Fictions of teamwork

In her editorial to the 29(4)Summer 2002 issue of Early Childhood Education Journal, Mary Renck Jalongo addresses the question of what to do about “leaders who are ‘strong with the weak and weak with the strong?’

“One popular way of being strong with the weak,” Jalongo writes, “is using words to put teachers or teacher educators in their place. In the past, educators were chided for being ‘unprofessional’ if they raised questions or objected to an administrative decision. Today, the American educator who does not routinely acquiesce to a leader’s wishes is told (or later hears that) he or she is ‘just not a team player,’ an insult used to connote the behavior that is self-centered, undisciplined, and destructive. Presumably the team member who will not ‘play along’ is an obstructionist whose actions are counterproductive to the organization. Fear of such harsh criticism can be surprisingly effective at keeping educators silent, even when it is clear that someone needs to speak up.” (p.217)

Jalongo explains that “This editorial contrasts the ‘fictions of teamwork’ (Sennett, 1998) that exist in educational settings with the characteristics of true colleagueship. This issue,” she adds, “is of particular importance to the early childhood field where gender socialization may encourage women teachers to remain silent.” (p.217)

Jalongo elaborates: “In phony, self-congratulatory types of teams, conflict is regarded as particularly aversive. Disingenuous teams seek the comfort and ease of total consensus so that disagreements can be avoided and issues unanimously resolved. In false teams, public meetings are relatively useless as ways of airing differences because most people wait until after the meeting to say what they really think. Furthermore, reflective thought is rejected as a waste of time that will get in the way of finding an immediate solution, vaguely defined as ‘what works.'” (p.217)

“Conversely,” she continues, “in a collegial environment, conflict is viewed as the necessary process and byproduct of shared [-p.218] decision making. Ferocious debates coexist with mutual trust and respect. The organization is considered to be vital and healthy (rather than under siege) when conflicts are brought out into the open. Colleagues can agree to disagree, change their minds, or admit to being wrong about an issue without a loss of face. They do not wait for their mistakes to become public knowledge or attempt to shift blame. They own up to their errors, vow to do better, and then actually do so, partly out of a desire to avoid letting others down and partly out of an obligation to develop as professionals.” (pp.217-218)

Colleagues… have learned to take the sting out of criticism by seeking it in advance rather than waiting to be wounded by it. They can take and give criticism without being hostile; they are sufficiently mature to realize that not approving of an idea is not the same as disliking the originator.” (p.218)

“Colleagueship embraces excellence, based on the conviction that …’When the sun shines, everyone gets a tan.’ Colleagues recognize extraordinary expertise in others without feeling diminished by it in any way. They also admit to ignorance of certain topics, secure in the knowledge that colleagues will enlighten them if asked.” (p.218)

“In conclusion,” Jalongo writes, “perhaps the best defense against the ‘just not a team player’ insult is a reminder of how exemplary professional teams operate. Their ethic is one of hard work, where each member fulfills every responsibility dependably and to the best of her or his ability.” (p.219)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in bold blue mine) Mary Renck Jalongo (2002) Editorial: On Behalf of Children. Early Childhood Education Journal 29(4)Summer: pp.217-220

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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