level colleagues was also
noted at Site B. With rare exception of one first grade teacher, most respondents indicate
that they have between weekly and daily contact with teachers at the same or adjacent
grade levels (see Figure 2). Because of the unevenness of responses across the grade
levels, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the patterns of interactions found at the
other grade levels.
Gr. K 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
2 3 4 3 3 1 1 1 4
4 2 4 3 1 2 1 1
5 3 4 4 3 3 3 3 3
6 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 3 3 4 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
7 2 1 1 1 4 4 4 4 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
8 2 1 3 4 2 1 1 2 1 1
12 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 2 2 1 1
15 1 2 1 3 3 2 2 4 3 3 3
16 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 4 3 2 3
19 3 3 3 3
Frequency of Interactions – 1 = yearly, 2 = monthly, 3 = weekly, 4 = daily
Social Network Analysis showing frequency of interactions at Elementary School B.
Types of help sought from colleagues. The data also highlights patterns within
the social network among teachers in terms of the types of help they seek and the
colleagues they go to for assistance.
Site A. Figure 3 shows the patterns of responses indicating which
colleagues teachers at Site A chose to solicit help from and the specific areas in which
they seek help. Looking at the table, it appears that teachers at some grade levels seek
assistance from colleagues across a broader spectrum of the professional community,
while others interact only with their colleagues in closely related grade levels.
For the most part, Kindergarten through second grade teachers tend to engage
with a more limited range of colleagues. Of the seven teachers across Kindergarten
through second grade who responded to the survey, only two indicated that they solicit
assistance from teachers outside their immediate grade span. Most of the K-2 teachers
tend to seek out colleagues within their grade level for issues related to problems with
students, curriculum/assessment, feedback on their teaching and ideas for student
learning. When seeking assistance with a problem related to a colleague or the principal,
two of the teachers tended to interact with a range of colleagues, not necessarily in their
immediate grade range.
Teachers in third and fourth grade appear to have the broadest range of colleagues
from which they seek assistance. They tend to seek out feedback on their teaching from
other teachers across the school community. They also tend to rely upon grade level or
adjacent grade level teachers for guidance on specific issues related to curriculum and/or
assessment, ideas for student learning and problems with a student.
Teachers in fifth and sixth grade tend to seek help from colleagues in closely
related grade levels and a few select colleagues in other grades. They also tend to seek
out advice on curriculum and/or assessment, ideas for student learning and feedback on
their teaching from those colleagues closest to their own grade level. There are a few
select colleagues that they seek help from on a more narrow range of issues.
Site B. Figure 4 shows the patterns of responses indicating which
colleagues teachers at Site B choose to seek help from and the specific areas in which
they seek help. Based on this data, it appears that most teachers at Site B seek assistance
from colleagues within their own grade level or in closely related grade levels.
For the most part, teachers in Kindergarten, fourth and sixth grades tend to engage
with a more limited range of colleagues. They tend to seek out colleagues within their
grade level for issues related to curriculum/assessment, ideas for student learning,
feedback on their teaching and problems with a student. When seeking assistance with a
problem related to a colleague or the principal, teachers tend to interact with select
individuals who not necessarily in their immediate grade range. Based on this data, it
appears that the sixth grade teacher (who is the only one at her grade level) seeks help
from a very limited number of colleagues related to curriculum, assessment and ideas for
First grade teachers’ patterns of interactions seem to indicate the broadest range of
colleagues from which they seek assistance. They also tend to rely upon grade level or
adjacent grade level teachers for guidance on specific issues related to curriculum and/or
assessment, ideas for student learning and problems with a student. They also seek out
feedback on their teaching from colleagues across a broader span of grades.
Gr. K 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 4, 5,
4 1, 2 4 1, 2 4 4, 5, 6 4, 5, 6 1, 3 2, 3, 4 1 6, 6, 4
6 1 1 1 1, 2 4 1, 2 4 1, 2 4
1, 2, 1, 2, 3,
8 1 3, 4 4
9 3, 4 2 2 1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2,
10 1, 2 4 1, 2 4 1, 2 4 1, 2 4 4 4 4 3, 4 3, 4 3, 4 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
11 4 4 44 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 1, 2
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
12 2 2, 4 4 4 4
1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2,
14 3, 4 3, 4 3, 4
2,3,4, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2,
15 3, 4 3, 4, 5 3, 4 5 2,3,4 4 4 4 4 3, 4 3, 4 3, 4 1 1, 2 4 1
16 2 4 4 4 4 1, 2 1, 2 1, 2
1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
18 4 4 4 4 44 4 4 1, 2, 4 1, 2, 4 1, 2, 4 4 4
2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2,
20 3 3 3 2 3 1 1 3, 4 2, 3 3 2, 4 2 2 2, 3, 4 4 4 4 4, 5 4, 5 4, 5 4, 5 3, 4, 5 4, 5 3, 4 3, 4
1, 2, 1, 2, 3,
21 4 4 4 3, 4 4 3, 4
1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4,
22 3, 4 3, 4 4, 5, 6 4, 5, 6 5, 6
1, 2, 3, 1, 2,
23 1 1 1 1, 3 3, 4 3, 4 3, 4 4 3, 4 1 1
1, 2, 3, 1, 3
24 2 1, 3 2, 3, 5 4 2, 4, 5 4, 5, 6 2, 3, 4 4
Types of help sought 1 = curriculum and/or assessment 4 = problem with a student
2 = an idea for student learning 5 = problem with a colleague
3 = feedback on teaching 6 = problem with principal
Social Network Analysis showing the types of help sought by teachers from their colleagues at Elementary School A.
Gr. K 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
1 1 4, 5, 6 4, 5 1, 2 3, 4 3, 5 1 3
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
4 3, 4 4 4 2 2 2 2, 3
2, 3, 4,
5 25 1, 2 2 2 2 2
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
6 4 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 4 1, 2 1, 2 4, 6 4 1, 2, 4 4, 6 1, 2 1, 2, 4 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1, 2 1, 2, 4 1, 2 1, 2 1, 2
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
7 1, 2, 4 1 14 4 4 4 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,
8 3 4 4, 5 4, 5 4, 5 2, 3, 4 2 4, 5 1, 2 1, 2
10 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1, 2, 3 1
12 1, 4 1 1, 2 1 2, 4 1 1, 4 1,2,3 1, 4 1,2,4, 5 1, 2 1 1
1, 2, 3,
15 2 2 21 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 4, 5 2, 4 2, 4 1, 2, 4
1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4,
16 2 2 2 4 2 2, 3, 4 1, 2, 4 1, 2 4, 5 2, 3 1 5, 6
19 2 2 1, 2 1, 2
Types of help sought 1 = curriculum and/or assessment 4 = problem with a student
2 = an idea for student learning 5 = problem with a colleague
3 = feedback on teaching 6 = problem with principal
Social Network Analysis showing types of help sought by teachers from their colleagues at Elementary School B.
The current study also encompasses an analysis of qualitative data in the form of
interviews and site observations of teacher meetings. The sections that follow provide an
overview of the interview process, a description of the interview respondents, thematic
patterns that emerged from the interviews with respect to teacher collaboration, faculty
trust and frames of references for dealing with conflict.
To provide context and further elaboration upon trends noted in the survey results,
semi-structured interviews were conducted with a total of fourteen teachers (eight from
Site A; six from Site B). Interviews were conducted at each site after school hours. The
interviews followed a semi-structured format (see Appendix D) which: “allows the
researcher to respond to the situation at hand, to the emerging worldview of the
respondent, and to new ideas on the topic” (p.74) (Merriam, 1998). The interview
included a set of questions designed to elicit information about the focus of collaborative
efforts, the staff’s approaches to divergent points-of-view and conflict, as well as the
dimensions of trust perceived as most critical in relationships with colleagues and the
principal. The format of the interview also provided an opportunity to explore issues and
topics that emerged with follow up questions.
Description of interviewees
Elementary School A. Thirteen out of the sixteen teachers who responded to the
faculty survey indicated that they would be willing to participate in a follow-up
interview. From this group of thirteen teachers, a sample of eight interviewees
representing a range of grade levels from first through fifth grades was selected. All
teachers interviewed indicated that they met regularly with grade level colleagues for the
purposes of collaboration. Within the sample of interviewees, the degree, frequency and
scope of collaboration differed. The sample included teachers who had a range of
teaching experience (see Table 25). Four of the interviewees have more than twenty years
of teaching experience. The other four teachers in the sample have four to eight years of
experience. Five teachers have worked at the site between one to seven years. Three have
been at the site for twenty-four or more years.
Elementary School B. Six out of the eleven teachers at Site B who completed
the faculty survey indicated a willingness to participate in a follow-up interview. All six
of the teachers, representing Kindergarten through third grade, were interviewed.
Although some intermediate grade level teachers participated in the survey, no teachers
within this grade span were willing to be interviewed. All teachers who participated in an
interview indicated that they met at least weekly with grade level colleagues for the
purposes of collaboration. However, differences were noted in the focus, quality of
professional relationships and degrees of trust across each grade level. At Site B, five out
of the six teachers noted their sense of isolation from teachers in other grade levels. One
teacher noted: “We are really isolated…” and later on commented that “I don’t have any
contact with the upper grade teachers unless passing by” (T11, p. 1). This overriding
sense of fragmentation was reflected throughout the interview responses and will be
explore in greater depth below.
Demographic Characteristics of Interview Participants
Years Years at
Participant # Site Grade Teaching Site
T1 A 1 26 24
T2 A 2 24 6
T3 A 2 6 6
T4 A 3 32 27
T5 A 3 31 30
T6 A 4 8 7
T7 A 4 4 3
T8 A 5 4 1
T9 B K 4 1
T10 B 1 14 3
T11 B 1 21 3
T12 B 1 3 3
T13 B 2 21 3
T14 B 3 14 4
Transcripts of interviews provided the basis for gleaning thematic patterns of
responses. To derive a set of categories for analysis, transcripts were read thoroughly,
noting key themes, observations and comments. Each key idea was written on an index
card and coded based on respondent, site and theme. Cards were sorted according to
specific categories for analysis. Special attention was paid developing categories based
on the frequency of mention, importance in providing information on key research
questions, and uniqueness of responses that indicate a different perspective on the
phenomenon under study (Merriam, 1998). In the sections below, each theme will be
Schoolwide versus grade level only focus. A consistent theme emerged
throughout the interviews at Site A regarding teachers’ perceptions of their professional
community. Seven of the eight interviewed respondents made mention of the schoolwide
focus and the interaction across grade levels. T6 noted: “the climate is pretty much that
‘one for all, all for one’ kind of feel and it really makes a difference” (T6, p. 26). Others
cited specific examples of the help they had received from colleagues on a range of
issues: 1) a new teacher setting up her classroom (T8) the sense that all teachers take
responsibility for looking out for students well-being and behavior (T2, T3, T6, T7, T8),
3) sharing materials (T1, T2, T4, T6, T7, T8), 4) helping out by providing support during
difficult times (T3, T6, T7), etc. Another teacher expressed that: “…there’s more of a
sense that we’re working together” (T1, p. 15). T8, a teacher who was new to the school
this year, mentioned her introduction to the teacher community:
…from day one I was given a lot of things to get my classroom
off…I think it was just kind of …a nice outreach from the school
community and from different grade levels people brought things
in. So that was my first introduction as far as people working well
together (T8, p. 2).
While they may not interact on a daily or even weekly basis, teachers at Site A feel as if
they can count on staff across the school community. When asked how the teacher
community at her school site compared with other sites she has worked at, T2 said that
“having the whole school involved in it, it’s so accepted and so everybody just is open to
share” (T2, p. 5).
In contrast to the strong sense of community expressed by teachers at Site A, a
recurrent theme of separation surfaced in interviews with teachers at Site B. Their sense
of professional community was mixed. When asked about how teachers at their site work
together, five out of six of the interview respondents made comments about a split
between primary and upper grades. One teacher described the sense of separation as
being “different from each group of teachers” (T11, p. 1). In general, five out of six
teachers noted that they work most closely with the grade level colleagues and have
minimal or infrequent interaction with teachers at other grade levels beyond attendance at
the weekly faculty meeting. These findings are consistent with the patterns of interaction
noted in the social network analysis (see Table 25).
Teachers at Site B offered different explanations for the sense of separation within
the teacher community. A majority of the teachers attributed the degree of fragmentation
among teachers at different grade levels to the physical layout of the campus. Four out of
six of the interviewed teachers (T10, T11, T13, and T14) indicated that each grade level
is “separated into their own pods.” In addition, several (T11, T13, T14) noted the lack of
a common staff room in which to gather and talk with other teachers. T11 noted that:
“We’re isolated because of that. It’s artificially so.” (T11, p. 1). She also attributed the
degree of separation to the relative newness of the campus and the short period of time
teachers have worked together (mostly three years). She commented that the teachers at
Site B were:
…still in the phase of building our own identity and our culture. So we’re
different in that regard. And some teachers came because they wanted to, fresh
start, but a lot of teachers were placed here…. So it’s kind of tricky. I think we’re
still in a building phase. I really do. We don’t spend a lot of time together versus
where…I worked with teachers for years and years…I knew everything about
families. I don’t know anything really except for my pod. It’s very isolated that
way…. (T11, p. 7)
Collaboration. These two different teacher communities have followed
divergent paths toward collaboration over time. At both sites, the focus and approach to
teachers working together has changed in response to the site-based and external
pressures to improve student achievement as measured by state testing. Each site based
on its own history and place within the state accountability structure approach
collaborative work in different ways. Site A has received state and national recognition
for fostering high levels of achievement; Site B has struggled to meet state and federal
accountability targets within a district that is in program improvement status. At both
ends of the spectrum, these sites provided different viewpoints on the role of external
accountability in shaping collaborative cultures. Variations were noted at each site in
terms of the background, structure, focus and degree of teacher discretion exercised in
establishing priorities and conducting joint work. Similarities are noted with respect to
the benefits teachers reported they derive from their collaboration with colleagues.
Background. In the early 1990s, Site A established a shortened
Wednesday schedule every week. The original intention of the modified school schedule
was to provide teachers with an opportunity to work together to plan instruction.
Teachers were expected to meet at least once a month with grade level colleagues to
focus on planning units of instruction. Teachers exercised a high degree of discretion in
setting the priorities for their work together.
Five years ago, the school experienced a shift in student demographics. The
numbers of socio-economically disadvantaged students and English learners increased.
The school’s Academic Performance Index decreased two years in a row. The principal
shared this information with the staff and prompted them to re-examine their practices.
She concluded that they needed to change their instruction to meet the diverse needs of
At that time, third grade teachers developed a proposal to share their students in
leveled reading groups across the grade level. Each teacher took responsibility for
teaching a group (challenge, on level, extra support). Working together to provide
reading instruction across the grade necessitated teachers looking at assessments to place
and readjust groupings as well as coordinate rotating students.
Based on their success, other grade levels (second, fourth, and fifth) started
leveled reading groups. As grade levels began to share students for instruction, they
shifted the focus on their common planning time to allow for discussion of differentiated
instruction, interventions, analysis of assessments and student progress. Although the
main focus of collaboration does remain within grade levels, teachers do engage in some
conversations with colleagues in adjacent grade levels to fine tune instruction. Grade
level meetings are, for the most part, teacher directed. Teachers determine the agenda and
what issues will be discussed. While they engage in student-focused discussions aimed at
improving teaching, they do not refer to their joint work as a “professional learning
In contrast, the staff at Site B has followed a different path toward collaborative
work. The school site opened three years ago. At that time, the district was undergoing
changes in leadership as a new superintendent and new principals were hired. As part of
this change, the district shifted to a model of professional learning communities as a way
for teachers to analyze student performance data, set goals and plan for instruction and
interventions for struggling students. Prior to the move toward PLCs, some teachers in
the district got together to plan instruction. However, with the new emphasis on looking
at student progress, teachers indicated in the interviews that now they are “more focused
on how students are doing.”
Structures. At Site A teachers exercise a high degree of latitude in
determining the focus of their collaborative work. Beyond establishing a early release day
for students on Wednesday to provide a consistent block of time for teachers to meet
within grade levels, very little other structure is provided by the site or district leadership.
Grade level teams are largely self-directed. They set their own agenda for each meeting.
Two or three times a year grade level teams meet with the principal to review and discuss
district benchmark assessments. Teachers also meet with teachers from other sites a few
times a year to discuss specific curricular issues (i.e., selection of state-adopted
curriculum packages, revision of benchmark assessments, etc.).
In contrast to the high degree of discretion exercised by teachers at Site A with
regard to their collaborative work, PLC meetings at Site B are highly structured and are
characterized by specific requirements that are built into the bargaining agreement
between the teachers’ union and the district. Each week teachers at a school site meet
together for twenty minutes to go over announcements and focus on a “problem of
practice” (i.e., a schoolwide curricular area of focus such as visual thinking, ELD or other
instructional strategies). After the staff meeting, teachers meet within their grade levels
for forty minutes. The teachers who participated in the interview indicated that often their
grade level meetings extend beyond the forty minutes. At the end of the grade level PLC
meeting, teachers are required to turn in a written log of their notes and agreements to
Shift from isolation toward collaboration. Interview respondents at both
sites noted the difficulties encountered by teachers shifting from working in isolation to
working with colleagues in more collaborative ways.
Site A has a longer history that encompasses a transition from teachers working
in isolated classrooms as described by Lortie (1975) and Goodlad (1984). Four of the
eight teachers (T1, T2, T4, T5) interviewed at Site A have taught for over twenty years.
Of the four veteran teachers, three (T1, T4, T5) have taught at the site for over twenty
years. During their tenure at the site, these veteran teachers noted a shift in the school
culture over time. At the beginning of their careers, teachers tended to work alone in their
own classrooms. T5 commented that: “A lot of teachers worked in isolation” (p. 9). T2,
T4, and T5 noted that working in isolation tended to increase competitiveness between
teachers who “wanted to look good” and encouraged teachers to focus on their own
classroom. T4 stated that the prevailing sentiment in those days was “just close the door
and leave me alone to teach in here” (p. 18).
Another veteran teacher (T1) made a connection between the feeling of wanting
to be left alone to teach and fear of being evaluated. She elaborated that this kind of fear
can be an obstacle to teachers working together: “If you are wondering, ‘Am I going to
measure [up]? Am I gonna get called out that I do something everybody else does?’,”
then it is more difficult to venture out beyond one’s own classroom door (T1, p. 19)
Two of the three veteran teachers (T4, T5) made comments about the deleterious
effect of isolation and the difficulty some teachers had in moving toward greater
collaboration among their colleagues. T4 further elaborated on the difficulties some
teachers have in breaking out of their isolated classrooms:
“I think it comes from fear…if you feel really supported you can walk away from
that fear. But, that fear is a hard thing to walk away from for a lot of people” (p.
T5 noted that working in isolation “it’s not learning….it doesn’t help you” (p. 9).
In contrast, Site B is a relatively new school. Teachers at this site have worked
together for three years or less. For two out of the three years of the school’s existence,
teachers have worked together within the context of their professional learning
communities. Therefore, the shift toward more collaborative working arrangements has
taken a slightly different course. Four out of six of the interview participants from Site B
have worked as teachers between ten to twenty or more years. All of these teachers have
worked at other schools within the district before moving to their current school site.
One veteran teacher commented that the staff “work[s] together very well” (T10, p. 1).
Three of the other veteran teachers (T11, T13, T14) and one new teacher (T9) noted that
some of their more experienced colleagues have difficulty working more collaboratively.
One veteran teacher noted that while she is used to “being public with my instruction,”
“…some people are really uncomfortable with it” (T11, p. 9). The new teacher (T9)
I know everybody is trying to break away from that [working behind closed
doors], but there are the teachers who have been teaching for a long time where
that’s hard for them…to change (T9, p. 2).
For most of their time together, teachers have worked under the existing structure of PLC
meetings within the district.
Contrived collegiality versus authentic collaboration. At Site A, very
little of the teachers’ common meeting time is mandated. As mentioned above, teachers
exercise a great deal of latitude in determining the focus of their collaborative work.
Three of the eight teachers (T1, T4, T5) at Site A made references to PLCs as imposed
from above and disconnected from their work with their colleagues. All three of these
teachers have worked at the site for twenty or more years. T1 commented that when the
new superintendent came on board, he wanted to initiate “this whole PLC thing” (p. 17)
T4 referred to participating in a “PLC” when she and her grade level colleagues engaged
in discussions with the principal about district benchmarks. T1 explained that: “if people
felt like they were being told to do something, they would immediately rebel” (p. 16).
…when you phrase it more as a mandate, ‘This is what you will do.’ Then you
will get the absolute minimum level from people. As opposed to saying, ‘I think
this can really work. I hope you guys can look at this and then if you have
changes you wanna make because of it, we can look at how to do that.’ Then I
think you’ve engaged people and they get the sense of, ‘You’re looking for my
opinion. You’re not telling me I have to do some other chore.’” (p. 16)
It is noteworthy that the issue of mandated collaboration emerged from interviews with
all teachers (T1, T2, T4, T5) who had twenty or more years of teaching experience. No
teachers with less than ten years of experience expressed these sentiments.
Six out of eight of the interview participants at Site A discussed the process
through which a deeper level of collaboration began among teachers at their school. It is
interesting to note their colleagues (T1, T2, T6) credit the two of the veteran teachers (T4,
T5) who work together in the third grade team as having started the shift toward more
authentic collaboration. T3 commented: “they’re [the third grade team] our pioneers” (p.
5). Five years ago, the third grade team decided to share students for reading instruction.
As a grade level, they reviewed student assessment data, assigned students to specific
instructional groupings, and planned instruction to meet the various needs of students
(T4, p. 4; T5, p. 11-12). Each teacher took responsibility for an instructional group.
Over the next few years, other grade levels, second through sixth, began to share students
for reading instruction.
Working together, in this way, brought a more intense focus on how students
across the grade level were performing. Seven out of eight teachers mentioned that they
feel a greater sense of responsibility for all students across their grade level (T2, T3, T4,
T5, T6, T7, T8). T2 commented: “…it really helps us to get to know all of the kids in
the grade level and we take more ownership I think of all of the student at the grade
level” (T2, p. 2).
Four of the eight teachers (T2, T4, T5, T6) commented that the shift toward
working more collaboratively was facilitated by being able to see the successes that
another grade level had with their students. These teachers describe the process of
beginning to work more closely with their grade level colleagues to share students and
reading instruction as guided by their own decision-making. T2 stated: “none of us were
asked or forced or pushed into doing it” (T2, p. 3). T5 noted that: “We made a big
change. And that’s when we really noticed that all the other grade levels were starting to
get on board with that too” (T5, p. 12). She further elaborate:
Well, I really think they have to see it modeled and they have to see it be
successful. And I think when they see that then they’re more willing to give it a
try. If you just sit here and talk about it, unless you’ve actually seen it, it’s gonna
be hard for you to accept” (T5, p. 12)
T6 noted that seeing that student success in the third grade prompted other teachers to
ask: “’Well, what are you doing differently and how is it working?’” (T6, p. 1).
T2 reinforced the importance of seeing models of successful collaboration, by explaining:
It was one of those things where we saw third grade do it one year. They decided
to team together and rotate the kids for reading, and,…it was just working so
beautifully for them. …and we said, ‘Okay, let’s get in on this.’ (T2, p. 3).
The path toward greater collaboration was forged largely by teachers at Site A in
response to their own observations and inquiry about the instructional practices of their
colleagues, not mandated from above.
Teachers at Site B exercise a more limited degree of latitude over their
collaborative than the teachers at Site A. In addition, teachers at Site B conduct their
collaboration within a highly structured context with more mandates that guide their work
with colleagues. Five out of six of the interview participants at Site B made references to
the ineffectiveness of mandated forms of collaboration. When the district initially moved
to implement PLCs, teachers were told which subject area or topic to discuss each week.
T10 and T11 commented that efforts to “push” teachers into working together “won’t
work.” A first grade teacher (T10) noted that: “…in order for it to work the right
way,…it cannot be dictated to you. They tried to do that to us and it totally messed it up
(T10, p. 4).” Another teacher recalled that when the district set topics for discussion, they
felt compelled to “fill in the blanks.” One teacher commented that under these
circumstances: “You find yourself fabricating.” Teachers expressed a clear sentiment that
top-down directives tend to weaken the potential of PLCs.
The district’s approach to lesson study represents another example of top-down
directives detracting from more authentic forms of collaboration. Lesson study is a
“professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically
examine their practice, with the goal of becoming more effective.” The purpose of this
approach is for teachers to engage in reflection on their teaching practices based on their
selection of an “overarching goal and related research question that they want to explore”
(p. 9) (Dubin, 2010; Lesson Study Research Group: What is Lesson Study?," 2010).
Researchers have noted that in its implementation within the United States “it is best
known as a means of improving math instruction” (p. 9) (Dubin, 2010).
In an interview with a primary teacher (T12), she mentioned that her grade level
(at her site and across the district) engaged in lesson study. When asked to describe the
process in her experiences with other teachers, she said that it involved closely examining
components of lessons that are “not working with students”, working with other teachers
to refine the parts of the lesson, trying it out in one’s classroom, having other teachers
observe and provide feedback. She commented that although lesson study has a lot of
potential to help teachers improve their teaching, district mandates restrict the focus to
exploring how to make the current state-adopted math curriculum work. She noted that
other teachers in her grade level have been critical of the way the potentially beneficial
collaborative process has been shifted from improved teaching to focus on the current
math program (T12, p. 2). As a result, she noted “you just feel like you’re checking a
box” or “going through the motions,” not making meaningful changes (T12, p. 2).
External pressures brought to bear by state accountability requirements only
intensifies the perception that efforts to create more collaborative working arrangements
are just another in a series of directives. A teacher at Site B explained that:
And we’ve had a lot of change pressed on us in this district. I mean, a program
improvement district and, you know, even when we weren’t, I was over at
[another site in the district], you know, we’ve only been here three years, and we
weren’t a program improvement school but we were within a program
improvement district. So we already were pressed to do all this extra stuff. And
some of it’s meaningful and a lot of it’s not. And so I think people looked at the
PLC as, “Oh, another thing that they’re making us do” (T10, p. 3)
Several interviewees at Site B (T10, T11, T14) indicated that some of their colleagues
saw collaboration in the “PLC” format as “just another hoop” that teachers need to jump
through or “just another form that has to be filled out” (T12, p. 2). It is noteworthy that
these sentiments were expressed more frequently at Site B than at Site A.
Despite the perception among some teachers at Site B that collaboration is simply
a top-down directive, district leadership has worked with representatives from the
teachers’ bargaining unit to refine expectations and structures for professional learning
communities. Initially, teachers felt that the form they were asked to complete to
document their work in their professional learning communities was “too complicated.”
T10 described how the union president: “would just keep taking it back and taking it back
and taking it back” to the superintendent and informed him that: “This isn’t working.
People aren’t buying into it” (TT10, p. 6). Teachers (T10, T11, T13) reported that “it was
a slow to change” the process, but eventually both sides agreed to a format that met the
teachers’ need to identify specific areas of focus directly related to their teacher and the
district’s need to ensure quality instruction for all students. Despite these efforts, the
actual process of working together to improve teaching and learning remains uneven at
Areas of focus. Teachers at both sites identified a variety of key areas that
form the basis of their collaborative work with their colleagues. Table 30 summarizes the
frequency that various topics were mentioned throughout the interviews with teachers at
Site A. Teachers at Site A most frequently mentioned sharing and refining teaching
strategies as an area of focus (see Table 24). In their grade level teams, teachers have
called upon their colleagues to help them work through a challenging instructional issue.
A fifth grade teacher (T8) noted that her students were having difficulty with integers and
adding whole numbers. She shared her struggles in trying to teach this concept with her
colleagues. She described how other teachers shared strategies they used. One of her
grade level peers even provided an explicit demonstration of the steps he took using the
whiteboard. Through this dialogue, she came away with a refined approach that she was
able to use successfully with her students.
Feedback, either from teachers at other grade levels or observations of their own
students’ work, highlight instructional areas that need attention. Based on feedback from
upper grade teachers who noted that students were coming into fifth grade having
difficulty making inferences and engaging in critical analysis, the fourth grade team has
been working to refine their teaching of higher order thinking (T6, T7). Teachers at
fourth grade noted a consistent pattern among their students’ writing and reviewed
rubrics to clarify grade level standards. T6 described how they reviewed rubrics in their
writing program that “provided sort of this tool that eventually that became a more formal
PLC moment where we sat down and discussed, ‘Okay, if you use those strands then
we’re going from a three-paragraph to a five-paragraph [essay] (p. 4). Reviewing rubrics
within the context of their collaborative work, they identified specific skills that provided
focus and direction for their teaching (T6, p. 4).
Because teachers in second through fifth grade share students for reading
instruction, the primary focus of their discussions during team meeting time is placed on
planning lessons, reviewing student progress and determining if any instructional
adjustments need to be made. At the beginning of the year, teachers use a variety of data
to determine student placement into instructional groupings. They look at state testing
results, phonics-based assessments, and teacher-created assessments. In addition, several
points throughout the school year, they meet with the principal to review district
Focus for Collaboration – Elementary School A
Focus of collaboration Frequency
Share & refine ideas/strategies for teaching 9
Discuss/evaluate student progress and make instructional adjustments 8
Plan instruction 6
Review assessments 6
Discuss student behavior/discipline matters 4
Table 27 summarizes the frequency of areas of focus mentioned with respect to
collaborative work that emerged throughout the interviews with teachers at Site B. The
overall pattern of responses from teachers at Site B suggests that they place a greater
emphasis on analyzing student performance data and assessments. Site A teachers
mentioned assessments in the context of district benchmarks that occur several times a
year; whereas, teachers from Site B mentioned data collection and analysis as an on-
going process. The majority of teachers mentioned the use of data: “we gather it, bring it
back and analyze it, note trends” in two to three week cycles (T11, p. 2). Within this
cycle, a couple of teachers mentioned that their grade level sets specific goals for student
progress. Four of out six teachers (T9, T10, T11, T12) referred to using assessment
information to determine effectiveness of instruction and to group students for instruction
and additional intervention. Planning instruction and “trying to figure out, ‘now what do
we do?’’’ (T13, p. 3; T11, p. 8) surfaced as the next most frequently mention area of
focus for teacher collaboration. A couple of teachers in first grade (T11, T12) sought
feedback from the colleagues on their teaching. One teacher (J12) mentioned their
participation in a lesson study format. As part of this process, teachers observed others
and provided specific input on their teaching.
Focus of Collaboration – Elementary School B
Focus of collaboration Frequency
Review assessments/ analyze student performance data 5
Discuss/evaluate student progress and make instructional adjustments 4
Plan instruction/ interventions 4
Share & refine ideas/strategies for teaching 2
Identify instructional goals for grade level team 2
Feedback on teaching / having other teachers observe 2
Benefits of collaboration. Teachers interviewed expressed beliefs in the benefits
of collaboration. The category of benefits of collaboration has been honed into sub-
Shared responsibility. Eleven of the fourteen teachers interviewed across
both sites reported that the sharing of students has created a broader sense of
responsibility for the success of students. Seven of the eight teachers at Site A
commented that they are not just looking out for students in their own classrooms. A
teacher at Site A commented that:
…we want to be able to have all the third graders do well and not just your own
class…. So you really kind of think outside the box or outside your classroom”
(T4, p. 7).
T3 stated: “ultimately what works is that we want our kids to be the best they could
possibly be” (p. 23). As a result, many reported that the shared responsibility for
students’ growth helps to keep the focus on children. Four of the six teachers at Site B
connected their work with grade level colleagues with a more intense attention to student
progress. A teacher at Site B observed that: “…the PLC has really brought us together as
a team, whereas before we’d work more separately,…So the PLC has brought us
together, focused us onto what’s best for kids” (T10, p. 1).
Improvements to teaching practice. All interviewees indicated that
collaboration with their colleagues was beneficial to their practice. They cited a variety of
benefits they derived from their work with their peers. A frequently noted theme was that
collaborative dialogue helped to hone and refine thinking and creativity about their
teaching. Several teachers stated that they appreciated getting other’s perspectives and
expertise as a resource for working through instructional challenges. Many teachers
mentioned how balancing strengths within their grade level team helped them improve
their teaching. As one teacher observed “we collaborate thinking wise” (T7, p. 2).
Another teacher stated:
I’m so much more creative when I have someone to bounce off of. So I can sit in
my room by myself and I can’t come up with anything. And the minute I get in a
group, I don’t know what happens, you know. We just start bouncing ideas off
each other and it’s just so much easier to create lessons and, plus, it trims down
our time, you know. If all of us are working, you know, have something that
we’re working on, bring it back to the group it…(T11, p. 5)
Along the lines of improving thinking about instructional practices, nine out of
fourteen of teachers made a direct connection between their work with colleagues and
their own professional learning and growth (T2, T4, T5, T6, T7, T8, T9, T10, T11). One
teacher noted that balancing expertise and knowledge with their grade level enriched her
…we bring so many different things to the table…. For instance, my one
colleague she’s really strong in math and writing. She’s a trainer in writing. She
was part of the adoption for math so she brings all that knowledge to us and it’s
just so great. So I have a trainer right here, a coach for writing especially and
math. My other partner, she’s just gotten her Master’s in reading, …. So she’s
brought a lot of new research to me, which is awesome. I have my National Board
Certification. I bring all that, …, element of the inquiry and really reflection. And
so I think that just the diversity is really great. It brings us together and we have
our own little coaching model right there in our room (T11, p. 6)
Another teacher stated that through her work with her colleagues, she has observed her
own personal growth. She commented that: “Not only am I growing as a teacher, but I
think I am growing as a person” (T7, p. 8)
Personal benefits. Teachers also highlighted the personal benefits they
derived from sharing the responsibility for teaching. Several teachers noted the
psychological benefits. Some reported that working with colleagues helped them to
handle the physical and emotional challenges of teaching (T4, T5, T6, T7, T8). Echoing
a theme mentioned by other teachers (T2, T3, T4, T5, T7), T6 further explained that by
“sharing the workload”, she did not feel as overwhelmed or stressed. She also felt like
other teachers “had her back,” to lend support when she needed it (T6, p. 33).
Faculty Trust. Teacher interviews allowed an opportunity to delve more deeply
into the conditions that foster and sustain trust within a professional community. During
the interviews teachers were asked about the general level of trust they felt toward their
colleagues and toward their principal. In addition, they were also asked about the
dimensions upon which they based their trust. Responses provided by teachers at each
site will be explored separately to provide a glimpse of the contextual conditions that
foster and sustain trust and how the different dimensions of trust are related to a
professional community’s collaborative work.
The analysis of thematic patterns of responses related to faculty trust is based on
Hoy and Tschannen-Moran’s multi-faceted operational definition of trust: “an
individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on confidence
that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open” (W. K. Hoy &
Megan Tschannen-Moran, 2003).
Colleagues. Some differences were noted in the responses to questions
related to faculty trust in colleagues. Teachers at Site A tended to describe high levels of
trust for both their grade level and other teachers across the school community. Their
responses tend to reflect their generalized perceptions of trust in their colleagues. At Site
B, the degree of trust felt among the faculty is mixed. Five out six of the teachers (T9,
T10, T11, T12, T13) interviewed reported that they trusted their grade level colleagues
the most. One teacher noted that her uncertainty about trusting teachers at other grade
levels was based on the fact that she did not feel “like [she] had a relationship with
them.” T14 reported that her trust in other teachers within her grade level was the lowest:
“Unfortunately, this is the lowest level of trust I have is here, sadly’ (T14, p. 25). She felt
the least connected to her grade alike peers. Her lack of trust, she stated, was due largely
to the lack of respect that she felt from them (T14, pp.15-17). Therefore, patterns of
responses from teachers at Site B regarding faculty trust in colleagues applied to their
most immediate co-workers, not a generalized feeling among faculty across the school.
Benevolence or “confidence that one’s well-being will be protected by the trusted
party” emerged as a critical aspect of faculty trust in their colleagues (W. K. Hoy & M.
Tschannen-Moran, 2003). Seven out of eight teachers at Site A (T2, T3, T4, T5, T6, T7,
T8) reported that their peers were always open to help out and offer support. One teacher
commented that she did not mind if others told her “secrets”: “…it’s almost as if I don’t
mind if they tell that person and that person and that person because they all have your
best interests” at heart (T7, p. 15). Teachers also felt as if their colleagues would not be
judgmental or threatening towards them. One said that she based her trust in her
colleagues on their acknowledgement that “what I have to say or feel is valid” (T6, p.
34). The benevolence that teachers reported that they felt from other teachers at their
school site formed a solid basis of trust.
Teachers at Site B also consistently mentioned benevolence as an important, and
closely related, element of trust. Teachers noted their feeling that others behaved in ways
that demonstrated their commitment to their well-being. Five out of six teachers (T9,
T10, T11, T12, T13) noted they felt support from their colleagues. Part of benevolence
involved being able to be vulnerable or take risks without being harshly judged. One
teacher explained: “I know I could teach a lesson, they could come in and watch me and
they’re not going to pick me apart” (T11, pp. 14-15). Two teachers noted that they felt
their grade level peers “look[ed] out for each other” and did “not talk behind people’s
backs” (T9, T13).
Reliability, defined by Hoy and Tschannen-Moran as “the extent to which one can
count on another person or group,” emerged as another important component of the trust
teachers felt toward their colleagues. The seven out of eight teachers at Site A indicated
that this element of trust was essential in making collaboration more effective. Another
teacher said of her colleagues: “everybody keeps their end of the bargain and does what
they say they’re gonna do” (T2, p. 16). T8 said that the most important element of trust
for her is “just to know that they’re gonna follow through” (p. 16). Still another teacher
stated that: “I know you’re gonna do your job and I know you’ll live up to your
commitment of teaching” (T1, p. 12). The importance of reliability has been further
heightened by the degree to which teachers share students across grade levels.
Reliability also emerged consistently across the interviews as the most important
component of trust identified by teachers at Site B. Four out of six teachers (T10, T11,
T12, T14) repeatedly mentioned that dependability was critical to the success of their
collaboration with other teachers – in one teachers words it is:
…huge, especially in a PLC, that you depend on each other to do your jobs.
When you come to the table you need to be ready to work, otherwise it really
breaks down” (T11, P. 18).
To be able to trust their colleagues, teachers need to feel a consistency in a shared
commitment to students. In contrast, the absence of such commitment can diminished
trust. One teacher who reported that she felt the lowest level of trust within her grade
level noted that “others (teachers at different grade levels) have the best interest of kids at
heart” (T14, p. ). T12 and T13 mentioned that a person’s actions needed to match their
words. When working in grade level teams, follow through and consistent commitment to
professional obligations also surfaced as a crucial part of reliability as a dimension of
An element of benevolence or an ability to behave with positive intention is also a
crucial component of reliability. It is not just consistency of one’s actions, because
someone could be counted on to consistently behave in a negative or hostile way.
Reliability is also based on a solid belief in another person’s ability to be counted on to
behave in pro-social ways that contributes to the well-being of all. The theme of
benevolent reliability emerged in teachers’ descriptions of their collaborative work.
Seven out of eight teachers at Site A noted that they could count on their colleagues to be
willing to work toward common goals and to “stick to the point of why we’re here and
what we’re trying to accomplish” (T5, p. 24). One teacher said she knew that her
colleagues would “live up to [their] commitment of teaching” (T1, p. 12).
Trust based on confidence in a colleague’s competency, or “the extent to which
the trusted party has knowledge and skill” also surfaced in several of the interviews as a
critical component of teachers’ collaborative work. At Site A, teachers at different grade
levels also reported that they trusted their colleagues to provide quality instruction to
“their students.” Four out of eight teachers at Site A indicated that the success of their
reading rotations is based on the trust that they feel toward their peers professional skill
and ability (T2, T3, T4, T6).
Four out of six teachers at Site B mentioned competency as a basis for trust in
one’s colleagues. One teacher explained how she and her grade level peers “are confident
enough that everybody watches out after our kids ‘cause we’re pretty possessive of our
kids. …I have no qualms about giving any one of my kids to another teacher” for
instruction ” (T13, p. 4). Others (T9, T10, T11, T12) expressed their respect for their
teaching partners’ “teaching knowledge and experience.”
It is interesting to note that honesty and openness as a basis for their trust in their
colleagues were not as prevalent. A few teachers expressed that they could openly
express ideas with their peers (T3, T5). One teacher said that “ I have to be able to talk to
people and I have to be able to have them tell me what it is…what we’re trying to
accomplish here” (T5, p. 24). She elaborated that “If you don’t have [honesty], if
everybody has their own agenda, it’s not gonna work” (T5, p. 24).
Principal. At both sites, teachers expressed an overall tendency to trust
the principal. Responses from teachers at both sites highlighted similar aspects of trust;
therefore, the themes that emerged in the interviews are analyzed together in the section
When asked about the bases of the trust they felt toward their principal, teacher
responses revolved around the ability to express themselves freely to the principals. One
teacher at Site A said:
She’s my boss, you know. But I can say anything. I feel I can say anything
to her and that she takes it in the context that it was intended and never
would turn it around and use it against me or there’s just, that’s not there.
That is not in this atmosphere at all (T7, pp. 17-18).
Another teacher at Site A noted that she “could tell [the principal] anything, she will do
her best to help.” All interview participants at Site A consistently commented on the
comfort they felt talking openly with their principal.
Teachers at Site B made similar remarks about their ability to speak freely with
their principal. A teacher at Site B commented: “You can take risks and you know
you’re not going to be judged” (T11, p. 17). She further observed that: “I feel
comfortable with being able share where I am” (T11, p. 17). Two new teachers (T9, T12)
expressed a similar degree of comfort going to their principal with problems they
experienced in their classrooms with teaching or student discipline. They also felt as if
they could speak freely about these difficulties and not have it held against them.
Related to the feeling of open to talk about anything, teachers at both sites
indicated that their trust in their principal was also based on their availability, ability to be
fully present and listen when others spoke. Teachers (T2, T3, T6, T7, T8) at Site A
describe their principal as “calm in pretty much all situations” and “easy-going.” Several
teachers (T2, T3, T4, T6, T7) noted that she listens and “helps to resolve issues.” Her
ability to really listen was commented upon by six out of the eight the teachers. Part of
listening is being present. One teacher put it this way: “when you’re sitting with [her],
she’s there with you, no matter what’s going around” (T6, p. 35). All of the interview
participants at Site B described her principal as “approachable” and “open to talk any
time.” T9 remarked that her “door is always open.” The availability to their staff emerged
as a notable basis for faculty trust in their principal.
Another notable basis for faculty trust is the perception that their principal is
present and “with them” on campus and in their common endeavors. Five out of six
interview participants (T9, T11, T12, T13, T14) at Site B described their principal as “a
walkaround principal.” They made repeated mention of her presence in classrooms: “I
feel like I can trust her and depend on her…she’s in my classroom so much, in and out”
(T11, p. 16). A teacher at Site A explained that their principal: “was one of us, coming
from the trenches…she’s getting down and dirty with the rest of us, too. She’s not the
principal who is sitting in her office” (T5, p. 24). Other teachers commented that she is
“pulling toward the same goal” and that “she’s part of the team” (T5, p. 24; T7, p. 17).
At both sites teachers seemed to base their trust in their principals on their sense of
working together with teachers, rather than apart.
Frames of references for approaching conflict. Frames of reference for dealing
with conflict have been identified in the literature as a key component of teacher
collaboration and organizational learning (Achinstein, 2002a; P. Grossman, et al., 2001).
Achinstein (2002a) defines conflict as: “both a situation and an ongoing process in which
views and behaviors diverge (or appear to diverge) or are perceived to be to some degree
incompatible” (p. 33). A professional community’s orientation for handling conflict
encompasses both beliefs and attitudes about as well as behavioral approaches to
addressing divergent points-of-view.
Both sites differed in their patterns of responses to questions related to their
professional communities approach to divergent points of view and conflicts. The
differences between sites cannot be understood apart from their status within the state
accountability system. Site A has demonstrated a consistent record of high student
achievement based on federal and state performance standards. Site B operates within a
program improvement district and has been under external pressure to show gains in
achievement. Teacher interview responses highlighted key themes that mark differences
in frame of references for approaching conflict.
Perceptions of differences and conflict. In general, teachers at Site A
tended to view divergent perspectives as a part of working with others. They recognized
differences in teaching styles, pedagogical approaches, political beliefs and personalities,
but they tended to respect teachers individuality while working toward common goals.
As one teacher noted: “You just don’t see it pulling people apart here” T2, p. 9). They
acknowledge that while teachers share students and work together, they also “do things
differently, not lock step.” Most teachers (T2, T3, T4, T5, T6, T7, T8) noted difference
among the faculty, but also felt like there was an “underlying respect.”
Conflicts have surfaced involving inter-group dynamics and significantly different
professional beliefs and expectations for students. In one instance, two teachers in a grade
level worked closely together, while the third teacher in the team felt “shut out.” At one
grade level meeting, the third teacher confronted the others with his feelings. He
expressed that he felt intentionally excluded (T7, p. 8). In another instance, several
teachers (T3, T4, T5) at different grade levels expressed their continuing frustration with
a Special Education provider. The basis of their dispute with this staff person is that they
believe that: “our students needs could be served better” and that: “our students are not
being met as we think they should be met” (T3, p. 7). Vastly differing expectations for
how to best meet student needs as well as a lack of regard for the person’s professional
knowledge and skill contributed to this on-going struggle. One primary teacher (T1)
noted that in her grade level teachers “teach quite differently and we’re all really vested
in our way” (T1, p. 7). She said that:
I think where we are at at this point is there’s respect for the different ways, but
there’s also an acknowledgement that, ‘I can’t teach it your way. You can’t teach
it my way. We each have a personality,’ and it allows us to share ideas for
curriculum and,…activities and games and lessons, but it’s not gonna be, ‘I can
prep your centers,’ ‘cause it’s never gonna be (T1, p. 7).
Teachers at Site B also reported that differences of opinion and conflict at their
site are related to divergent beliefs about teaching practices. T11 noted that:
everybody is in a different place as far as where they are …as educators….’cause
we have some educators that really are still teaching from the model that’s very
traditional. And then we have teachers that…[are] all along the spectrum (p. T11,
She also commented that some “people are really uncomfortable with [going public with
instruction]” (T11, p. 9). T14 noted divergent views on approaches to teaching:
We do talk but they’re very strong-minded and convinced that, and with some
validity, that teaching is not complicated. It think it is. They think it’s linear. I
think it’s more like a food web and so we disagree, not in a horrible way, but we
don’t agree (T14, p. 7).
Throughout the interviews sharp divergence in perspectives emerged between Site
A and Site B. Four out of six of teachers (T10, T11, T12, T14) at Site B described the
series of initiatives and directives teachers have had to comply with as a source of
conflict. Three out of six teachers (T10, T11, T14) noted that new programs and
approaches are embraced unevenly among the staff. T11 stated: “Some people come on
board and some people don’t” (T11, p.12). Several of the interview participants from Site
B (T10, T11, T14) commented that teachers at other grade levels (mostly upper grades)
tend to feel overwhelmed. Three out of six of the teachers (T11, T13, T14) mentioned the
split between teachers at different grade levels. T14 reported that upper grade teachers
tend to view new initiatives as “one more thing on our plate” (p. 12). T11 commented
that sometimes teachers feel that having “so many new things coming at us all the time”
is “exhausting” (T11, p. 12). She noted that: “Sometimes they’re angry. Sometimes, we
just, ‘Stop, Enough is enough. No more.’ And so it’s mixed” (T11, p. 12). A third grade
teacher (T14) explained that: “…most conflict is about feeling overloaded,
overwhelmed, and ‘I don’t want to do one more thing. I don’t want to learn one more
thing’” (T14, p. 12).
In contrast, some teachers (T9, T10, T11, T14) tend to view new instructional
approaches, including professional learning communities, as an enhancement. Changes,
in their perspective, have helped them to improve their teaching and have lightened their
burden. T14 noted that primary teachers tend to see innovative approaches as “an
enhancement,” not “an addition”:
This is a different way to do, a better way to what you’re doing right now,
make you more effective, the kids more happy (T14, p. 12)
T14 also noted that the pressure to have students perform well on state tests has
fueled competitiveness among teachers and that has impacted their grade level
interactions. She described her colleagues’ focus on student performance on state testing:
They are super competitive. They don’t just look at their scores. They
look at the guys at other schools…competition and wanting to look good,
wanting to look good is a huge part of it (T14, p. 9).
The tendency to “want to look good” and meet pressures “to pass the state test” (T14, p.
8) at times work against more innovative instructional practices. T14 noted that “that’s a
fact of life in our district because that’ the only thing the state is measuring us on” (T14,
p. 8). She commented that her colleagues do not see the value of helping students develop
“higher order thinking skills, questioning strategies, think/pair/share, the students’
reporting and the writing [because] it’s not tested” (T14, p. 8).
Behavioral approaches to conflict. At Site A, teachers reported generally
feeling comfortable expressing divergent points of view. While individual teachers
expressed a reluctance to deal with conflict, they did mention that they felt comfortable
talking with their colleagues directly. Although three out of the eight interview
respondents (T3, T6, T7) noted their own tendency to “keep it to ourselves” or not say
anything “to stay friends,” all of the teachers did report that they felt comfortable
expressing their ideas and perspectives. T2 stated that: “we can say whatever we are
feeling at any time….if there was something that was really important to me, I would
definitely state it and I know other teachers do” (T2, p. 10). One teacher noted: “There’s
not a lot of Dintying…there’s not stewing” (T7, p. 11). She explained that:
There’s not a lot of stewing, that undercurrent of stewing going on….everybody
just kind of is very direct. And, I’ve learned to be more direct and kind of speak,
speak up, because I’m a Dinty-er... (T7, p. 12).
Despite personal discomfort with conflict, seven out of eight of the interview participants
(T1, T2, T4, T5, T6, T7, T8) at Site A stated that they would go “directly to the person
and talk about the issues.” T3 provided a mixed response. She noted that she felt
comfortable expressing differences in political beliefs (regarding the environment) and
the observance of holidays in the classroom. She commented: “…we’re very open to
that…That’s how we share our differences” (T3, p. 16). However, as a newer teacher
with six years of experience in teaching and at this specific site, she feels reluctant to
address an issue involving another teacher’s instructional approach she believes is not
serving students. She explained:
…in my position being that I bet if I’d taught here longer and not being such a
young teacher here, that I would say something. I know I don’t like conflict but I
feel like there’s an injustice, I would say something, but right now I’m not in that
position to do so (TT3, p. 17).
T8, a teacher who is new to the site this year, offered a contrasting experience. She noted
that teachers at her site are open to other perspectives by stating that:
…they seem pretty open to my experience…even though I have been in the
teaching world as long as they have been, they…seem to value my outside
experience in other schools as well as my life experiences (T8, p. 7).
T2 shared strategies that her grade level has used to work through differences:
so we ended up making a big chart and people just laid out their thoughts and
feelings and we kinda looked at ‘em across the board. And we did some…hand
voting, ‘Would you be totally opposed to this? …would this part work for you?’
(T2, p. 7).
T2 elaborated on her approach to communication with her colleagues to revolve
differences: “…you just try to be open and you try to listen to what they are saying and
they try…the people that are willing will do the same back” (T2, p. 10).
Teachers from across various grade levels at Site A mentioned how the principal
sets the tone for how the faculty approaches differences and conflict. One teacher
commented that the principal “appreciates our professionalism and also respects us as
individuals…she likes that our staff is different” (T4, p. 17). Six out of eight of the
teachers noted that those who express disagreement are not looked down upon; the
principal does try to draw out all perspectives and concerns. T5 commented that: “she
listens to everybody’s point of view” (T5, p. 14). She does so by asking questions and
seeking clarification about others’ ideas. One teacher stated that: “I think if you really
strongly disagree, it carries some weight” (T1, p. 10). She explained how the principal, in
discussions with teachers about going to a modified calendar next year that would
provide more instructional time for struggling students, asked questions to draw out
different perspectives. T1 reported that the principal asked:
Is this really upsetting? Is anybody really opposed to this? Would it make ‘ya
leave the school? Because that would matter (T1, p. 10).
Several teachers (T1, T2, T7) noted that the principal also makes an effort to talk with
teachers individually to make sure that she understands their concerns. Another teacher
noted that the principal is “very easy-going and she just speaks her mind and allows you
to speak yours” (T7, p. 12). This particular teacher described how throughout her life she
has felt uncomfortable stating her ideas directly. She feels that she is learning to speak
up and address issues more directly. T7 stated: “I attribute that to [the principal]…I’ve
learned to be much more direct” (T7, p. 9). She attributed this personal growth in her
own approach to conflict to the principal who models clear, direct and open
communication for the staff (T7, pp. 9).
In contrast, teachers at Site B expressed a broader range of behavioral responses
to conflict. On the healthy and productive end of the spectrum, one teacher (T11) said,
“we just have conversations, a lot of conversations” (p. 11). Three teachers (T10, T13,
T14) described their approach with their grade level colleagues as focusing on the issue
directly and asking for clarification as to someone’s meaning. One teacher explicitly
mentioned listening to the person’s intention behind the words:
That happened last week in a staff meeting….a kindergarten teacher said
something and somebody else heard it differently than the intent behind it and
jumped in there and…argued a point and she came back and said, ‘That is not
what I said,’… I don’t know if it’s because I was closer and I could hear better or
because I know her better or what, but I knew her intent from that comment but
he got a different meaning out of it and jumped right on that (T10, p. 15)
T10 reported that in her grade level, she handles differences of opinion by “talking,
sharing research or data on student performance.” Although five out of the six interview
participants at Site B indicated that differences are generally accepted, two teachers (T10,
T13) noted that they try to “sway others” or “convince” others about the validity of her
At faculty meetings, some teachers (T10, T13, T14) report that they “ignore”
others who do not go along with a decision the majority supports. When asked how
teachers respond to others to disagree, one teacher (T13) said, “we ignore them.” Most
teachers (T9, T10, T11, T12, T13) reported that the faculty makes decisions based on
“majority rules.” In more extreme cases, T13 described how teachers “a lot of times
they’ll just go to a site representative” use the grievance procedure to resolve workplace
conflicts (T13, p. 9-10).
On the unhealthy end of the spectrum, T14 reported the consistent and overtly
hostile ways that her grade level colleagues treated her. She explained that they had
different approaches to pedagogy. Her colleagues had a more teacher-centered, traditional
approach, while she was working on incorporating strategies that encourage more student
interaction and engagement (T14, p. 8). In grade level and faculty meetings, she
described how her colleagues mocked and put down other teachers who expressed an
interest in new approaches. In one grade level meeting, she said, he “yelled at” her and
“bullied” her in an attempt to get her to “go along.” She responded by asking him not to
yell at her and to simply state his ideas (T14, p. 21). Based on her repeated experiences
like these, she says that dealing with conflict directly “feels futile” (T14, p. 21). Despite
feeling the futility of addressing conflict directly, she reported that she has tried asking
clarifying questions and acknowledging her grade level partners’ intention to help
students: “So it’s just chipping away, chipping away” (p. 17). She reported that using
this approach “didn’t work (T14, p. 17).
In summary, while teachers at the two sites share a discomfort with conflict, those
at Site A expressed more of a willingness to handle it directly. In general, teachers at Site
A tended to express a greater acceptance of differences. When divergent points of view
emerge, they described how they engage in questioning and clarification to lay out
“thoughts and feelings” (T2, p. 7), because each person’s point-of-view “carries weight”
and in the end “matters” (T1, p. 10). Several teachers (T3, T6, T6, T8) tended to report
that they felt heard by their colleagues. On the other hand, teachers at Site B tended to
engage in “conversations” (T10, T11, T12) aimed at “swaying others” (T10, T12) to their
perspective or “ignoring” (T10, T13, T14) those who voice opposition. Disrespectful and
hostile behaviors were noted at one grade level at Site B (T14). No incidents of this kind
of behavior were reported at Site A.
SUMMARY, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This chapter provides an overview of the findings from the current study,
discusses the implications of these findings for educators working to improve teaching
practice and student learning in schools, and suggests directions for future research.
First, the specific research questions that guided this work are reviewed below. Key
findings related to each question are summarized. Next, these findings are discussed in
relation to Wheatley’s conceptualization of conditions “below the green line” that
facilitate organizational change and Grossman, et.al.’s Theory of Teacher Community.
The implications of the findings for practice are discussed. Based on these findings,
recommendations are presented for educators who are guided by a genuine desire to
foster more meaningful, student-focused collaborative efforts in their schools. In the final
section, avenues of exploration are highlighted for future research endeavors.
The current study was guided by a set of research questions that addressed the
conditions that nurture and support the development of productive, student-focused
collaboration aimed at fostering teacher engagement and learning, which is the
foundation of instructional improvements in practice. The present study focused
attention on the role of social relationships, especially the ability to constructively
address conflict and mutual trust, in the development of teacher professional communities
focused on authentic collaboration. Specifically, this study was guided by the following
• What dimensions of trust (based on Tschannen-Moran and Hoy’s definition) are
most critical to make authentic collaboration possible?
• In what ways does trust foster authentic collaboration?
• What set of conditions support the development of trust among faculty?
• How is trust related to a professional community’s frame of reference for
• As teachers collaborate, what communication and conflict resolution
competencies are needed to nurture teacher trust in one another?
Overview of findings
Dimensions of trust most critical for authentic collaboration. Before the
dimensions of trust that are most important in laying the foundation for effective
collaborative efforts can be delineated, we need to clarify our terms. At the outset of the
current study, a working definition of authentic collaboration was posited. As noted
earlier in Chapter 1, the essential elements of authentic collaboration include: active
engagement in professional learning (P. Grossman, et al., 2001; Wegner, 1998), a shared
commitment to and clear focus on improving student outcomes that are guided by an
ethic of service (Little, 1990c; M.W. McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001), grounded in mutual
respect and caring for others (S. D. Kruse, et al., 1995; Lieberman & Miller, 2008). It
also involves a process of self-reflection and openness to challenging existing beliefs and
assumptions (Bolam, et al., 2005; Stoll, et al., 2006). In addition, professional
communities that are engaged in genuine collaborative dialogue address conflict and
divergent points-of-view openly and directly (Achinstein, 2002a; de Lima, 2001; P.
Grossman, et al., 2001; Hargreaves, 2001).
For the purpose of the current study, a survey was one method used to determine
the extent to which teachers at each site engaged in authentic collaboration. The survey
distributed to faculty at both sites included a variety of measures of effective teacher
learning communities. Specifically, survey items assessed the degree of cooperative
effort, continual learning, collective critical reflection, shared beliefs in the school
mission and that students can learn, mutual support and regular meetings to discuss
common problems and challenges. Teachers at Site A rated each of these items higher
(see Table 10); moreover, the differences in responses between the two schools on these
items were statistically significant (see Table 11). The distribution of responses from
teachers at each site differed significantly on their perceptions of the degree of
cooperative effort and identification as a whole school community (see Table 12),
suggesting that there is much less agreement between teachers at Site B. Teachers at Site
A expressed a greater probability to engage authentic collaboration as measured by their
survey responses to items on the teacher learning community scale.
The results from the teacher learning community scale were then analyzed in
relation to the dimensions of trust. Taken together, these findings highlight key
dimensions of trust in colleagues that make authentic collaboration among teachers
possible. Positive and statistically significant correlations were noted between effective
teacher learning community practices and all dimensions of faculty trust in colleagues –
benevolence, reliability, competence, openness and honesty (see Table 30). These results
suggest that all dimensions of trust are strongly related to the essential elements of
authentic collaboration as measured on the teacher learning community scale.
A closer examination of the analysis of survey and interview responses on items
related to faculty trust in colleagues provides a clearer view into which dimensions are
most critical for authentic collaboration. Independent samples t tests conducted on survey
results for teacher learning community and faculty trust in colleagues on the dimensions
of benevolence, reliability and competence indicated statistically significant differences
between the two sites. These patterns of responses were also reinforced throughout the
interviews as well. Interview participants at both sites strongly indicated that they based
their trust on colleagues on their benevolence, reliability, and competence.
Benevolence and reliability emerged in the interviews as the most important
dimensions of trust that are critical for authentic collaboration. In the literature on faculty
trust, benevolence and reliability have been found to be mutually reinforcing and
foundational for trusting relationships (W. K. Hoy & M. Tschannen-Moran, 2003;
Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). The presence of benevolence and reliability helps to
foster confidence that the other person can be counted on to consistently behave in ways
that protect one’s well being. Interview responses from teachers at both sites are
consistent with this research. Twelve out of fourteen of the teachers reported that they felt
supported by their colleagues. An essential component to trust based on benevolence is
being able to be vulnerable and not be harshly judged or attacked. A few teachers (T2,
T7, T11) expressed feeling like they could express a lack of certainty or seek feedback
without fear of being “pick[ed] apart” (T11, p. 15).
Reliability emerged from the interviews as another, closely related, dimension of
trust that serves as a foundation for authentic collaboration. Eleven of the fourteen
respondents indicated that reliability was essential in making collaboration more
effective. Knowing that they can count on their colleagues to follow through on
commitments (T2) and “depend on each other to do your jobs” are “huge, especially in a
PLC” (T11, p. 18). An essential component of reliability is feeling a consistency in a
shared commitment to students. The interdependence of teaching roles, such as sharing
students for specific instructional purposes, helps to reinforce and provide evidence that
supports trust based on reliability.
Faculty trust in colleagues based on perceptions of competence surfaced in the
interviews as another essential component of teachers’ collaborative work. Twelve of the
fourteen teachers at both sites (T1, T2, T3, T4, T6, T7, T8, T9, T10, T11, T12, T13)
expressed a trust in the colleagues’ professional knowledge and skill. Four out of eight of
the interview respondents (T2, T3, T4, T6) at Site A indicated that they attributed the
success of their reading rotations to the high level of trust they feel toward their peers’
This finding is consistent with research on faculty trust in colleagues in relation to
assessments of a peer’s competence in the context in which teachers share students for
specific instructional purposes. Tschannen-Moran (2004) noted that:
The degree to which competence matters to teachers’ trust in one another is
related to how interdependent they feel in the teaching realm. …As perceptions of
interdependent increased, judgments of one another’s competence became a more
salient part of teachers’ trust in colleagues (Tschannen-Moran, 2004).
The findings from the present study support the importance of shared teaching
responsibilities as a foundation for strengthening perceptions of trust based on
In summary, interview and survey responses point in the direction of benevolence
reliability, and competence as core foundations for trust among faculty. Table 33 shows
the interconnections between elements of authentic collaboration, teacher learning
community and dimensions of faculty trust in colleagues. These results suggest that
creating professional community based on authentic collaboration needs to be based on a
foundation of trust grounded in firm beliefs and practices that demonstrate consistency,
positive regard and professional knowledge and skill.
Ways that trust fosters authentic collaboration. Our attention will now shift to
explore the ways that these dimensions of trust foster authentic collaboration. As noted
in the previous chapter, the staff at each site has taken a different trajectory toward
building a collaborative culture. However, despite these separate paths, teachers at both
sites (T1, T4, T5, T9, T11, T13, T14) noted the difficulty some veteran teachers have had
in moving toward more collaborative working arrangements. Both sites have teachers
who have witnessed the transition from the “egg crate” model of isolated classrooms
described by Lortie (1975) and Goodlad (1984) toward a greater emphasis on joint work
within a professional community. Several teachers mentioned their perceived risk
involved in working more collaboratively. Two interview participants at Site A (T1, T4)
mentioned the fear of evaluation or not measuring up. One teacher at Site B referenced
the discomfort some teachers feeling “going public with instruction” (T11, p. 9). Another
teacher at Site B commented that for “the teachers who have been teaching a long time…
that’s hard for them….to change” (T9, p. 2). Given the potential risk involved for some
teachers to engage in discussions and share their teaching practices, the move toward
collaboration is potentially fraught with feelings of vulnerability.
In this context, trust is an essential component in helping teachers to feel safe in
the face of vulnerability. According to Hoy, et.al. (2006): “a culture of trust should
provide a setting in which people are not afraid of breaking new ground, taking risks and
making errors” (p. 237). Twelve out of fourteen teachers at both sites mentioned the
importance of both benevolence and reliability as a basis for their trust in their colleagues
and their joint work together. A foundation of trust built upon benevolence allows the
door of the classroom to be cracked open, but the reliability and consistency of knowing
others will behave in another’s best interest allows for a more open sharing practices and
knowing that they will not be “pick[ed] apart” (T11, p. 14). Feeling supported based on
their feeling of confidence in the consistently positive intention of others made it possible
for them to work together with their colleagues in new ways. As a veteran teacher (T4) at
Site A commented that the fear of evaluation may keep the classroom door closed, but
feeling support of colleagues and the principal helps one to “walk away from that fear”
(T4, p. 18). Trust based on benevolence and reliability is the foundation for authentic
In contrast, at Site B, external pressures to meet accountability targets fuel
competition and a desire “to look good” among some teachers. This atmosphere can
intensify fear of evaluation and therefore can create emotional distance that makes the
establishment of faculty trust difficult.
In summary, by minimizing feelings of vulnerability and perceptions of
interpersonal risk, trust provides a supportive context in which teachers can engage in
open dialogue about instructional practices, ask questions, try new approaches, seek
guidance from others and share challenges. A foundation of trust provides teachers with
a knowledge that their colleagues will consistently act in ways that will enhance positive
intentions and protect their sense of well-being. Thus, trust makes possible the kind of
active engagement, questioning and shifts in perspectives needed to improve student
learning and refine professional practices.
Conditions that support the development of trust among faculty. Given the
importance of faculty trust in fostering authentic collaboration, our attention now shifts to
the conditions that support its development. Research on professional communities
suggests that key elements such as openness and access to expertise and information, the
existence of supportive leadership and relationships based on mutual respect and trust as
well as shared values support both the development and sustenance of collaborative work
(Bolam, et al., 2005; Hord, 1997; Lieberman & Miller, 2008; Mulford, 2007; Stoll, et al.,
2006). Bryk and Schneider (2002) found that the relationships between the various
constituencies within the school community make the difference for successful
implementation of school reform.
The current study builds upon this work and provides a more nuanced view of the
importance of these relational aspects to the development of trust as a foundation for
collaborative work. The findings from the current study suggest that relationships with
colleagues and supportive leadership at the site level are critical in supporting the
development of trust among faculty. Both sets of conditions will be elaborated upon
Relational. Tschannen-Moran and other researchers have noted that the
development of trust depends upon the ability to be vulnerable in the presence of others
(A. Bryk & Schneider, 2002; W. K. Hoy & M. Tschannen-Moran, 2003; Tschannen-
Moran, 2004; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2000). Creating the safety necessary for the
development of trust among teachers is based on the relational ties between them. At Site
A, study participants characterized their relationships with other teachers as consistently
caring and supportive. Moreover, they reported feeling part of a school-wide community.
These strong relational ties were part of the school community. Feeling open and
confident that others can be counted on to behave in respectful, caring ways provides a
foundation for the development of trust.
In contrast, teachers at Site B expressed a more mixed sense of relational ties.
They indicated that their closest relationships were with their grade level colleagues.
With the exception of one grade level, teachers felt the most open and supported within
their grade levels. The sense of fragmentation noted in the teacher professional
community might not provide a solid basis from which to develop trust.
In summary, the findings from the current study support and extend research on
the presence of mutual caring and respect as a basis for collaborative work by suggesting
that these kinds of relational ties provide the foundation for trust that serves as a
precondition for authentic collaboration.
Supportive Leadership. Research has noted the importance of supportive
leadership to facilitate collaborative work among teachers. Previous studies have
explored the role of leadership and trust as a necessary condition of meaningful
collaboration (Hallam & Hausman, 2009; Hord, 1997; S. Kruse, et al., 1994; Tschannen-
Moran, 2001; Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008). However, these studies defined supportive
leadership as shared decision-making or, the degree to which teachers were involved in
making decisions related to governance of the school. The current study provides a
different view of the role of leadership in fostering collaborative work among teachers.
This research suggests that interpersonal skills and approaches to relationship building
are important elements of supportive leadership that help to foster the development of
trust among faculty.
Survey and interview responses pointed to the importance of several dimensions
of trust and ways that principals provide support for teachers’ collaborative efforts. First
of all, principals establish climate of safety and openness. Interview participants at both
sites indicated that being able to express themselves openly with their principal was an
important component of trust. The ability to talk openly was also tied to a sense of the
principal’s benevolence. T7 commented that: “I can say anything to her…and [she]
never would turn it around or use it against me” (p. 18). T11 said that she felt
comfortable taking risks: “You can take risks and you know you’re not going to be
judged” (p. 17). Related to the feeling of being able to talk openly, teachers at both sites
expressed that their trust is based on the availability of their principal, especially the
ability to be fully present and actively listen. Interview participants identified the
observable pursuit of common endeavors as another essential component of their trust in
the principal. Teachers at both sites mentioned their principal’s presence (T11, p. 16) and
that “she’s part of the team” (T5, p. 24).
These components lay the groundwork for teachers’ trust in the principal. By
modeling benevolence, reliability, and openness, teachers feel comfortable expressing
themselves. These actions serve to ease the sense of vulnerability and promotes more an
atmosphere of respect and personal regard (Kochanek, 2005).
Educational researchers have highlighted the role of principals in building a
culture of trust necessary for authentic collaboration focused on improvements in student
learning (Hallam & Hausman, 2009; Louis, 2006a; Tschannen-Moran, 2004). Tschannen-
Moran (2004) states that: “Principals set the tone for teachers to trust one another” (p.
133). She outlines a multi-faceted model for “trustworthy leadership”: visioning,
modeling, coaching, managing, and mediating (pp. 175-184).
The findings from the present study resonate mostly closely with modeling,
coaching, and mediating as key elements of principal leadership. Interview respondents at
both sites indicated that their principals’ actions demonstrated benevolence and openness.
Teachers felt comfortable talking with their principal about “where they are” and
challenges they confronted in their work. The principal’s modeled being open to
communications from teachers and not holding their perspectives or confessions of
problems against them. By modeling this kind of behavior, principals help to set the tone
within the school.
Principals at both sites, especially at Site A, engaged in coaching with teachers to
help them work through challenges. Tschannen-Moran (2004) notes that: “coaches assist
people to move forward toward their goals through conversation and their way of being
with people” (p. 179). Interview participants commented about the principal’s ability to
“be present,” and “really listen” and respond based on the needs of the person. By
demonstrating these competencies, principals can help cultivate trust that can contribute
to an openness to new approaches and professional learning.
A key difference between the principals at the two sites involved the degree to
which they take on the role of mediator. The interview respondents at Site A made
frequent mention of the principal’s role in helping them mediate conflicts. Five out of
eight teachers (T1, T4, T5, T6, T7) at the site mentioned the principal’s getting people
together to talk through difficult feelings or problems. Six out of eight teachers (T1, T2,
T4, T5, T6, T7) noted that the principal is open to disagreement and actively seeks out
alternative points of view. T7 made specific reference to the principal modeling for others
how to communicate directly which she “attributes to [her principal].” She further
elaborated “I’ve learned to be much more direct” (T7, p.9). In summary, the findings
from the current study strongly suggest that being able to facilitate potentially difficult
conversations may make a difference in cultivating higher levels of trust among faculty.
Faculty trust and frames of references for approaching conflict. In the
section below, key findings from the present study will be explored to help clarify the
relationship between faculty trust and a professional community’s ways of thinking about
and responding to conflict.
For the purpose of the current study, a professional community’s orientation or
frames of reference for handling conflict encompasses both beliefs and attitudes about as
well as behavioral approaches to addressing divergent points-of-view. Correlational
analysis suggests that teachers’ frames of references for handling conflicts are
significantly related to both perceptions of a professional community as well as
dimensions of faculty trust. Results from survey and interview responses did not indicate
significant differences between each site in terms of conflict avoidance. Overall, the
patterns of responses indicate that while teachers may not feel comfortable with conflict
they are not willing to avoid addressing differences as they emerge. Teachers at both sites
indicated that they felt uncomfortable with conflict or they tended to minimize it.
However, faculty at Site A indicated more of willingness to address divergent points-of-
view that surfaced at their school.
Another key finding suggests that faculty trust may also influence behavioral
responses to conflict. Even though teachers at the two sites shared a discomfort with
conflict, those at Site A expressed more of a willingness to handle it directly. In general,
teachers at Site A, both in their survey and interview responses, tended to express a
greater acceptance of differences. When divergent points of view emerge, they described
how they engage in questioning and clarification to lay out “thoughts and feelings” (T2,
p. 7), because each person’s point-of-view “carries weight” and in the end “matters” (T1,
p. 10). Several teachers (T3, T6, T6, T8) tended to report that they felt heard by their
At Site B, on the other hand, the degree of trust among faculty is mixed. All but
one of the teachers interviewed indicated that they felt a high degree of trust with their
grade level colleagues. This could be due to the extent of fragmentation across the school
community. Interview participants at Site B reported that they engage in a broader range
of responses to conflict. Teachers at Site B tended to engage in “conversations” (T10,
T11, T12) aimed at “swaying others” (T10, T12) to their perspective or “ignoring” (T10,
T13, T14) those who voice opposition. Disrespectful and hostile behaviors were noted at
one grade level at Site B (T14). It is noteworthy that in the grade level in which one
teacher expressed she had the lowest degree of trust, more incidents of unhealthy
responses to conflict were noted (yelling, mocking, belittling, etc.). No incidents of this
kind of behavior were reported at Site A.
Research conducted on common responses to conflict helps to illuminate the two
different approaches found at each site. Deutsch (2000) posited six continua along which
responses to conflict can be analyzed: 1) avoid (suppress, deny, postpone) v. confront; 2)
aggressive and unyielding v. excessively gentle and unassertive; 3) rigid v. loose; 4)
intellectual v. affective; 5) escalate v. minimize; 6) bluntness v. withhold and conceal
Applying the intellectual versus affective continuum to the current findings
provides a helpful distinction for understanding healthy and dysfunctional responses to
conflict at each site. Cognitive or intellectual conflict “pertains to a conflict of ideas and
disagreement about how to accomplish some task” and “can enhance problem solving
and improve decision quality” (Uline, et al., 2003). On the other end of the continuum:
Affective conflict involves a perceived threat to one’s personal or group identity,
norms, and values; it exists when personal relationships within the group are
characterized by personality clashes, friction and frustration (Uline, et al., 2003).
Responses to conflict reported by interview participants at Site A indicated a greater
tendency to engage in cognitive conflict, whereas at Site B responses indicated more of a
mixture of cognitive and affective conflict.
At Site A teachers indicated a high degree of trust in their colleagues and their
principal. In addition, teachers at Site A expressed a greater tendency to accept different
perspectives to see these divergent points of view as a potential source for learning.
Interview responses also indicated a greater likelihood to engage in cognitive conflict –
drawing out alternative perspectives, asking questions, seeking clarification and voicing
concerns. Taken together, these findings suggest that faculty trust based on benevolence,
reliability and competence create an atmosphere in which teachers feel safe
acknowledging and exploring differences.
At Site B teachers at reported a wider range of responses to conflict. At one end,
teachers engage in conversations and seek to understand the intention behind ideas
expressed (cognitive conflict); at the other end, teachers at one grade level engage in
yelling, mocking and belittling behavior (affective conflict). These findings suggest that
in a lower trust environment, more dysfunctional responses may be more likely because
participants feel a “perceived threat” and need to engage in defensive behaviors to protect
their sense of well-being. In an atmosphere of heighten scrutiny and pressure to meet
external accountability targets, this sense of threat and vulnerability may be intensified
and therefore result in more affective conflict. A greater tendency toward more affective
conflict can diminish a group’s functioning and decision making (Uline, et al., 2003).
Communication and conflict resolution competencies. The results of the
current study suggest that even if a foundation of faculty trust exists and teachers see
divergent points-of-view as potential sources of learning, they still may feel
uncomfortable or may not have the competencies to deal with conflict directly or may
seek to avoid it altogether. Being able to engage in potentially difficult conversations is
important to the healthy functioning of a professional community. Mulford (2007)
emphasizes the importance of the social aspects of professional learning communities by
arguing that: “how people communicate with and treat each other” are essential before
moving on to the development professional communities focused on learning (p. 177).
Significant differences were noted with respect to each site’s general perceptions
of and responses to conflict. As the interactions among faculty at Site B make clear,
putting structures, such as PLC protocols, meeting logs, and schedules, in place alone do
not teach people how to interact with each other (P. Grossman, et al., 2001). However,
neither do high degrees of trust across the school community. At Site A, while faculty
trust in colleagues and the principal provide a supportive context in which to address
conflict directly by minimizing the feelings of vulnerability to harm and bolstering
feelings of confidence in the positive intentions of others to protect their well-being,
teachers still may not have the communication competencies needed to constructively
engage in conversations that have the potential for controversy. Accepting differences is
the first step, but providing teachers with communication tools to work through divergent
points of view would foster optimal team functioning and organizational learning (Uline,
et. al., 2003).
Findings from the current study suggest that using effective communication
approaches and tools in collaborative work may help teachers to be able to address
potential controversy constructively. Teachers at Site A repeatedly mentioned the
importance of actively drawing out all points of view without judgment or retaliation in
promoting the sense that all perspectives are valuable to the group’s decision-making
process. T2 and T4 mentioned how useful graphic organizers were to map out all
participants’ ideas as a point of reference for team discussions. Interview respondents
also made reference to other communication tools such as asking clarifying questions to
gain a deeper understanding of other perspectives or to explore underlying sources of
disagreement. Interview responses from teachers at Site A (T1, T2, T4, T5, T8) indicated
that they were more likely to reframe potential conflict as a common challenge to be
addressed collectively rather than a two-sided struggle with a clear “winner” or “loser.”
After getting all perspectives out in the open, they described how they worked through
trying to find common ground or areas of compromise that honored each person’s point
of view. Toward this end, hand voting or putting dots next to ideas of most importance on
a graphic organizer helped teams to synthesize different perspectives and reach
agreement. By providing opportunities for teachers to develop competencies in using
these kinds of tools, members of a professional community may be better equipped to
constructively engage in dialogue focused on differences as they work together to learn
from each other and refine their instructional practices.
Margaret Wheatley’s above and below the green line model. Margaret
Wheatley’s theoretical framework highlights the importance of relational aspects of
professional communities and the leadership competencies needed to foster authentic,
student-focused collaborative work. Wheatley’s conceptualization urges us to shift our
field of vision to examine the dynamics “below the green line” to the less visible, but
very powerful aspects of organizations that hold the potential for adaptation and growth
(see Figure 5). Wheatley suggests that to facilitate adaptive change and growth needed
for organizations to thrive, special attention needs to be paid to the open and free access
to information and developing relationships based on mutual respect and care. In so
doing, people in the organization can develop a deep sense of identity based on shared
values and purposes.
Applying Wheatley’s model helps us to better understand how well intentioned
efforts to implement collaborative professional communities have not resulted in
meaningful change. Many educational leaders have approached change in a procedural
way. In doing so, they have kept their focus above the green line (see Figure 5). Michael
Fullan has noted that: “people make the mistake of treating professional learning
communities as the latest innovation” (Fullan, 2006). Echoing Fullan’s sentiment, Louis
(2006) argued that by focusing on the implementation of PLCs as another initiative,
educational leaders have not fully grasped “the sea change that is required to deepen trust
and to create the intellectual ferment that characterizes a learning organization” (p. 11).
More recently, Bloom and Vitcov (2010) drew attention to the limitations inherent in
viewing PLCs from above the green line:
Similar to other instructional or curricular fads or programs du jour, the idea of
PLCs is imposed upon schools by well-intentioned school administrators. The
idea of PLCs is translated into to-do lists, bureaucratic forms and compliance
checks. It’s doing rather than being (Bloom & Vitcov, 2010).
The Above and Below the Green Line model developed by Margaret Wheatley,
Leadership and the New Science (1992) and Tim Dalmau (2000) reprinted from (Flavell
& Foley, 2006)
Wheatley’s model helps to illustrate some of the key differences noted between
the two school sites. As noted in the previous chapter, the move toward greater
collaboration among teachers at Site A occurred over time. Initially, teachers worked
together on early release days once a month to plan lessons. Over the past five years, the
frequency and scope of collaborative work has shifted in response to changing student
demographics. Five years ago, the school experienced a decline in its Academic
Performance Index over a two-year period. The principal shared this information with the
staff and engaged them in a discussion focused on re-examining their practices.
It is interesting to note that the impetus for teachers to work together – reviewing
student progress, planning instruction and refining strategies – came from teachers
themselves in response to the principal’s suggestion that the school community re-
examine their instructional practices. The principal shared information on the two-year
decline in the school’s Academic Performance Index with the faculty and engaged them
in a dialogue about the need to change instructional approaches to meet the changing and
diverse needs of their students. Based on these discussions, two veteran teachers at third
grade, “the pioneers,” developed a plan and initiated the practice of sharing students for
reading instruction. As teachers at other grade levels noted their success, they began to
share students and work more collaboratively.
As teachers from Site A made clear, this move “took time”, but was facilitated by
the relationships they had with their colleagues and their principal that were based on
trust and respect. By working together, sharing information on their practices and student
successes as well as challenges, they developed a shared sense of identity. We are all here
for “the kids.” This shared sense of responsibility has only increased over the years as
teachers across grade levels work with their colleagues to ensure the success of all
students. Thus, the changes made at Site A were guided by attention to and focus on
those elements below the green line – free flow of information, relationships and shared
The process of change undertaken by educators at Site B was guided by attention
to and focus on the elements above the green line – structures, process, etc. As described
in the previous chapter, the implementation of PLCs in the district followed a very
structured path. The procedures, documentation, meeting times and schedule for PLC
meetings were clearly outlined in the bargaining agreement between the district and the
teachers. The data suggests that these aspects of PLCs were the primary focus of efforts
to put collaborative “practices in place.” Three years ago, the school opened under the
leadership of a new district superintendent and site principal. Teachers were moved from
other schools within the district -- some of their own choice, others were reassigned.
District leadership made the decision to move toward the professional learning
communities model as a way of improving student performance. Prior to this time, some
teachers worked collaboratively at their own discretion; others worked more
independently in their own classrooms. During this process, elements above the green
line (schedules, topics for discussion, meeting logs, etc.) were carefully put in place;
however, laying the groundwork for the elements below the green line was left
unattended. Other than assigning teachers to specific grade levels and expecting them to
function as a PLC, little attention was paid to building relationships across the school
community that could serve as a basis for developing a shared sense of purpose and
Grossman, Wineburg and Woolworth’s theory of teacher community. As the
current study shows, moving toward creating a collaborative culture based on trust and
shared identities does not occur in an all-or-nothing fashion. The different trajectories
both sites followed in establishing collective working arrangements among teachers
suggests that changing the underlying conditions that support this kind of work takes
place along a continuum. In this regard, Grossman, et.al.’s model of the Formation of
Teacher Professional Communities helps shed light on how to view the process of change
(see Figure 6). Their schematic provides a way to evaluate a professional community’s
development from beginning to mature stages of formation along four axis: 1) formation
of group identity and norms of interaction; 2) navigating differences (“fault lines”); 3)
negotiating the essential tension between individualism and collective aspirations; and 4)
communal responsibility for individual growth.
Using this schematic can help to provide another view of the development of the
professional communities at the two school sites. Based on the survey and interview data,
Site A appears to be further along the community formation continuum, between
evolving and mature. With respect to group identity and norms of interaction, survey and
interview respondents indicated that teachers at Site A tend to view themselves as part of
a school-wide community. Although they tend to interact more frequently with
colleagues within or in adjacent grade levels, there is a clear sense that they are all
“pulling toward the same goal.” Moreover, there does exist a recognition that multiple
and diverse perspectives matter. Their tendency to respond to conflict with more
cognitive strategies (i.e., questioning, clarifying, soliciting alternate points of view, etc.)
suggests that norms are in place for community behavior.
In terms of “navigating fault lines,” or addressing differences, survey and
interview responses as well as site observations would place faculty at Site A toward the
mature group end of the spectrum. Teachers at Site A expressed a positive view of
differences and feel more comfortable expressing alternative perspectives.
Looking at the criteria for “negotiating the essential tension,” between individual
and collective identity, as well as “communal responsibility for individual growth”,
responses fall between the evolving and mature section of the continuum. Six out of the
eight interview respondents from Site A (T1, T2, T3, T4, T5, T8) indicated that they
recognize each teacher’s individuality and let different people pursue their own activities
in some areas. This sentiment surfaced in discussions around political and pedagogical
beliefs that suggested that a “live and let live” attitude prevails. For two out of the eight
teachers there seemed to more recognition that “teacher learning and student learning are
fundamentally intertwined.” Seven out of the eight interview respondents expressed
awareness that their colleagues bring new ideas and help them to refine their practices.
There also seems to be an expectation among the seven teachers that participation is
expected from all members. Even in grade levels that expressed an appreciation for their
colleagues’ perspectives, commitment to each other’s growth appeared to be uneven. For
example, in early primary grades there tends to be more limited communal responsibility
for colleagues’ growth.
Grossman, et.al.’s schematic also helps to illuminate the development of the
professional community at Site B. T11 commented that as a faculty their sense of
community is “in the building phase.” Based on survey and interview responses, this
assessment of the group’s formation appears accurate. In general, the teacher professional
community at Site B would fall between the beginning and evolving points on the
With respect to group identity and norms of interaction, survey and interview
respondents indicated that teachers at Site B tend to most strongly identify with their
grade level teams. Their point of reference for their professional community is their
respective grade levels. Like teachers at Site A, they tend to interact more frequently with
colleagues within or in adjacent grade levels; however, there is a strong identification
with subgroups, not the whole school community. In addition, there is an undercurrent of
incivility noted within a particular grade level, as commented upon by T14. The
underlying tension noted in both the observations of the faculty meeting and grade level
meeting indicate the presence of incivility. Based on these observed aspects of
interaction, the professional community would be placed at the beginning end of the
spectrum on this dimension.
Reviewing the criteria for “navigating fault lines,” responses by teachers at Site B
indicate placement between the beginning and evolving points on the continuum.
Interview respondents (T10, T11, T12, T13, T14) recognized differences in terms of
pedagogical approach, degree of commitment to joint work and years of experience.
These differences are not dealt with openly, and thus, the understanding and productive
use of conflict is limited. Conflict surfaces in grade levels (T10, T3, T14) and is handled
indirectly or in unhealthy ways. In this way, conflict goes backstage and is hidden from
view of the larger community. During the observation at the faculty meeting, tension was
noted in the form of sarcastic or side comments, indicating that conflict did emerge onto
the “main stage,” but was not dealt with directly.
In terms of “navigating the fault lines” between individual and group identity, the
mixed responses provided by interview participants reveals a polarized professional
community. Five out of six teachers interviewed at Site B (T9, T10, T11, T12, T13)
expressed a recognition that their collaborative work helped promote their professional
learning. However, they were less clear in making the connection between their own
learning and student learning. In one grade level, T14 indicated that there was a lack of
agreement between team members as to the purpose of the professional community. She
reported that the two other teachers at her grade level were focused on “getting students
to pass the test”, while she was more focused on examining her instructional practices to
promote greater student engagement. While these two perspectives are not, in and of
themselves, irreconcilable, she reported that resolving this difference felt “futile.”
With respect to “communal responsibility for individual growth,” the interview
responses provided by teachers at Site B fell within the evolving point on the spectrum.
Most teachers interviewed acknowledged their colleagues as a source of their own
learning and expressed an expectation that all members participate. Again, this sentiment
was discussed in relation to their grade level team. While they feel a strong sense of
community within their grade level, it is not widely shared across the school community.
The Formation of Teacher Professional Community model can also be used to
identify areas of focus to help promote a group’s development. For instance, a group
stuck in the pseudocommunity phase of development, where conflict is suppressed to
present a façade that “we all get along here,” might need to work on developing ways of
surfacing underlying points of divergence. Having a foundation of trust, especially
benevolence and reliability, can help to make discussions of potentially sensitive issues
less threatening and more productive.
Model of the Formation of Teacher Professional Community (p. 988) (P. Grossman, et
Implications for Practice
The findings of the current study have important implications for educators
seeking to foster meaningful, student-focused collaboration that holds the potential for
professional learning for teachers and improvements in student learning.
First of all, a supportive organizational context that is grounded in mutual trust
and caring serves as a foundation for authentic collaboration. Leadership is critical in
building this foundation. By providing an open atmosphere that allows for the expression
of divergent points of view and modeling trustworthy behaviors such as benevolence and
reliability, educational leaders can lay the groundwork for a healthy culture. As the
interview participants at both sites highlighted, principals can create a safe environment
in which teachers can take risks in trying new practices and ask for help when they are
struggling by being fully present (e.g., focusing on the speaker, minimizing distractions,
etc.), listening actively and providing support rather than using information shared as the
basis of judgments or retaliation. In these ways, principals can minimize the potential
feelings of vulnerability and strengthen perceptions of their positive intention that form
the basis of building a trusting relationship.
Before moving forward with any changes, educational leaders need to be
particularly mindful to assess the level of trust that exists within their staff. Tools such as
the Faculty Trust Survey can be used to identify specific areas where trust within a
professional community needs attention (Tschannen-Moran, 2004). With this
information, the principal can actively work on addressing these sources of diminished
trust. If survey responses indicated a low level of trust in colleagues based on reliability,
she might engage faculty in a dialogue about norms for meeting professional obligations
and reinforce positive efforts to meet them. If survey responses indicate a low level of
trust in the principal in the area of benevolence, she would need to critically reflect on her
behavior and consciously engage in behaviors that convey positive regard and focus on
being open and available to provide support, rather than being critical and evaluative. As
the findings from the current study suggest, supportive leadership needs to address
sources that may heighten vulnerability for some teachers and thereby impede the
development of trust.
The next step along the path, as the experiences of teachers at both sites make
clear, is active engagement of teachers in the process of change. At Site A, the change
process began when the principal shared information on students’ academic performance.
She engaged the faculty in a discussion about ways the school community could improve
student learning. By framing the discussion as a mutual challenge to be addressed
cooperatively, the principal actively involved teachers in moving toward creating a more
collaborative culture. Out of these discussions, teachers within a particular grade level
developed a plan and sought support from the principal for putting their ideas into
practice. They worked together to develop instructional practices to meet the needs of all
students across the grade level. Exchanging students across grade levels for specific
instructional purposes (e.g., core reading instruction) provided a basis for their
collaborative work as they discussed the effectiveness of their practices and student
progress. Moreover, sharing students heightened their sense of engagement in their
refining their own instructional practices and solidified their collective responsibility for
In contrast, the move toward collaboration at Site B was started as a top down
directive. District leadership made the decision to implement PLCs and established
priorities for the work conducted by grade level teams. Teachers were involved through
the collective bargaining process to fine tune the structures put in place (i.e., schedule,
team meeting log, etc.). Perceived as a way of fulfilling external mandates, rather than
improving teaching practice and student learning, teachers tended to view collaborative
work as “another hoop to jump through,” not a meaningful way of improving
Next steps suggested by the present study include opportunities to see models of
successful collaboration at work and the results of those efforts can provide teachers with
a sense of efficacy to engage in an exploration of joint work. Educational leaders can
make available time and opportunities for teachers to observe group processes and talk
with others who have successfully facilitated teacher collaboration. By seeing the positive
impact that the third grade team had on their students’ learning, other grade levels at Site
A were encouraged to re-examine their own practices. Teachers at the school site had the
benefit of seeing their colleagues’ successes and had the opportunities to talk with them
directly. Not all teachers have this opportunity. However, when selecting models of
authentic collaboration at other school sites, educators would be well advised to seek out
examples that closely resemble their own site in terms of similar demographics, but
perhaps, differ in terms of the extent to which they have been able to foster high levels of
student learning. Beyond selecting exemplary teams or sites, observations should not
only focus on actual classroom practices, but also team interactions to note
communication techniques used, topics of discussion, ways of resolving or addressing
Conflict can be a source of deep, meaningful organizational learning (Achinstein,
2002a; de Lima, 2001). To realize this potential requires the skills necessary to engage in
difficult conversations that allow participants to address conflict directly. Unfortunately,
as the findings from the current study suggest, there is a strong tendency within
professional communities to avoid conflict. However, within a trusting and supportive
environment, teachers may be willing to address controversy more directly. Educational
leaders can make the difference between maintaining the status quo by avoiding conflict
and moving staff forward toward more constructive ways of thinking about and
responding to it. For example, a principal can set the stage for difficult conversations by
bringing together people directly involved and guiding the group through the process of
establishing ground rules for handling conflict (e.g., keeping the focus on issues, not
people or personalities; communication using “I” statements; etc.). He can set the tone
for the discussion by modeling direct, honest communication with others as well as
techniques for inquiry about the topic or issue (e.g., asking clarifying questions, inviting
others to elaborate on their thinking, sharing his own questions or points of confusion,
etc.). To draw out all perspectives on the issue, he can also actively encourage all
participants to share their ideas. He can help to reframe the issue from an either-or debate
to a common challenge that needs to be addressed cooperatively by highlighting the
expected outcome and keeping the focus on it. Using strategies such as hand voting or
ranking options, he can help the group identify areas of agreement. By helping staff learn
how to engage in healthy and productive conflict, educational leaders can cultivate the
conditions that nourish and sustain trust and promote more effective group processes at
their school sites.
1. Despite a body of research that suggests that deep and meaningful change in
schools results from transformations of culture, a growing body of popular
literature as well as a variety of initiatives undertaken by schools and districts
continue to focus on implementing teacher collaboration as “something to do,
rather than something to be” (Bloom and Victcov, 2010, p. 24). The main focus
has been on creating structures to support professional learning communities and
other forms of collaboration. Insufficient attention has been placed on cultivating
the cultural conditions that support the development of trust and interpersonal
relationships that make possible meaningful change. Findings from the current
study strongly suggest that educators need to pay careful attention to and actively
cultivate conditions “below the green line.”
2. Cultivating trust within a professional community is essential to changing the
culture, but it takes time. T4 observed that shifting from a culture based on
teacher isolation to one in which teachers work together to improve instructional
practice “took a long time.” Educational leaders truly committed to fostering
professional culture that engages in meaningful dialogue focused on improving
teaching and learning, need to look beyond simply putting in place schedules and
protocols. Creating authentically collaborative relationships must start with
developing the capacities to participate in what Scott (2004) refers to as “fierce
conversations” that require us to “come out from behind ourselves into the
conversation and make it real” (p. 7). Engaging in type of dialogue is no easy feat.
It calls upon educational leaders to approach their work authentically, mustering
the courage to confront potentially sensitive topics (“undiscussables”) as well as
interpersonal skills to “interrogate reality” by asking deep, thought-provoking
questions to uncover underlying beliefs and maintaining a genuine openness to
exploring divergent points-of-view (Scott, 2004).
Approaching cultural transformation with “fierceness,” educational
leaders need to be mindful that changing educational practices can be fear-
inducing for teachers, especially those accustomed to working in isolation.
Therefore, educational leaders need to be acutely aware of the potentially
threatening nature of the culture changes that they are promoting. In moving
toward more collaborative arrangements, we need to be focused on ways of
creating the emotional safety to make openness to new approaches possible. A
good starting place for building a trusting culture would be to engage in an
inventory of the level of trust within a school community prior to undertaking
changes. This information can provide a basis for having open and healthy
discussions with faculty about the level of trust and the underlying conditions that
contribute to it.
3. Educators need to shift their understandings of conflict. Rather than see conflict
as an obstacle to move around, or a problem to be solved, they need to develop
the capacity to engage in strategies to actively explore divergent points of view as
a potential source of organizational learning.
As previous research has noted, building professional communities of
educators focused on instructional improvement requires more than just putting
teachers together and expecting them to talk about their practices. As Grossman,
et. al. (2000) noted: “structural arrangements alone cannot teach people how to
interact differently” (p. 990). Engaging in the kinds of deep conversations that
truly “confront the brutal facts” and lead to an exploration of underlying
assumptions that maintain the status quo requires communication competencies to
navigate this potentially challenging terrain.
As teachers work together conflicts in pedagogical approaches, underlying
beliefs about student learning, and instructional practices surface. To create a
culture that promotes teacher professional learning and student growth requires
developing the conversational skills to be able to address these sources of
difference directly, honestly and openly. The present study highlights the
importance of providing educators with the tools necessary to engage in this kind
of dialogue such as protocols to draw out all perspectives, asking clarifying
questions to probe underlying beliefs, and reframing conflict as a common
challenge to be addressed collectively.
Cultivating these skills requires time and conscious effort. Before
initiating any training focused on developing conflict resolution skills, educational
leaders need to take stock of the ways members of a professional community
approach conflict. It is critical that people become aware of their own styles of
dealing with conflict prior to working on new approaches. Administering a self-
assessment tool such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and then
having individuals reflect on their own styles of managing conflict can provide a
good starting point for identifying behavioral responses that need development
(Kilmann & Thomas, 1977). This information can provide a basis for training that
includes hands-on practice trying out new behaviors as well as feedback on how
to refine more healthy approaches. Beyond providing training in new behaviors,
educational leaders need to actively support staff members in applying their
learning on an on-going basis.
4. As the findings from the current study as well as previous research make clear,
educational leadership matters. Margaret Wheatley’s Green Line
conceptualization urges instructional leaders to shift their field of vision from the
visible elements of the organization (schedules, meeting logs, etc.) to the deeper,
underlying conditions that hold the potential of cultivating a culture that supports
teacher engagement and learning and student growth.
Leaders do this in two ways. First, they set the tone for interpersonal
interactions based on respecting differences and exploring divergent points of
view. Second, conducting themselves and modeling trustworthy behavior and
healthy approaches to conflict helps to develop these capacities in others.
To develop educational leaders who are able to cultivate the elements
below the green line, training programs need to help promote the competencies
necessary for this kind of work. Instead of providing technical skill to comply
with mandates, greater attention must be paid to cultivating a deeper
understanding of the change process. Since meaningful change cannot be
mandated, but instead must be fostered by building healthy working relationships
based on open and free flowing communication, educational leadership training
must incorporate opportunities to develop the core competencies necessary to help
facilitate this process.
A training program designed to provide leaders with the core
competencies would include several essential components. First, the program
needs to actively encourage educational leaders to develop a keen sense of
intrapersonal awareness and reflection to be able to model healthy behavior and
approaches to divergent points of view. Second, the program also must have an
explicit focus on cultivating the interpersonal skills necessary to help members of
school communities engage in and work through constructive conflict. Finally,
given the importance of creating a safe atmosphere for questioning and
challenging existing practices, such a training program needs to help leaders
develop the competencies for team building, skillful facilitation, and conflict
5. Creating change in the long term requires a shift in thinking about how to evaluate
the degree of movement. Toward this end, educators would be advised to shift
from either/or thinking about cultural change toward viewing the move toward
collaboration along a continuum. In this regard, Grossman, et.al.’s model of the
Formation of Teacher Professional Communities could serve as a helpful
assessment tool to highlight specific areas that need further development.
Suggestions for future research
The conclusions drawn from the present study are constrained by several
limitations. The data collected to measure aspects of collaboration within a professional
community is based largely on teachers’ perceptions of their work with colleagues at
their school site. In addition, the study is further limited by the low response rate on the
survey and the inclusion of only two elementary schools. Ideally, future research would
include a broader range of sites, including secondary schools, as well as a greater number
of sites to allow for an analysis of how different contexts influence the process of
creating and sustaining meaningful, student-focused teacher collaboration. A greater
variety of school sites would strengthen the external validity and thus, would allow for
more definitive statements to be drawn from this research. In addition, a more focused
effort could be made to validate the self-reported information from teachers. Greater
number and variety of observations of teacher interactions within professional
communities would add to the depth of understanding of the dynamics that support the
development of trust and the constructive approaches to conflict that are so vital to open
and healthy dialogue.
Educational research has emphasized the importance of educational leadership in
the cultivation of trust within a school community. The current study adds to this body of
work by highlighting interpersonal and relational aspects of trust that are necessary to
foster authentic collaboration. Given the limitations of the current study outlined above,
more research is needed to explore the specific strategies educational leaders employ to
create open dialogue about meaningful school change.
The findings from the current study are merely suggestive of the relationship
between trust and constructive approaches to conflict. Future research could greatly
enrich our understanding of how faculty trust can serve as a basis for reframing our
conceptions of conflict and promoting strategies that are more conducive to healthy
engagement of different points of view.
At both ends of the accountability spectrum, the experiences of staff at Site A and
Site B provide different viewpoints on the role of external accountability in shaping
collaborative cultures that are calling out for further research. Future studies might
elaborate on the specific features of the accountability system and what role they play in
fostering or hindering trust within professional communities.
Abbate-Vaughn, J. (2004). The Things they Carry: Ideology in an Urban Teacher
Professional Community. Urban Review, 36(4), 227-249.
Achinstein, B. (2002a). Community, Diversity and Conflict Among Schoolteachers: The
Ties That Blind. New York: Teachers College Press.
Achinstein, B. (2002b). Conflict Amid Community: The Micropolitics of Teacher
Collaboration. Teachers College Record, 104(3), 421-455.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Harvard Business Review,
Argyris, C. (1993). Education for Leading-Learning. Organizational Dynamics, 21(3), 5-
Argyris, C., & Schon, D. A. (1978). Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action
Perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Barth, R. S. (1990). Improving Schools from Within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Bloom, G., & Vitcov, B. (2010). PLCs: A Cultural Habit Built on Trust. Leadership,
Bolam, R., MacMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., & Wallace, M. (2005). Creating and
sustaining professional learning communities. London, England: General
Teaching Council for England, Department for Education and Skills.
Bryk, A., Camburn, E., & Louis, K. S. (1999). Professional Community in Chicago
Elementary Schools: Facilitating Factors and Organizational. Educational
Administration Quarterly, 35(4), 751.
Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (Eds.). (2002). Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for
Improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Calderwood, P. (2000). Learning Community: Finding common ground in difference.
New York: Teacher College Press.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of Knowledge and Practice:
Teacher Learning in Communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249-
Cole, A. L. (1991). Relationships in the workplace: Doing what comes naturally?
Teaching and Teacher Education, 7(5-6), 415-426.
Cuban, L. (1992). Managing Dilemmas while Building Professional Communities.
Educational Researcher, 21(1), 4-11.
Dalmau, T. (2000). The Green Line Lens Retrieved from
Darling-Hammond, L., & et al. (1994). Transforming School Reform: Policies and
Practices for Democratic Schools. NCREST Reprint Series: National Center for
Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, Box 110, Teachers College,
Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 ($3).
de Lima, J. A. (2001). Forgetting About Friendship: Using Conflict in Teacher
Communities as a Catalyst for School Change. Journal of Educational Change,
Deutch, M. (2000). Cooperation and Competition. In M. Deutsch & P. T. Coleman
(Eds.), The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (pp. 21-40).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dubin, J. (2010). American Teachers Embrace the Japanese Art of Lesson Study.
Education Digest, 75(6), 23.
DuFour, R. (2003). Leading Edge: 'Collaboration Lite' puts student achievement on a
starvation diet. Journal of Staff Development, 24(3). Retrieved from
Dufour, R. (2004). What is a "Professional Learning Community". Educational
Dufour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional Learning Communities At Work: Best
Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement. Reston, Virginia: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Elmore, R. (2008). Building a New Structure for School Leadership. In R. Elmore (Ed.),
School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press.
Elmore, R. F. (2000). Building a New Structure for Educational Leadership (Vol.
Winter). Washington, D.C.: The Albert Shanker Institute.
Flavell, A., & Foley, J. (2006). Above and Below the Green Line. In
Fantasy__Reality_of_Org_Effectiveness.pdf (Ed.). Hawthorne, VIC: Wheeler
Strobel Consulting Group.
Flinders, D. J. (1988). Teacher isolation and the new reform. Journal of Curriculum &
Supervision, 4(1), 17-29.
Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Fullan, M. (2006). Leading Professional Learning. School Administrator, 63(10), 10-14.
Furman, G. C. (1998). Postmodernism and Community in Schools: Unraveling the
Paradox. Educational Administration Quarterly, 34(3), 298-328.
Gay, L. R., Mills, G. E., & Airasian, P. (2009). Educational Research: Competencies for
Analysis and Applications, 9th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.
Giles, C., & Hargreaves, A. (2006). The Sustainability of Innovative Schools as Learning
Organizations and Professional Learning Communities During Standardized
Reform. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(1), 124-156.
Goddard, Y. L., Goddard, R. D., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2007). A Theoretical and
Empirical Investigation of Teacher Collaboration for School Improvement and
Student Achievement in Public Elementary Schools. Teachers College Record,
Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2000). What Makes Teacher Community
Different from a Gathering of Teachers? An Occasional Paper.
Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2001). Toward a Theory of Teacher
Community. The Teachers College Record, 103(6), 942-1012.
Hallam, P., & Hausman, C. (2009). Principal and Teachers Relations: Trust at the Core
of School Improvement. In L. J. Saha & A. G. Dworkin (Eds.), International
Handbook of Research on Teachers and Teaching (Vol. 21, pp. 403-416):
Hargreaves, A. (1991). Contrived Collegiality: The Micropolitics of Teacher
Collaboration. In J. Blase (Ed.), The Politics of Life in Schools: Power, Conflict
and Cooperation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Hargreaves, A. (1993). Individualism and Individuality: Reinterpreting the Teacher
Culture. In J. W. Little & M. W. McLaughlin (Eds.), Teachers' Work:
Individuals, Colleagues and Contexts New York: Teachers College Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing Teachers, Changing Times: Teachers' Work and
Culture in the Postmodern Age. London: Cassell Villiers House.
Hargreaves, A. (2001). The Emotional Geographies of Teachers' Relations with
Colleagues. International Journal of Educational Research, 35, 503-527.
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Beyond Standardization: Professional Learning Communities or
Performance-Training Sects. In A. Hargreaves (Ed.), Teaching in the Knowledge
Society: Education in the Age of Insecurity (pp. 160-188). New York: Teachers
Hipp, K., Huffman, J., Pankake, A., & Olivier, D. (2008). Sustaining professional
learning communities: Case studies. Journal of Educational Change, 9(2), 173-
Hord, S. M. (1997). Professional Learning Communities: What are they and why are
they important? Retrieved April 26, 2009, from
Hord, S. M. (2009). Professional learning communities. Journal of Staff Development,
Hoy, W. K., Gage, C. Q., & Tarter, C. J. (2006). School Mindfulness and Faculty Trust:
Necessary Conditions for Each Other? Educational Administration Quarterly,
Hoy, W. K., Smith, P. A., & Sweetland, S. R. (2002). The Development of the
Organizational Health Index for High Schools: Its Measure and Relationship to
Faculty Trust. High School Journal, 86(2), 38-49.
Hoy, W. K., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2003). The Conceptualization and Measurement
of Faculty Trust in Schools. In W. K. Hoy & C. Miskel (Eds.), Studies in Leading
and Organizing Schools (pp. 181-208). Greenwich, CT: Information Age
Hoy, W. K., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2003). The Conceptualization and Measurement
of Faculty Trust in Schools. In W. K. Hoy & C. G. Miskel (Eds.), Studies in
Leading and Organizing Schools. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Huberman, M. (1993). The Model of the Independent Artisan in Teachers' Professional
Relations. In J. W. Little, M.W.McLaughlin (Ed.), Teachers' Work: Individuals,
Colleagues, and Contexts. New York: Teachers College Press.
Huffman, J. B., Hipp, K. A., Pankake, A. M., & Moller, G. (2001). Professional Learning
Communities: Leadership, Purposeful Decision Making, and Job-Embedded Staff
Development. Journal of School Leadership, 11(5), 448-463.
Kilmann, R. H., & Thomas, K. W. (1977). Developing a Forced-Choice Measure of
Conflict-Handling Behavior: The MODE Instrument. Educational and
Psychological Measurement, 37(2), 309-325.
Kochanek, J. R. (2005). Building trust for better schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Kruse, S., Louis, K. S., & Bryk, A. (1994). Building Professional Community in Schools
(Vol. Issue Report No 6). Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring
Kruse, S. D., Louis, K. S., & Bryk, A. S. (1995). An Emerging Framework for Analyzing
School-Based Professional Community. In K. S. Louis & S. D. Kruse (Eds.),
Professionalism and Community: Perspectives on Reforming Urban Schools.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Leithwood, K., Leonard, L., & Sharratt, L. (1998). Conditions Fostering Organizational
Learning in Schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 34(2), 243-276.
Leonard, L. (2002). Schools As Professional Communities: Addressing the Collaborative
Challenge. International Electronic Journal for Leadership in Learning, 6(17),
Leonard, L., & Leonard, P. (2003). The Continuing Trouble with Collaboration:
Teachers Talk. Continuing Issues in Education September, 2003. Retrieved
September, 27, 2008, from http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume6/number15/
Leonard, L. J., & Leonard, P. E. (2005). Achieving Professional Community in Schools:
The Administrator Challenge. Planning and Changing, 36(1), 23-49.
Lesson Study Research Group: What is Lesson Study? (2010). Retrieved June 6, 2010,
2010, from http://www.tc.edu/lessonstudy/lessonstudy.html
Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (2008). Developing Capacities. In Ann Lieberman & L.
Miller (Eds.), Teachers in Professional Communities: Improving Teaching and
Learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
Little, J. W. (1982). Norms of Collegiality and Experimentation: Workplace Conditions
of School Success. American Educational Research Journal, 19(3), 325-340.
Little, J. W. (1990a). Teachers As Colleagues. In A. Lieberman (Ed.), Schools As
Collaborative Cultures: Creating The Future Now (Vol. 3). New York: The
Little, J. W. (1990b). The Persistence of Privacy; Autonomy and Initiative in Teachers'
Professional Relations. Teachers College Record, 91(4), 509-536.
Little, J. W. (2002). Locating Learning in Teachers' Communities of Practice: Opening
Up Problems of Analysis in Records of Everyday Work. Teaching and Teacher
Education, 18, 917-946.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago
Louis, K. S. (1994). Beyond "managed change": Rethinking how schools improve.
School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 9(1), 1-27.
Louis, K. S. (2006a). Change Over Time? An Introduction? A Reflection? Educational
Administration Quarterly, 42(1), 165-173.
Louis, K. S. (2006b). Changing the Culture of Schools: Professional Community,
Organizational Learning and Trust. Journal of School Leadership, 16(4), 477-489.
Louis, K. S. (2007). Trust and improvement in schools. Journal of Educational Change,
Louis, K. S., Kruse, S., & Marks, H. M. (1996). Schoolwide Professional Community. In
F. Newman & Associates (Eds.), Authentic Achievement: Restructuring Schools
for Intellectual Quality. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Louis, K. S., Kruse, S., & Raywid, M. A. (1996). Putting Teachers at the Center of
Reform: Learning Schools and Professional Communities. NASSP Bulletin,
Louis, K. S., & Marks, H. M. (1998). Does Professional Community Affect the
Classroom?: Teachers' Work and Student Experiences in Restructuring Schools.
American Journal of Education, 106(4), 532.
March, J. G. (1991). Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning.
Organization Science, 2(1), 71-87.
McLaughlin, M. W. (1992). What Matters Most in Teachers' Workplace Context?
McLaughlin, M. W. (1993). What Matters Most in Teachers' Workplace Context? In J.
W. Little & M. W. McLaughlin (Eds.), Teachers' Work: Individuals, Colleagues,
and Contexts. New York: Teachers College Press.
McLaughlin, M. W., & Talbert, J. E. (1993). Contexts That Matter for Teaching and
Learning: Strategic Opportunities for Meeting the Nation's Educational Goals.
McLaughlin, M. W., & Talbert, T. E. (2001). Professional Communities and the Work of
High School Teaching. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (2003). Transformative Learning as Discourse. Journal of Transformative
Education, 1(1), 58-63.
Mitchell, C., & Sackney, L. (2001). Building Capacity for a Learning Community.
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, February 24(19).
Retrieved from www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap
Morrisey, M. S. (2000). Professional Learning Communities: An Ongoing Exploration.
Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/pubs/change45/plc-ongoing.pdf
Mulford, B. (2007). Building Social Capital in Professional Learning Communities:
Importance, Challenges, and a Way Forward. In L. Stoll & K. S. Louis (Eds.),
Professional Learning Communities: Divergence, Depth and Dilemmas (pp. 166-
179). New York: Open University Press.
Pankake, A. M., & Moller, G. (2003). Overview of Professional Learning Communities.
In J. B. Huffman & K. K. Hipp (Eds.), Reculturing Schools as Professional
Learning Communities (pp. 3-14). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Education.
Penuel, W. R., Riel, M., Krause, A. E., & Frank, K. A. (2009). Analyzing Teachers'
Professional Interactions in a School as Social Capital: A Social Network
Approach. Teachers College Record, 111(1), 124-163.
Rosenholtz, S. J. (1989/1991). Teachers' Workplace: The Social Organization of
Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
Sarason, S. (1993). The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change
Course Before It's Too Late. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schmoker, M. (2006). Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements
in Teaching and Learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Scott, S. (2004). Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One
Conversation at a Time. New York: Berkeley Books.
Scribner, J. P., Cockrell, K. S., Cockrell, D. H., & Valentine, J. W. (1999). Creating
Professional Communities in Schools through Organizational Learning: An
Evaluation of a School Improvement Process. Educational Administration
Quarterly, 35(1), 130-160.
Sergiovanni, T. J. (1994). Organizations or Communities? Changing the Metaphor
Changes the Theory. Educational Administration Quarterly, 30(2), 214-226.
Servage, L. (2008). Critical and Transformative Practices in Professional Learning
Communities. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(1), 63-77.
Smylie, M. A. (1996). From Bureaucratic Control to Building Human Capital: The
Importance of Teacher Learning in Education Reform. Educational Researcher,
Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional
Learning Communities: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Educational
Change, 7(4), 221-258.
Strahan, D. (2003). Promoting a Collaborative Culture in Three Elementary Schools That
Have Beaten the Odds. The Elementary School Journal, 104(2), 127-146.
Talbert, J. E., & McLaughlin, M. W. (1994). Teacher Professionalism in Local School
Contexts. American Journal of Education, 102(2), 123-153.
Talbert, J. E., & McLaughlin, M. W. (2002). Professional Communities and the Artisan
Model of Teaching. Teachers & Teaching, 8(3/4), 325-343.
Tönnies, F. (1887/2002). Community and Society: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (C.
Loomis, Trans.). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
Tschannen-Moran, M. (2001). Collaboration and the Need for Trust. Journal of
Educational Administration, 39(4), 308-331.
Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust Matters: Leadership for Successful Schools. San
Franscisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Tschannen-Moran, M., & Hoy, W. K. (2000). A Multidisciplinary Analysis of the Nature,
Meaning, and Measurement of Trust. Review of Educational Research, 70(4),
Tyack, D. (1974). The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Tyack, D., & Hansot, E. (1982). Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in
America, 1820-1980. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Uline, C. L., Tschannen-Moran, M., & Perez, L. (2003). Constructive Conflict: How
Controversy Can Contribute to School Improvement. Teachers College Record,
Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of
professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning.
Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), 80-91.
Wahlstrom, K. L., & Louis, K. S. (2008). How Teachers Experience Principal
Leadership: The Roles of Professional Community, Trust, Efficacy, and Shared
Responsibility. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(4), 458-495.
Wegner, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems.
Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(1), 1-19.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization,
Westheimer, J. (1998). Among Schoolteachers: Community, Autonomy and Ideology in
Teachers' Work. New York: Teachers College.
Westheimer, J. (1999). Communities and Consequences: An Inquiry Into Ideology and
Practice in Teachers' Professional Work. Educational Administration Quarterly,
Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a
Chaotic World (Third ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Wilson, S. M., & Berne, J. (1999). Teacher Learning and the Acquisition of Professional
Knowledge: An Examination of Research on Contemporary Professional
Development. Review of Research in Education, 24, 173-209.
Wood, D. (2007). Teachers' Learning Communities: Catalyst for Change or a New
Infrastructure for the Status Quo? Teachers College Record, 109(3), 699-739.
Yin, R. K. (1994). Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Second Edition.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Appendix A: Faculty Survey Measures
The faculty survey included the following scales. Interview respondents were asked to
indicate their agreement or disagreement with each statement below by rating the
following items on a six-point Likert scale from (1) strongly disagree to (6) strongly
Faculty Trust in the Principal.
The principal of this school does not show concern for teachers.
The principal in this school is competent in doing his or her job.
The teachers in this school have faith in the integrity of the principal.
The teachers in this school are suspicious of most of the principal’s actions. (R)
The principal doesn’t tell teachers what is really going on. (R)
The principal in this school typically acts in the best interests of the teachers.
Teachers in this school can rely on the principal.
Faculty Trust in Colleagues.
Teachers in this school typically look out for each other.
Teachers in this school do their jobs well.
Teachers in this school have faith in the integrity of their colleagues.
Teachers in this school are suspicious of each other. (R)
When teachers in this school tell you something you can believe it.
Teachers in this school are open with each other.
Even in difficult situations, teachers in this school can depend on each other.
Teacher-Learning Community Measures.
You can count on most staff members to help out anywhere, anytime even though it
may not be part of their official assignment.
There is a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff members.
Teachers in this school are continually learning and seeking new ideas from each
Teachers in this school keep to themselves. (R)
Teachers critically reflect together about challenges and successes of the school.
Teachers in this school identify themselves as being part of a whole-school
Teachers regularly meet to discuss particular common problems and challenges we
are facing in the classroom.
Teachers share beliefs and values about what the central mission of the school should
Teachers in this school believe all students can succeed.
Teachers in this school acknowledge differences and conflict as a natural part of
The staff seldom evaluates its programs and activities (R)
Our stance toward our work is one of inquiry and reflection.
Teachers are open to perspectives different from their own.
Teachers at this school understand that conflict is inevitable when they collaborate.
Teachers at this school see differences and conflict as an opportunity for learning.
We tend to avoid conflicts between teachers.
When conflict arises between teachers we usually “sweep it under the rug.”
After a conflict, we quickly try to reunite as a faculty. (R)
Appendix B: Faculty Survey Cover Sheet
ID # ______________________________________________
How many years have you worked as a teacher?: ___________
How many years have you worked at your current school site?:
Would you be willing to participate in follow-up interview?
If you indicated “yes”, please provide contact information:
Signed Consent Form Received: _________________
Signed Experimental Subject’s Bill of Rights Form Received: ___________
Follow-Up Interview Scheduled: _________________
Appendix C: Faculty Survey 186
Directions: This questionnaire is designed to help us gain a better understanding
of the quality of the relationships in schools. Your answers are confidential.
Please indicate the extent that you agree or disagree with each of the statements
about your school, marking in the columns on the right, ranging from (1)
Strongly Disagree to (6) Strongly Agree.
1. Teachers in this school typically look out for one another. 1 2 3 4 5 6
2. The teachers in this school have faith in the integrity of the principal. 1 2 3 4 5 6
3. Even in difficult situations, teachers in this school can depend on each other. 1 2 3 4 5 6
4. The principal typically acts in the best interest of teachers. 1 2 3 4 5 6
5. Teachers in this school can rely upon the principal. 1 2 3 4 5 6
6. Teachers in this school trust each other. 1 2 3 4 5 6
7. Teachersin this school trust the principal. 1 2 3 4 5 6
8. Teachers in this school are open with each other. 1 2 3 4 5 6
9. The principal doesn't tell teachers what is really going on. 1 2 3 4 5 6
10. The principal of this school does not show concern for teachers. 1 2 3 4 5 6
11. Teachers in this school have faith in the integrity of their colleagues. 1 2 3 4 5 6
12. Teachers in this school are suspicious of each other. 1 2 3 4 5 6
13. When teachers in this school tell you something you can believe it. 1 2 3 4 5 6
14. Teachers in this school do their job well. 1 2 3 4 5 6
15. The teachers in this school are suspicious of most of the principal's actions. 1 2 3 4 5 6
16. The principal in this school is competent in doing his or her job. 1 2 3 4 5 6
17. There is a great deal of cooperative effort among the staff members. 1 2 3 4 5 6
18. Teachers in this school are continually learning and seeking new ideas from
each other. 1 2 3 4 5 6
19. Teachers in this school keep to themselves. 1 2 3 4 5 6
20. Teachers critically reflect together about challenges and successes of the
school. 1 2 3 4 5 6
21. We tend to avoid conflicts between teachers. 1 2 3 4 5 6
22. Teachers in this school identify themselves as being part of a whole-school
community. 1 2 3 4 5 6
23. Teachers in this school believe all students can succeed. 1 2 3 4 5 6
24. Teachers regularly meet to discuss particular common problems and
challenges we are facing in the classroom. 1 2 3 4 5 6
25. After a conflict, we quickly try to reunite as a faculty. 1 2 3 4 5 6
26. Teachers share beliefs and values about what the central mission of the
school should be. 1 2 3 4 5 6
27. Teachers are open to perspectives different from their own. 1 2 3 4 5 6
28. You can count on most staff members to help out anywhere, anytime even
though it may not be part of their official assignment. 1 2 3 4 5 6
29. The staff seldom evaluates its programs and activities. 1 2 3 4 5 6
30. Teachers in this school acknowledge differences and conflict as a natural
part of school life. 1 2 3 4 5 6
31. When conflict arises between teachers we usually “sweep it under the rug.” 1 2 3 4 5 6
32. Teachers at this school understand that conflict is inevitable when they
collaborate. 1 2 3 4 5 6
33. Our stance toward our work is one of inquiry and reflection. 1 2 3 4 5 6
34. Teachers at this school see differences and conflict as an opportunity for
learning. 1 2 3 4 5 6
Appendix C: Faculty Survey 187
Part II: Your perceptions of your school.
Directions: Please indicate your general level of agreement with each of the
following statements. Mark an "X" for each box.
1. Feel responsible to help each other do their best.
2. Help maintain discipline in the entire school, not just in their classroom.
3. Take responsibility for improving the school.
4. Feel responsible for helping students develop self-control.
5. Set high standards for themselves.
6. Feel responsible for seeing that all students learn.
Appendix D: Teacher Interview Questions
Teacher interview questions focused on how teachers work together, their perceived
benefits as well as the kinds of issues addressed during collaboration. In addition, some
items adapted from from Achinstein’s study of community, diversity and conflict with
professional communities (Achinstein, 2002a). Two items focused on teachers’ level
and basis for trust in their colleagues and principal.
1. How would you describe how teachers work together at your school?
2. How beneficial is your work with your colleagues?
3. What kinds of issues do you focus on when you work together?
4. How influential are your colleagues on your teaching practice?
5. How does the teacher community compare with other schools you have
6. What issues of difference or conflicts have arisen between teachers at your
school? Has there been any controversy, struggle or conflict between
7. Can you think of two or three examples that represent how your staff deals
with differences of opinion or conflicts among teachers? Can you tell me
a. What was the outcome of those conflicts? How did they impact the
b. What strategies for managing, negotiating or thinking about conflict
has this community used? What is the communities’ stance toward
8. How does the staff deal with those who disagree with decisions that a majority
of the staff endorses? Can you think of a time that happened? Tell me about
9. How comfortable are you in expressing disagreement or a divergent point-of-
view with your colleagues?
10. How do you handle situations in which you disagree with a colleague? What
strategies or approaches have you used to handle the disagreement?
11. Have you ever had a conflict with a colleague? How did you handle the
conflict? What was the outcome?
12. How would you describe the level of trust you feel toward your colleagues?
13. What do you base your trust (or lack) on? Which of these aspects of trust are
the most important to you?
Appendix E: Experimental Subject’s Bill of Rights
EXPERIMENTAL SUBJECT’S BILL OF RIGHTS
Social and Behavioral Studies
The rights below are the rights of every person who is asked to be in a research
study. As an experimental subject, you have the following rights:
1. To be told what area, subject, or issue the study is trying to find out about.
2. To be told what will happen to you and what the procedures are.
3. To be told about the risks or discomforts, if any, of the things that will happen to you
for research purposes.
4. To be told if you can expect any benefit from participating and, if so, what the benefit
5. To be allowed to ask any questions concerning the study, both before agreeing to be
involved and during the course of the study.
6. To be told what sort of medical treatment is available if any complications or injuries
7. To refuse to participate or to change your mind about participating after the study is
8. To receive your signed and dated copy of this form and the consent form.
9. To be free of pressure when considering whether you wish to agree to be in the study.
If you have other questions, please ask the researcher or research
assistant. In addition, you may contact the Institutional Review Board,
which is concerned with protecting volunteers in research projects. You
may reach the IRB office by calling (916) 703-9151, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m., Monday through Friday, or by writing to the Institutional Review
Board, CTSC Bldg., Suite 1400, Rm. 1429, 2921 Stockton Blvd.,
Sacramento, California 95817.
Signature of Subject or Date
Appendix F: Participant Consent Form
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS
CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE IN A RESEARCH STUDY
Investigator’s Name: Jennie Snyder
Department/Telephone: CANDEL Joint Doctoral Program/School of
Education/Investigator Telephone: 707-326-4748
Study Title: Below the Green Line: Collaboration, Constructive Conflict and Trust in
Teacher Professional Communities
WHY IS THIS STUDY BEING DONE?
You are being asked to participate in a research study. We hope to learn how
teachers collaborate with each other on instructional matters related to student
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I TAKE PART IN THIS STUDY AND HOW MANY
PEOPLE WILL PARTICIPATE?
If you decide to volunteer, you will be asked to participate in a single survey that will
take approximately 30 minutes. Fifty (50) subjects will participate in the survey. You
may also be invited to participate in an in-person follow-up interview at your work place.
A total of sixteen (16) subjects will participate in the follow-up interviews which are
estimated to take 60-90 minutes. You may also be included in site observations of
professional meetings (i.e., staff meetings, grade level meetings). Such observations are
estimated to take 30-60 minutes.
WHAT RISKS CAN I EXPECT FROM BEING IN THIS STUDY
There is minimal risk to participating in this study.
ARE THERE BENEFITS TO TAKING PART IN THIS STUDY?
It is possible that you will not benefit directly by participating in this study. It is possible
that educators as a group will benefit from this study.
WILL MY INFORMATION BE KEPT PRIVATE?
Research documents will be kept confidential in accordance with the law and University
policies. Subject identifiers will be coded for confidentiality. Any references to subjects
or their work settings will be replaced with pseudonyms that cannot be linked back to the
subjects or their work settings. The Institutional Review Board has the authority to
review your research records.
WILL I BE COMPENSATED FOR BEING IN THIS STUDY?
Subjects will not be compensated for participation in this study.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF TAKING PART IN THIS STUDY?
There is no cost to you beyond the time and effort required to complete the procedure(s)
WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM INJURED BECAUSE I TOOK PART IN THIS
If you are injured as a direct result of research procedures, you will receive reasonably
necessary medical treatment at no cost. The University of California does not provide
any other form of compensation for injury. In the case of injury resulting from this study,
you do not lose any of your legal rights to seek payment by signing this form.
CAN I STOP BEING IN THIS STUDY?
You may refuse to participate in this study. You may change your mind about being in
the study and quit after the study has started.
The research investigator may withdraw you from participating in this research if
circumstances arise which warrant doing so even if you would like to continue.
WHO CAN ANSWER MY QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS STUDY?
If you have any questions about this research project please contact Jennie Snyder who
will answer them at (707) 326-4748.
If you have any questions regarding your rights and participation as a research subject,
please contact the IRB Administration at (916) 703-9151 or write to IRB Administration,
CTSC Building, Suite 1400, Rm. 1429, 2921 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817.
The IRB Administration has also developed a web site designed to make you familiar
with your rights. The web site discusses your basic rights as a research participant, an
explanation of the informed consent process, the basic requirement that written consent
be in a language understandable to you, and suggested sample questions to ask the
research investigator regarding your participation in the study. This web site can be
accessed at: www.research.ucdavis.edu/IRBAdmin .
My signature below will indicate that I have decided to participate in this study as a
research subject. I have read and understand the information above. I understand
that I will be given a signed and dated copy of this consent form and the Bill of
Signature of Subject or Legal Representative Print Name
Signature of Person Obtaining Consent Print Name of Person Obtaining