When one teaches, two learn.–Robert Heinlein

Schools have been top-down environments since the dawn of time. Rigid organizational structures controlling students, teachers, and instructional approaches do not have a strong research base validating them. Nonetheless, schools continue to hope that, if they tell teachers what to do and how to do it, teachers will follow those orders, and kids will succeed.

The trouble is, that approach doesn’t work either in building student achievement or in building the kind of humanizing school cultures that can recruit and retain skilled professionals. Treating colleagues as professionals, as intelligent and valuable contributors to a school program, does work.

The Partnership Principles show what a professional approach looks like in day-to-day interactions. In the final installment of Jim Knight’s video series on the Partnership Principles, Jim tackles reciprocity. Reciprocity is, in short, a mutual learning experience. In instructional coaching, coaches are learning as much about students and instruction and classrooms as the teachers with whom the coach works.

Reciprocity demonstrates the interconnectedness of all of the Partnership Principles. Each of the previous six Partnership Principles helps to create an environment for reciprocity.

  • If we treat people with equality, we acknowledge that they have as much to contribute as we do. We learn more from people we value.
  • If we give people choice instead of mandates, we establish them as intelligent adults who can make important decisions. We learn more when both people in a relationship have autonomy.
  • If we give people voice, we show a willingness to hear their thoughts on issues. We learn more when we value multiple perspectives.
  • If we engage in dialogue, we acknowledge that we cannot understand an issue fully on our own. We learn more when we examine issues with others.
  • If we engage in reflection, we value the thinking processes that have led to current practice. We learn more when we know the context of learning and decision-making.
  • If we value praxis over “fidelity” in making change, we acknowledge that one size does not fit all and that professionals need to engage in inquiry and experimentation in making change. We learn more when approaching an issue in several different ways.


For decades now, schools have focused intensively on “school improvement plans” developed by “school improvement teams” that hope for “continuous improvement.” Often, these plans don’t result in significant improvement in the areas they targeted. Instead, they become the communication vehicle for top-down mandates concerning system goals and system decision-making. Perhaps those initiatives don’t have greater impact because the missing element is partnership.

The main actors in those plans—teachers—typically have little choice, voice, or praxis in those decisions, and attempts at dialogue in those situations can lead them to be labeled as saboteurs, as “negative.” Vehicles for reform are often so grounded in maintaining the status quo that it’s surprising that schools change at all.

As Jim Knight says, “The idea that we can bully teachers into better schools has no evidence to support it.” Often that bullying is unintentional and is the result of the ongoing acceptance of top-down approaches in reform. Real reform requires radical changes in how educators approach reform, and it takes radical learners to make it happen. It takes, in a word, partnership.