Culture Shock

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Sadly,  performance-based accountability is creating a toxic learning environment among educators.  It is creating a culture of competition, rather than a culture of collaboration.  The worst part is the fact that it has happened so fast.  So fast that many of us feel as if we are experiencing culture shock!

A Competitive Culture

As we continue to teach in the Age of Accountability, educators are becoming more competitive by trying to out-perform their colleagues in order to yield the highest test scores.  Moreover, teachers are resistant to sharing their successes because they want to be the ones to receive high marks on their evaluation and they want the credit for student achievement.  In contrast, other teachers are afraid to reach out for help because they don't want to look like a failure. Somehow, the mentality has shifted from the success of our students, to the success of my students—from our success, to my success.

For some reason, when teachers get recognized for their success, it seems to threaten others.  So, instead of working together and collaborating with each other, we seem to isolate ourselves, thus reaffirming the competitive culture.

In his efforts to bridge the gap between standards and achievement, Richard Elmore eloquently describes how accountability can often cause of a competitive school culture:

"One of the strongest social norms among school faculty is that everyone is expected to pretend that they are equally effective at what they do. However, most people who work in schools know (or at least claim to know) who the “good” teachers are. Teachers themselves will, under the right circumstances, talk candidly about who the strong and weak teachers are reputed to be. Teachers, who threaten this pretense, either by publicly distinguishing themselves as expert teachers or by being singled out as a model within their schools, may have to pay a price in social ostracism" (Elmore, 2002). 
"Yet the entire process of improvement depends on schools making public and authoritative distinctions among teachers and administrators based on quality, competence, expertise and performance. If everyone is equally good at what they do, then no one has anything to teach anyone else about how to do it better. Thus, educators’ pretense of absolute equality is a major impediment to improvement and a significant factor in determining the capacity of schools to engage in effective professional development." (Elmore, 2002). 

A Collaborative Culture

I would argue that some teachers are perceived better than others because of this competitive environment that has been created.  In a competitive culture, teachers worry about who is best.  In a collaborative culture, teachers worry about how to meet the needs of students, best.  I personally believe that we all should reach out to each other and collectively celebrate our successes with the hope to learn and grow professionally from one another, in order to best prepare our students for their future.

You see, I truly believe that each of us has something unique and valuable to contribute to the field of education.  And if we each share and learn from each other, then we will have successfully synthesized our individual strengths and talents into a symphony—a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts (Pink, 2005).

Below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding teamwork and collaboration:

  • It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. —Napoleon Hill
  • Not everyone can be an expert at everything, but everyone can be an expert at something. —Unknown
  • Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. —Vince Lombardi
  • No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. —H.E. Luccock
  • The secret is to gang up on the problem, rather than each other. —Thomas Stallkamp
  • In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.  —Charles Darwin
  • Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. —Andrew Carnegie

Final Thoughts

Let's help to transform our schools from a competitive culture, to a collaborative culture. Let's help to foster a high productive working environment for our teachers and a cultivating learning environment for our students, by simply learning, sharing, and working together for the good of our students.  Let's experience a new culture shock by transforming our competitive cultures back to collaborative ones!

  1. Elmore, R. F. (2002). Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement. Washington DC: Albert Shanker Institute.
  2. Peterson, K. D. (2002). At Issue: Culture. National Staff Development Council.
  3. Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future. New York: Riverhead Books.