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April 1, 2015
Vol. 72
No. 7

Principal Connection / The Juggler's Guide to Collegiality

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      Displaying grit isn't always fun, as I was learning every Thursday afternoon. "Focus on the throw, not the catch," our instructor said, and I was having trouble focusing on either one. Despite my best efforts, ball after ball after ball landed at my feet. You see, I was in a juggling class with 11 colleagues, and I wasn't very good. In fact, I was quite bad. So why were we juggling? Were we all preparing to run away to the circus?
      My job is to create a school in which everyone grows, and I do this through faculty collegiality. As Roland Barth explained in Improving Schools from Within (Jossey-Bass, 2010), if students are to learn and grow, their teachers must do so, too. Collegiality is the set of practices and culture that support this adult growth.
      Barth's collegiality has four components: teachers talking with teachers about students, teachers working together to develop curriculum, teachers observing one another teach, and teachers teaching one another. To this, I add teachers and administrators talking about education and working together on committees.
      It would be hard to argue with any of these ideas, but the reality of schools makes them difficult to implement. Too often, schools are boxes full of silos, buildings in which doors close and teachers do their thing in isolation. Feedback from other adults, common planning time, and collaborative learning are all too rare.
      Faculty collegiality works against teacher isolation by supporting collaboration and learning. I organize professional development to elicit and support collegiality. Each teacher is required to serve on a faculty committee (and many choose to serve on two or three). Our committees reflect our mission—multiple intelligences, diversity, and academics—and are forums for teachers to come together and learn. Currently, for example, our Multiple Intelligences (MI) Committee is creating a rubric to describe the levels of MI use in an MI school. Our Diversity Committee has been talking about race; economic disparities; the events in Ferguson, Missouri; and how we can inculcate appreciation for others who are different from us throughout our curriculum.
      Faculty meetings can be rich opportunities for learning and collegiality if we view them as more than a data dump of information that could be conveyed in writing. We don't expect children to sit patiently at the end of the day while someone drones on and on, so why should adults be any different?
      I often begin faculty meetings by asking folks to construct meaning in small groups. "Think of a couple of students who are making great gains this year," I might begin. After a pause, I ask, "OK, what have you done that has reached them? Please turn to your neighbors, in groups of three or four, no more, and share why they are improving." This question sets the stage for collaborative learning (and talking about achievements, something that is hard for most teachers). Sometimes I'll ask teachers to identify a student who is frustrating them and see what suggestions others might have.
      I recently devoted a faculty meeting to teachers sharing their progress on their yearly professional goals. I had them count off to form groups so that friends and teammates, people who ordinarily talk to one another, wouldn't be together; and then I asked each person to share his or her goal and progress thus far. The job of the others in the group was to offer suggestions and strategies. Similarly, after presentations—whether from an outside speaker, a teacher, or a committee report—I routinely ask people to talk in small groups about what they heard and how they might use their new knowledge. I know these conversations are powerful because it's hard to regain the group's attention!
      Other activities support collegiality, too. We purchased tickets for anyone who wanted to see the movie Selma, and more than 20 of us went together after school one day. We rode the school bus to the theater; that, alone, was fun. When teachers go to conferences and workshops, they share what they learned at a faculty meeting. I enjoy turning over meetings to teachers who are committee chairs so they can lead us. All these practices support teacher growth and learning.
      Congeniality is not the same as collegiality, however. They sound alike, and are both needed, but they're quite different. Congeniality is when teachers are having fun together and enjoying one another. My goal is collegiality, but I know it's much easier to attain when there's a base of congeniality. So I work on that, too!
      Several years ago, I organized a clay class for our faculty. We met six times after school, and busy teachers who usually just greet one another in passing got to sit side by side for an hour, manipulating clay and talking about life and education. I've tried to vary the offerings to reflect different intelligences, so we've had kickboxing and fiction book groups, too. (The Gone Girl discussion was interesting!)
      This year, we're offering an after-school juggling class. There are about a dozen of us in it. Although we don't talk a great deal while throwing and catching (or trying to do so), we laugh a lot, creating a fun common experience.
      For me, the juggling class is humbling. I get frustrated, but with all of my talking about grit, there's no way I can stop trying. I enjoy being part of the group, and I know that this congeniality will make it easier to develop collegiality. And I don't want to drop the ball on either one.

      Thomas R. Hoerr retired after leading the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, for 34 years and is now the Emeritus Head of School. He teaches in the educational leadership program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.

      Hoerr has written six other books—Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, The Art of School Leadership, School Leadership for the Future, Fostering Grit, The Formative Five, Taking Social-Emotional Learning Schoolwide—and more than 160 articles, including "The Principal Connection" column in Educational Leadership.

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