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Tool: Learning from conflict: Part II

How do we acknowledge and use conflict to learn?

In her study of teachers’ professional learning communities, Betty Achinstein found that, compared to teachers who avoided conflict, teachers who embraced it enacted more substantive changes in their schools’ curricular and instructional practices. Achinstein developed a continuum of conflict within teacher communities to capture the differences and consequences of communities that avoid conflict and those that embrace it:

Conflict avoidant Conflict embracing

Stifles, quickly absorbs or privatizes disagreement

Has few tools to deal publicly with disagreement

Members have strong social ties to each         other.

Outsiders are not openly welcomed.

Individual and subgroup differences are not acknowledged.

Members believe schools should socialize students into current society.

Members seek and enact solutions that maintain existing relations, norms and practices.

Acknowledges and solicits statements of differences of beliefs and practice.

Uses several mechanisms for public debate.

Members have ties to many school groups beyond the professional learning community.

Individual and subgroup identities are supported.

Members believe schools should foster critical thinkers and transform rather than reproduce society.

Members seek and enact solutions that question core norms and result in changed practices.

Adapted from Betty Achinstein, 2000,

Think about your learning community:

  • Where does your community lie on this continuum? Describe specific situations or patterns of interaction that support your assessment.
  • What are the consequences of the community’s stance towards conflict for your own and for your colleagues’ learning?  When did disagreement or debate generate new ideas or ways of thinking for you? For your colleagues?  When did disagreement or debate contribute to tension and silencing some people in the group?
  • What beliefs about schooling, teaching and students do members of our community hold?  How do they get expressed?  How do they get silenced?  How do they get challenged?
  • What kinds of changes in your classroom and/or the school has your learning community helped to generate?
  • How can we ensure that we acknowledge and build upon our disagreements?
  • How can we strike a balance between disagreement and consensus?

See Assessing our learning for a tool to help your study group assess its progress.


  • DeFourHawley & Valli
  • Judith Warren Little(Randi’s professional development stuff)
  • Achensein, Betty(Discussion stuff – 891 course readings,
  • Nystrand – Opening Dialogue;
  • Engestrom – polycontextuality & workplace learning stuff.
  • Engestrom – work cycle   ; situated cognition Borko & Putnam; ..look at DC pro. Stuff)
  • Grossman and Wineburg – TCRWill teacher learning advance school goals? –
  • M. Bruce King & Fred M. Newman, Phi Delta Kappan, 2000, vol. 81, no. 8, pp. 576-581.
  • Mohr, Nancy & Dicther, Alan (2001).  Building a learning organization.  Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 82, no. 10 pages 744-748.