Collaborating in Context: Relational Trust and Collaborative Structures at Eight Elementary Schools

WCER Working Paper No. 2019-7

H. Rose Miesner, Elizabeth E. Blair, Chiara C. Packard, Maria Velazquez, Lyn Macgregor, and Eric Grodsky

September 2019, 26 pp.

ABSTRACT: Teacher collaboration is a key factor in improving instructional quality and promoting student achievement. Though research attests to the importance of school contextual elements for the work of teachers, few studies investigate how these factors interact to enable or constrain collaboration. This study examines teacher perspectives on collaborative practices by analyzing observations and interviews of teachers and other staff at eight Wisconsin elementary schools. It finds that structures for collaboration shape teacher participation in collaborative practices. The authors distinguish among three structures of collaboration—requisite, optional, and informal—and explore how relational trust among teachers and between teachers and their administrators and colleagues affects collaboration. They find that teachers who attested to the presence of relational trust within their schools collaborated with colleagues, regardless of formalized times to do so. Conversely, teachers who described a lack of relational trust opted against collaborating with grade-level colleagues, despite, in some instances, having access to collaborative planning time. Instructional approaches influenced collaborative structures and relational trust, as some teaching formats fostered contact between practitioners while others separated teachers. The study concludes by discussing the implications of the findings for extant and future research regarding collaboration in context.

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keywords: teacher collaboration, relational trust, elementary education, teaching conditions, school climate, social capital, public schools, Wisconsin