Administration & Leadership

Creating Cohesion Among Teaching Teams

Administrators can rely on research-based methods to better understand educators who are resistant to change.

April 3, 2024
10'000 Hours / Getty Images

For teaching teams to be effective in their instructional innovation, they must strive to be cohesive. This includes learning to engage with colleagues who have differing perspectives. The term cohesive is derived from “cohesion,” which means to stick or hold together firmly. In this context, cohesive teaching teams unite to collaborate effectively on their school’s instructional goals and objectives.

Team cohesion is difficult to achieve in schools where some colleagues resist or oppose all proposed changes. Lack of consensus among colleagues can disrupt the organizational culture and climate and seriously impede instructional innovation efforts. When coaching teams, many ask if getting everyone to embrace change and the discomfort required for instructional innovation is genuinely possible.

Research indicates that achieving group consensus is possible but requires a nuanced understanding of intrinsic motivation and what influences it, such as collective teacher efficacy and cultural dynamics.

Fostering Collective Teacher Efficacy

Here’s why I believe team cohesion is possible. Good practice has been studied enough for educators to seek out the practices with the most promise in their school context. Researcher John Hattie’s work shows that collective teacher efficacy (CTE) has a substantial impact on student success and positive school culture.

Efficacy is both the drive, and the belief in one’s ability, to produce a desired effect. If the collective desired effect became creating strong team cohesion to ensure their students’ success, teaching teams could eventually achieve it with time and adherence to sound practice.

Based on the strong effects of CTE, it can be a critical step in building a cohesive team. The same could be said about the effect of CTE on other desired team objectives—such as improving access to opportunities for needy students and improving reading comprehension in specific grade levels.

Fostering a Supportive Environment

Supporting cohesive teaching teams requires a deep understanding of organizational culture. Professor Kent D. Peterson asserts that school culture pertains to shared values, agreements, and beliefs along with everyday norms and behaviors that make up the school’s persona.

A school’s informal culture is another critical component to consider. In Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, Anthony Muhammad discusses how ”fundamentalists” are colleagues who resist and oppose change initiatives in the informal school culture, thereby undermining the formal school culture.

Organizational theorists agree that every organization has both a formal and informal structure. The formal organization consists of the organization’s official arms. The informal organization consists of all covert alliances that develop as a result of interaction in the formal organization. These alliances are not officially sanctioned, and their members create their goals, so they are only governed by those who participate. They have no formal rules. An informal alliance’s goals are generally not in alignment with those of the formal organization, which often makes the informal organization a threat to the formal organization’s productivity and longevity (Pyöriä, 2007). Fundamentalists work very effectively in the informal organization.

Many resistant colleagues hold organizational power and, if left unchecked, are a significant roadblock to meaningful transformation in schools. It’s therefore important to understand the underlying causes of their intrinsic motivations.

Understanding Resistant Colleagues

To gain deeper insight into why some of our colleagues resist transformation efforts, school teams can delve into the role that perceptions and self-efficacy play in shaping intrinsic motivation. Understanding the underlying factors causing their behaviors lays the groundwork for fostering team cohesion and developing meaningful working agreements around collaboration and navigating conflict.

Exploring connections: Perceptions and self-efficacy. Intrinsic motivation drives individuals to engage in activities for satisfaction and enjoyment rather than external rewards. Perceptions refer to teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and opinions about their students, teaching practices, and school environment. They are the lens through which teachers find meaning and navigate their teaching role—impacting their instructional decisions and the dynamics of their classroom environment.

For example, your school’s teaching team begins an initiative to implement instructional rounds and wants to build trust and cohesiveness with the teaching staff. Here are two sample survey questions that teaching teams can adapt to gain perspective on perceptions.

  • I perceive instructional rounds as a supportive process rather than an evaluative one.
  • I believe instructional rounds can be a valuable addition to our school’s efforts to improve learning outcomes.

Psychologist Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory suggests that people’s confidence in their abilities can significantly impact their internal motivation and good decision-making skills. Individuals with higher self-efficacy levels tend to experience less stress and learn to cultivate a positive outlook.

Here are two sample survey questions that teaching teams can adapt to gain perspective on self-efficacy beliefs.

  • I feel confident in my ability to participate effectively in instructional rounds.
  • I am open to participating in instructional rounds as a means of professional development.

Using ChatGPT, I developed a sample Instructional Rounds Beliefs Survey. (To the best of my ability, I edited the items to remove inaccurate material.) Teams can adapt it for specific professional development (PD) interventions.

Since both perceptions and self-efficacy beliefs significantly impact motivation and how people behave, researchers survey both aspects to better understand study participants’ actions and behaviors. In the context of instructional innovation, teaching teams act as both practitioners and researchers driven to understand and enhance behavior and team collaboration.

Through this dual lens, teaching teams can unpack how the resisters to the transformation required for instructional innovation perceive their school environment, colleagues, and PD interventions’ effectiveness.

Doing so can help teaching teams gain insight into how those resistant to change perceive their teaching roles and capabilities, providing the underlying causes of their resistance. This insight is paramount to promoting team cohesion, empathetic responses, and targeted approaches to overcoming resistance and becoming collaborative in order to nurture transformation within schools.

I sincerely thank my dissertation chair, Mickey Kosloski, for helping me understand the role of perceptions and self-efficacy beliefs in determining the effectiveness of professional development treatments. I also want to give special thanks to Anthony Muhammad for his transformational scholarship.

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