The nature of relationships among adults in schools is the single greatest determinant of students’ academic and social success. While subject-area knowledge and teaching skills are necessary, a school’s culture – especially faculty culture – creates the conditions for teaching and learning. Yet, sadly, faculty culture is typically characterized by departmentalization, turf wars and isolation.
As Roland Barth articulates so well, “All too often, the adult relationships are (in that wonderful phrase from preschool education) parallel play. For hours at a time, two- and three-year-olds in a sandbox can be so engrossed in themselves, in their own work and project and tools, that they are oblivious to anybody else in the sandbox. This is thought to be a stage of development through which two- and three-year-olds soon pass on their way to far more sophisticated forms of human interaction. But I’d say that parallel play characterizes most of what I see going on in schools.
The self-contained classroom is parallel play. The English department that doesn’t interact with the math department is parallel play. One school doing one thing, the school a mile down the road doing something different, oblivious to each other, is parallel play. Parallel play is endemic. It’s as if we have a case of professional arrested development. When adult relationships in schools are interactive, too often they are adversarial. As one teacher said, “You know we educators have drawn our wagons into a circle and trained our guns…on each other.” As if there aren’t enough people outside shooting at schools.”
Research clearly demonstrates that student learning correlates directly to adult learning. A faculty culture characterized by enthusiastic commitment to learning and personal growth, collaboration, and unremitting devotion to each and every student’s success is essential. In our schools, we need to elevate learning at all levels above all other concerns, activities and goals, and value dearly experimentation, new ideas, adventure and discovery. Teachers must teach teachers, observe each other, give constructive feedback, and collaborate across disciplines and languages. Learning is at its best in a school culture, created by adults and students, that values leaning above all else.