Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
A closeup of a large group of teachers standing shoulder to shoulder in a room. They are all looking in the same direction with a reflective look on their faces.

It's impossible to explore how we can work more effectively together in schools without considering conflict -- an inevitable part of working together. Conflict can be challenging and destructive, or it can lead to a deeper understanding between people, and perhaps higher quality work from a team.

There are many reasons why conflict can exist within a school or a team of educators. In December, I attended a fantastic workshop at the annual Learning Forward conference on breaking through conflict. It was led by Robert Garmston (co-author of Unlocking Group Potential to Improve Schools) and Jennifer Abrams (author of Having Hard Conversations). In this workshop, the presenters offered one way of identifying where conflict originates -- in the belief systems that we each hold about the role and purpose of education. What's most problematic, says Garmston and Abrams, is when we are working from different belief systems but haven't articulated them as such, and therefore don't understand why others do what they do. These undercurrents of conflict can exist between an administration and a teaching staff and between many groups within our world of schools.

6 Belief Systems

In his book, Cognitive Coaching, Robert Garmston (with co-author Arthur Costa) identifies six predominant ideologies that influence educators' decision-making:

  1. Religious Orthodoxy: This ideology aims to teach the habits and values that will lead to that religion's realization of how life ought to be lived in accordance with that faith. Educators driven by religious orthodoxy strive to help students learn appropriate norms and morality and to conduct their lives according to these norms.
  2. Cognitive Process: Educators who are primarily aligned to this stance believe that the central role of schools is to help students learn to think, reason, and problem solve. Cognitive processors select instructional strategies that involve problem solving and inquiry.
  3. Self-Actualization: Those who believe in self-actualization believe that the purpose of teaching is to bring out the unique qualities, potentials, and creativity in each child. They value student choice and self-directed learning and are keen to provide for students' unique and multiple needs, interests, and developmental tasks.
  4. Technologist: Technologists place strong emphasis on accountability, test scores, learning specific sub-skills, and measurable learning. They might be "driven by data," and frequently use terms such as accountability, time on task, mastery, diagnosis, and prescription. This is an ideology which as been adopted by many policy-making bodies in recent decades and is associated with external assessments, high-stakes testing, and teacher performance.
  5. Academic Rationalism: Academic rationalists believe that knowledgeable adults have the wisdom and experience to know what's best for students. They often deliver teacher-centered instruction, are drawn to the Classics, and use instructional strategies such as lectures, memorization, demonstration, and drill. They evaluate students through summative exams and content mastery.
  6. Social Reconstructionism: Social reconstructionists believe that the purpose of education is to help students become good citizens who can help take care of the world. They view learners as social beings who ought to be concerned with social, political, and environmental issues. They believe that education is an instrument of change and that schools are an institution charged with the responsibility of bringing about a better future and world.

You, Your Principal, and Your Colleagues 

After reading these descriptions, go back and rank them according to your personal priorities and belief systems. Now imagine doing this activity with a group of colleagues. What do you think the results might be at your school? What stance do you think your principal holds? What do you suspect is the impact of working with people who hold different stances?

As you read these, you might have noticed how some of the conflict and tension we experience in public schools is a result of these conflicting belief systems. For example, if you are driven to be a teacher because of a belief in promoting the self-actualization of each individual child, you might feel in conflict, at times, with a principal -- or education policy -- that operates from a technologist ideology. Or perhaps you realized that you highly value cognitive processing, and yet, you often make decisions about instruction that seem more aligned to academic rationalism.

Let me be clear about one thing -- it's not "bad" for a staff to hold different ideological positions. In fact, it can benefit a school staff to hold diverse perspectives. It's just that when we're not clear about where we're all coming from, or which beliefs are determining our decision-making, conflict can arise.

I offer these descriptors to you in the hopes that they'll spur some conversations and reflection. Maybe these definitions of beliefs don't even resonate. Then I hope that this compels you to consider and define what you believe is the purpose of education -- and to also ask others that question. And, also, maybe ask that question of your students.

Was this useful? (6)

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Amy's picture
Special Education Teacher, Germany

I think this is a wonderful article. I think my school would really benefit from possibly doing this exercise. As a group of teachers that come from many different states and countries, I think our positions are so different, it might be helpful to recognize our differences.

DeltaMusic82's picture
K-5 General Music Teacher from central Ohio

Thank you for the worksheet and the information about the six groups. It will be interesting to use and discussion our outlooks and differences, and that can help our students learn.

Micaiah Abts's picture
Micaiah Abts
Business math teacher from Delhi, New York

This should certainly be a helpful tool in increasing the effectiveness of group collaboration. Giving working definitions for various outlooks can help people be more cognizant of their own priorities and those of others.

Katrica's picture
3rd grade teacher from Roselle, New Jersey

This was a great article. I often feel that we are always supposed to get along and not have an opinion about something we are passionate about. I think is is wonderful for everyone to give their input and then take out of it what is good for you without making the other feel insignificant.

Ellen's picture

I definitely believe I fall into the cognitive process category, but can really see where many of my colleagues fall. It gave insight to how different my colleagues and I are in our teaching styles. I"m hoping to share the worksheet at our next PLC to see how well we all know each other.

Milagros's picture
10th grade World Lit, PA

I'm a mix of Self-Actualization and Social Reconstruction. I currently am experiencing conflict with one of my son's teachers because she is an Academic Rational(ist). I've recently tried to mend bridges, but she again took the position basically that it is her classroom, she's done it this way for years, it's worked all this time, so basically I'm wrong, and I'm the one that needs to change my way of thinking. I was livid at first, but now I'm completely devastated that another professional would be so set in her ways that there is no opportunity whatsoever for compromise.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.

Join the movement for change