Includes Culture, Resources, Relationships, and Rules
a context that supports change may be the most important of
the strategies to ensure successful implementation of a school
reform program. A schools context encompasses all of
of people within and outside of the school;
state, and federal policies and rules;
a context conducive to change and reform helps move a comprehensive
school reform program forward. In fact, Dennis Sparks, executive
director of the National Staff Development Council, says,
"Usually when people begin change efforts, they discover
that there are some invisible barriers. And those invisible
barriers almost always reside in the context. They reside
in the norms and structures of the school that make it more
difficult for people to move ahead."2
of its complexity, creating this context for school change
and improvement may be the most difficult step in the implementation
process. It involves more than just deciding to implement
a comprehensive school reform model or changing the curriculum.
Because barriers to reform include teacher isolation and the
perception on the part of many teachers that an individual
cannot make a difference, it may mean changing organizational
and physical structures. And much more difficult, over the
long-term it may mean changing the schools culture to
provide a supportive atmosphere where trust is pervasive and
leadership is shareda collegial culture where teachers
are free to discuss problems and practice, and where continuous
learning among the staff is valued.
Collaborative School Culture Is Needed
in a culturea collaborative culturelike the one
just described, supports the risk taking needed to make changes
for school improvement and the struggle inherent in school
change and reform.3
Fullan, dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
who often writes about leadership and change issues, notes
that "the process of helping to develop collaborative
work cultures is complex. It requires great sophistication
on the part of school leaders: to express their own values
without being imposing; to draw out other peoples values
and concerns; to manage conflict and problem solving; to give
direction and to be open at the same time."4
effective collaborative culture is the professional learning
community (often called a PLC), which has been defined as
"a community where teachers engage in reflective dialogue,
where there is deprivatization of practice, collective focus
on student learning, collaboration, and shared norms and values."5
PLCs can greatly affect teacher practiceresearch has
shown that learning communities can help teachers make sense
of student responses and help them reconcile their ideas regarding
what constitutes good practice. Staffs who become PLCs continuously
seek and share learning and act on their learning. Student
learning becomes their focal point. Says SEDL program manager
Shirley Hord, "The learning community focuses directly
and incessantly on kids and kids needs."
is this focus on the students that can make a huge difference
in student learning and help ensure a successful school reform
program. As will be discussed below this was a major difference
between Sierra Vista and Sunrise Elementaries.
researchers Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert conducted
a five-year study of 16 high schools. They found that differences
between successful and unsuccessful schools were attributable
to the presence of a professional community among teachers.
They also suggest that teachers who work in isolation were
least likely to meet the diverse learning needs of high school
concurs. "Learning in a social context can be more forceful
than learning by yourself. By engaging in collaborative inquiry
and reflecting on their practice, teachers can learn to change
their practice so that their interaction with all students
is more effective."
the PLC may be the ideal collaborative culture according to
Hord, it often takes several years to establish the community.
However, by beginning to work toward the establishment of
a PLC, a collaborative culture may emerge even though the
school may not be a true PLC.
Did Sierra Vista and Sunrise Measure Up?
how well did Sierra Vista and Sunrise schools do in creating
a culture for change? Reflecting on the description of Sierra
Vista Elementary, we can see the collaborative culture evolving
and learn that it is valued. That one teacher mentioned that
the Sierra Vista staff discussed on a daily basis what needed
to change at the school is telling of how much the school
focused on collaboration and changeessential for success
in school reform. At Sunrise, the collaborative culture Mr.
Davis attempted to develop is eroding because teachers arent
meeting regularly to reflect upon the reforms being initiated
and how these reforms affect instruction and learning. It
is important to note, too, that the Sunrise teachers
congenial, social relationships are quite different from having
collegial relationships that are professional in nature. Collegial
faculty relationships are generally based on equality among
all staff members and enable staff members to focus on their
practice and how students are affected by their practice.
Adults in schools who have a collegial relationship: (1) talk
about practice; (2) observe each other engaged in the practice
of teaching and administration; (3) work together on the curriculum
by planning, designing, researching, and evaluating the curriculum;
and (4) teach each other about teaching, learning, and leading.7
congenial relationships on campus, however, can help foster
collegial relationships. For collegial relationships to build,
a comfort level must be established. Many members of the Sunrise
staff were quite comfortable with each other. Had Ms. Smith
been more savvy about the importance of collegiality, she
could have capitalized on the congeniality of the group to
move them toward the professional, open relationships that
could encourage the school reform process. Instead, she appeared
to play favoritesasking for input from only certain
teachers and being swayed by a vocal group at the school.
differences between Sunrise and Sierra Vista were quite apparent,
too, when teachers at the schools talked about their experiences
reflecting on student learning and achievement. The Sierra
Vista staff met frequently, discussed what was and what was
not working in their classrooms, and valued collaborating
with colleagues. Sunrise teachers, on the other hand, appeared
to be concerned about their students learning, based
on the comment from the veteran teacher at the school who
believed teachers had their students best interests
at heart. However, the Sunrise teachers did not have the guidance
they needed to reflect on their instruction and the change
basic discussion of school context may be found in School
Context: Bridge or Barrier to Change written by Victoria
Boyd (Austin: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory,
interview with Dennis Sparks, February 2, 2000.
M. W. and J. E. Talbert (1993). Contexts that Matter for
Teaching and Learning. Stanford: Center for Research on
the Context of Secondary School Teaching, Stanford University.
Michael (1992). Visions that Blind. Educational Leadership
49 (5), p. 20.
V. and S. M. Hord (1994). Schools as Learning Communities.
Issues About Change, 4(1), 1.
and Talbert (1993). Contexts that Matter for Teaching and
quoted in Victoria Boyd (1992), School Context, p.