Teaching and betrayal, by Andy Hargreaves

One of the strongest sources of negative emotion with colleagues is betrayal

I just read this paper published in 2003 and think it is of great importance for school leaders and teachers today. I have given a brief summary of the paper here. If you want to read the whole article I suggest you look here;

The article addresses three forms of betrayal: competence, contract, and communication betrayal.

Betrayal in teaching is significant not only in a moral sense, but also because its consequence is to lead to teachers to avoid conflict and interaction with each other and thereby insulate themselves from the opportunities for learning and constructive disagreement.

One of the challenges facing educators who try to build collaborative relations among their teachers is the difficulty that teachers encounter in dealing with conflict (Hargreaves, 2002). Teachers typically avoid conflict by establishing norms of politeness and non-interference (Little, 1990), or by clustering together only with like-minded colleagues who share their ideas and beliefs (Fullan, 2001; Hargreaves, 2002). This reduces teachers’ capacity to work through differences and learn from disagreement.

Facing conflict and airing disagreement within a profession involves significant risks. People worry that working relationships will deteriorate, that bonds of friendship or connections will be irretrievably broken, that people will no longer be willing to depend on each other. Risks of difference and conflict escalate in societies and organizations of increasing diversity, complexity and uncertainty that experience rapid change. In these circumstances, one of the factors that can mitigate the risk of conflict, or make the risk worth taking, is the existence of deep trust among workers of an organization. People are usually more prepared to engage in arguments or disagreements with close friends or immediate family since they know that the enduring ties between them will withstand temporary differences. Organizations are the same. Conflict will more likely be risked where underlying trust already exists. Trust, then, is a vital ingredient of productive professional collaboration.

Trust is a process, not a state-something that people work towards as a matter of principle and of professional commitment, even if they have little personal relationship with the people in whom their trust is invested. Trust, in other words, helps people move towards creating a measure of shared emotional and intellectual understanding in a larger or complex professional community, instead of presuming that understanding.

Among teachers, while both personal and professional trust are important in building strong professional communities, they are not always honored equally, nor are they usually treated in a compatible way. Because many schools still operate according to principles of classroom autonomy and norms of professional politeness, trust in colleagues’ commitment or competence tends not to be actively renewed, but to be pushed out of awareness until crises or dif®culties draw attention to it. Teachers, therefore, become aware of trust issues either in emotionally intense relationships with colleagues who are also friends or when there is a collapse of trust in their professional relationships and existing presumptions of trust fall apart.

Defining Betrayal

Betrayal is the intentional or unintentional breach of trust or the perception of such a breach. As Reina & Reina (1999) show, most cases of betrayal in organizations are minor. Broken promises, missed appointments, gossiping, time-wasting and self-servingness these are the stuff of minor betrayals, and most are unintentional products of being over-worked rather than conscious acts of deception. Yet, as acts of distrust accumulate and people feel repeatedly let down, minor betrayals can create crises of trust in the organization generally.

Contractual trust refers to people’s ability to meet their obligations, complete their contracts and keep their promises. When perceived shortfalls of commitment from colleagues directly affect one’s own classroom teaching, intense feelings of betrayal can reverberate across all three areas of trust, contractual, communication, and competence leading to breakdowns in communication and accusations of incompetence.

Contractual betrayal occurred where colleagues did not meet the usual expectations for the job they had a poor work rate, they let their colleagues down by not pulling their weight, they taught the minimum, watched the clock, or they did not revise their courses, they complained about the organization without getting involved in taking responsibility for change, or they promoted changes that benefited themselves rather than the good of all.

Competence trust involves trusting and having regard for one’s own and others’ capability, knowledge, skills and judgment, as expressed in effective delegation and the provision of professional growth opportunities. Criticizing others’ incompetence carries connotations of blame, and teachers are therefore sometimes hesitant to do this. While drawing attention to problems of competence is essential for professional improvement and need not lead to unwarranted shame or blame, insensitive or unwarranted communication of competence problems is emotionally and professionally damaging.

Competence betrayal is often a proxy for the other two forms: self-imputations of incompetence arising from feelings of being shamed and blamed by others, and imputations of incompetence to others being bound up with criticisms of their self-servingness or contractual shortcomings.

Communication trust concerns the quality, clarity and openness of communication among colleagues in terms of disclosing information, telling the truth, admitting mistakes, keeping confidences and refraining from gossip (Reina & Reina, 1999, p. 81).  Gossiping about colleagues or communicating negative information or opinions about them in unacceptable ways is a strategy people use to achieve status, importance and access to information in cultures or organizations where they do not have access to official channels of involvement and decision-making. While gossip involves the furtive circulation of information and opinion, shame entails the public exposure of people’s actual or imputed failings, weaknesses and transgressions in front of others (Taylor, 1985). Whereas guilt involves recrimination and regret for wrong actions or failures to act, shame casts aspersions on and Teaching and Betrayal 401 raises questions about fundamental aspects of people’s self and identity (Scheff, 1994; Giddens, 1991).

Communication betrayal occurred when there was malicious or mischievous gossip, miscommunication or misunderstanding, self-servingness disguised as promotion of the general good, and shaming criticisms of one’s competence in front of colleagues, superiors or students.


Sustainable school improvement that stimulates real and lasting gains in student achievement depends on teachers being able to work together in strong professional communities (Newmann et al., 2000). Strong professional communities depend on teachers’ capacity to blend commitment with doubt and a shared passion for improving learning and achievement, along with healthy disagreement about and inquiry into the best ways to do it. Strong professional communities risk and sometimes relish con¯ ict. Trust is the emotional catalyst that makes this unique chemistry possible. Betrayal is the agent that destroys it.

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