Improving relationships within the schoolhouse

by Roland Barth


This article is a very readable comment on the importance of quality professional relationships among the adults within a school. Barth has considerable experience as a principal and as someone who mentors principals in a leadership programme. His analysis of the importance of relationships in a school is therefore practical, based on experience, and takes account of the realities of staffrooms and school communities.

The article stresses the fact that positive, professional relationships among staff produce more effective teaching and learning. He discusses four types of relationships that commonly exist in schools. These are:

  • Parallel play – where everyone busily gets on, in a self-absorbed way, working in isolation.
  • Adversarial relationships – where people compete with each other to develop their own resources and reputations, often putting the practices of others down.
  • Congenial relationships – where people are friendly, interested, and concerned about each other but don’t share professional ideas.
  • Collegial relationships – where the focus is on talking with each other, and sharing knowledge about professional matters.

The first two relationships are not to be encouraged as they do not improve teaching, nor do they help improve student learning. Congeniality is an important basis for relationships within a school community, but does not go far enough to lift student learning and improve quality teaching.

The key elements in developing collegial relationships are the encouragement of professional conversations, sharing each others’ expertise and successful strategies, regular and documented classroom observations, and actively helping each other when difficult teaching situations occur.

Barth recommends that the school leadership team also participate in these activities and open their own practice up for observation, comment and mentoring. The school’s leadership team could use this article to think of ways to develop collegial relationships throughout the school.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • Examine the relationships that exist within your own school community. Do you have examples of any or all of the four categories described by Barth? How could you begin to work towards a culture in which collegial relationships are more dominant in your school?
  • Are you aware of some “non-discussable” areas in your school? What are they and how could they be addressed more constructively?
  • Focus on the section ‘what school leaders can do’. Plan two or three steps that you could take to improve the quality of collegial relationships within the school. How might the leadership team itself model such a relationship?


Barth, R. (2006, March). Improving relations in the schoolhouse. Educational Leadership, 63(6), 8–13.

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