Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Professionalism, Trust, and Conflict in Schools

I'm probably pushing the envelope with this post regarding my knowledge of social-psychological dynamics in schools, however, due to situations I experienced this past week I felt the need to air this out. I'll start with a brief review of professionalism in schools and the evidence to support this leadership orientation, next I'll discuss conflict in the work-place, and then I'll pose a few questions about these issues in schools.

The evidence is clear that those principals who lead from a professional orientation realize improved student learning. Please refer to some of the work of Megan Tschannen-Moran on the importance of professionalism and trust in schools. Principals who lead to create a professional environment in schools provide teachers with more autonomy than is usually found in organizations that are highly bureaucratized. In practical terms, these principals usually relax some of the policies, procedures, and collective bargaining agreement (CBA) terms to create a less rigid structure for teachers to work within. Often times, this autonomy typically empowers teachers to make decisions that are best suited for the students in their classrooms in any given year. Teachers who work within this type of professional setting often begin to experience increased levels of trust among colleagues. Together these variables, professional orientation of the principal and teacher trust in colleagues, positively influence school outcomes.

Creating a more professional environment for teachers to work within will certainly take time, however, it may not always be welcomed, especially if a school's faculty are more familiar with a leadership style that was more focused on enforcing the rules and regulations of the bureaucracy. Teachers may not want, or simply be unaware of what to do with, the autonomy to make the decisions that will work best for them and their students. Rather, they continue to look to the principal to make these decisions for them. As teachers are given more opportunities, however, they typically embrace the autonomy that comes along with working in a more professional setting. While this approach is fine during a time of transition, teachers unfamiliar with a professional setting who resist a principal's professional orientation may use the autonomy that comes with it to create conflict within the school.

I'd like to believe that teachers who resist professionalism and create conflict within a school where the principal is trying to create a more professional environment are simply doing so because they don't know how to handle the autonomy bestowed upon them. If this is the case, then usually more time is needed for the principal to continue to create a more professional organization and to explain why this approach improves school and student outcomes.

What if, however, the school's culture suggests that teachers should look for conflict with every decision or opportunity to be more autonomous? Should the school's leadership continue to lead from a professional orientation, or take a more bureaucratic approach? I'd prefer the former given the evidence for improved student and school outcomes found in schools with a more professional environment, however, as some of my colleagues and I say it might just be easier to "go contract" and enforce the policies, procedures, and terms of the CBA.

I'm interested in your thoughts, so please comment.