On the Pathway…
“The traditional school often functions as a collection of independent contractors united by a common parking lot.”
Robert Eaker’s quote cracks me up, partly because of the wit of it, and partly because of the truth. In North American schools, we still encounter a prevailing culture of isolation with regards to instructional practice, and in spite of the expense and efforts of many, this culture has proven to be remarkably resilient.
Most of the schools that I have worked at, and most of the teachers I’ve worked with, show a measure of skepticism about really working on their teaching practice with their colleagues. Some of us try to mandate collaboration; but that doesn’t seem to work, you can’t capture hearts and minds with mandates, especially when those issuing the mandates have limited time or capacity to actually engage in the ongoing monitoring of teaching practice. Or, we try to wish collaboration into place through structural practices, like scheduling common planning time for teachers, which often results in the educator version of parallel play (two colleagues standing side by side, at the photocopier).
These don’t work because they don’t penetrate what Richard Elmore calls the instructional core, the actual learning conditions of actual students in actual classrooms. In order to address this challenge; to create real instructional collaboration, we are working on an adaptation of a process called CLIP introduced by Crevola, Hill and Fullan in their book Breakthrough. CLIP (aka: TCLP)stands for Critical Learning Instructional Pathway, a protocol that allows for teachers to identify student learning needs (based on common assessments), then develop and implement a sequence of instruction (a pathway) to address those needs, leading to a culminating assessment task. At each stage, we allocate time for teachers to think and talk about the impact of their teaching on students, with the guidance and support of our instructional coaches.
Implementation of this process is bumpy. Old habits die hard and the teachers we are working with still tend to see this process as an add on, rather than as a way of crafting precise classroom instruction that is responsive to student needs. The other challenge is that teachers don’t necessarily feel comfortable working together in this manner; it’s not part of the prevailing culture of our schools. Even though we live in a world where people around the globe work together on projects that ‘follow the sun’, this working together thing is still new to us.
So, we started our first cycle of the year today; we are on the pathway, bumps and all, trying to break down the walls that exist in our school. Trying to ensure that there is a consistent set of instructional practices in each of our classrooms and that instruction is based on clear, curriculum-based targets.Trying to value our teachers as caring, intelligent professionals,while we try to push them to become co-learners.
It’s encouraging for me to realize that everything that we need for our learning is right under our noses, in the classrooms we teach. We just have to work on learning to do this together.