A move to smaller schools : the impact on teacher community
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The development of strong teacher communities is an idea that has been promoted as a way to foster strong school communities and to raise student academic achievement. As part of the contemporary small schools reform movement, schoolswithin- schools are also cited as a way of increasing school-wide and teacher community through the increased social interactions due to the smaller school size. However, little dedicated research has been directed at this topic. In response to the lack of clarity on the subject, this study examined the change in teacher community at a high school during the initial stages of its efforts to implement a schools-within-schools model. The research questions that guided the inquiry were: 1) How did teachers describe the teacher community that existed in their school? What experiences of teachers appeared to shape these descriptions? 2) What were teachers’ goals and beliefs about teacher community? What experiences of teachers appeared to shape these goals and beliefs? and 3) What were teachers’ views of a change in teacher community following the school’s restructuring of its organization to one that follows a schools-within-schools model? Data came from three sources: interviews with 12 faculty members at the school, observations of faculty interactions, and school documents that provided a background context of meetings and school structure. Data collection and analysis was guided by the components of teacher community from Westheimer’s (1998) theoretical framework: interaction and participation; interdependence; shared interests and beliefs; concern for individual and minority views; and meaningful relationships. The results revealed that teachers’ perceptions of community changed from one defined by strong departmental relationships and limited interdepartmental connections to one characterized by incidental relationships, a lack of common goals, and isolation. The constant change in district and school policies and initiatives and the high teacher turnover were primary reasons for these outcomes. Teachers’ goals and beliefs were found to be strongly influenced by their assignment, or lack thereof, to an interdisciplinary team of teachers. Primary implications included: 1) restructuring attempts must be enacted intentionally, with teacher involvement in the process; and 2) teacher retention must be a focus in order to maintain continuity of communication and trust, and ultimately, professional collaboration.