Mr. Pasi Savonmäki' s Academic dissertation 30.11.2007

Savonmäki, P. 2007. Collegial collaboration among teachers in polytechnic: A micropolitical perspective on teachership. University of Jyväskylä. Institute for Educational Research. Research Reports 23. ISSN 1455-447X, ISBN 978-951-39-3004-2 (printed version), ISBN 978-951-39-3005-9 (PDF).



This study focuses on collegial collaboration among polytechnic teachers. The theme is related both to polytechnic research and to research on teacher's work. The introduction of polytechnics was the most prominent reform in the Finnish education system in the 1990s. The polytechnics have sought to establish a distinctive new education culture where collegial collaboration plays a central role for institute-level structural reforms, development of the work culture, and teacher's professional growth. In many studies on teachership in vocational education and training, collective teachership is still identified as a major challenge for schools' development. The work of vocational teachers has been geared increasingly towards building and maintaining external and internal collaborative relations. Collaborative capacity has become an increasingly important prerequisite for teachers and the whole polytechnic to succeed in their work. The chosen micropolitical perspective highlights the significance of power and influence pertaining to teacher's work as elements of collaboration. Here, attention is paid to the inherent tension between the autonomy of teacher's work and the administrative powers regulating it.

This qualitative study deals with a domain between organisational research and research on teacher's thinking. The primary aim was to get insight into collaboration as part of teacher's work. The research task was thus to describe and analyse teachers' experiences of collegial collaboration and polytechnic culture. The method is based on theme interview concerning the context, content, forms, and interests of collaboration. The first set of data was collected in a group interview with 17 teachers and another set by individual interviews with 19 teachers.

The teachers considered positive atmosphere an important resource and prerequisite for smooth collaboration. Efforts to keep up the borders of expertise were seen as protection of one's autonomy but also as collegial segregation. Crossing such borders implied educational innovations and shared teachership as well as development of one's own professional field in working life contexts. The organisation culture was characterised by haste, fragmented work, and developmental pressure. These aspects were mitigated by collegial support and trust as well as respect for teacher's autonomy. Looking teacher's work as involving the respective arenas of teaching, interaction, and administration helped understand the teachers' experiences of collaboration. In these arenas people exert influence, protect themselves and also collaborate. These activities call for different types of engagement and competence, which seemed to add teachers' workload.

Teacher's own thinking emerged as a central premise of collaboration and it also received greater emphasis than the surrounding organisational structures. Teachers' mutual collaboration is based either on an individualistic approach that keeps up borders, or on a community-based approach that accentuates social interdependence. An individualistic interpretation of autonomy may restrict the range of possibilities offered by collaboration. In such case, teachers may, at best, look for different forms of collaboration so as to get support to their own work. In contrast, a community-based interpretation may lead to crossing various borders of expertise so that collaboration is seen as an integral part of teaching in quest of the educational objectives. Here, collaboration promotes positive interdependence and also helps establish a collaborative culture in polytechnics. In teacher training as well as in organisational development and management, attention should be paid to how teacher's autonomy is interpreted and what kind of operation culture is thereby constructed.

Keywords: polytechnics, collegiality, micropolitics, teacher's work, collaboration