The Role of Collegiality in School Improvement and Teacher Professionalization

The importance of nurturing collegial relationships in education is becoming increasingly clear to me. In chapter 11 of Professional Development: What Works (Zepeda, 2012) the idea of learning circles as a professional development model is introduced. According to Zepeda (2012) learning circles are a structured process where educators share in a common interest and commitment to a topic, and interact in democratic and trusting ways. Common purposes are achieved through an initial process of group culture-creation where meeting the following conditions are paramount:

  • Building community
  • Constructing knowledge
  • Supporting learners
  • Documenting reflection
  • Assessing expectations
  • Changing culture

Unknown-1However, Zepeda (2012) notes that “…they require school leaders to be aware of the differences between true communities of learners and simply groups of teachers getting together to talk abut the issue of the day” (Chapter 11). You see, there is a marked difference between collegiality, defined by Sergiovanni (2992) as “… connected to the existence of norms and values that define that faculty as a community of like-minded people bonded in common commitment” (Sergiovanni, 1994, p. 91). Any work that requires the collaboration of a group of people is a commitment of time and energy; in order for group work to be valuable, trust and a shared vision are essential. Yet, building trust requires a deep commitment that extends beyond the typical congeniality found in most work settings. Casual conversations, shared interests and proximity may create powerful group norms, but these are norms most likely built upon congeniality, defined by Sergiovanni (1994) as the following: “Congeniality emerges from the friendly human relationships that exist in a school and is characterized by loyalty, trust, and easy conversation among teachers, factors that often lead to the development of a closely knit social group” (Sergiovanni, 1994, p. 91). Norms of friendly, non-confrontational relations are not the same as norms built around professional risk-taking and a willingness to work together towards a shared vision, norms that must exist for learning circles and truly, any group enterprise that seeks student achievement as its’ ultimate goal.

UnknownSergiovanni (1994) argues for a moral leadership that emphasizes collegiality and positive interdependence as one means to create educational organizations (schools) as a normalizing power that gets people to meet their commitments. I like this sentiment. I can appreciate the inherent tone of respect that runs through a perspective where personal accountability amounts to pressure (and support) from colleagues to behave in professional ways. This is the way we do things at ______ school. This leadership style resonates with me as an administrative intern who is reluctant to believe that leadership is about telling people what to do. As I interact with teachers in my current position, I look for ways to promote collaboration and opportunities for voice. It is time for me to think about ways I can facilitate relationships built on mutual interdependence as we work towards common goals where we all share in the positive outcome. It is through these ways of  professionalization the profession of education that teachers will finalize realize their due. But, in order for teachers to be treated as professionals, they must act as such. Moving from the easy interactions of congeniality towards the sometimes difficult aspects of collegiality is a step in the right direction.


Sergioanni, Thomas J. (1992). Moral Leadership: Getting into the heart of school improvement. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco: CA.

Zepeda, Sally J. 2012. Professional Development: what works, second edition [Kindle version]. Retrieved from


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