NCLE's Expanding Network

It's difficult to say exactly why almost 150 new NCLE teams registered on the Literacy in Learning Exchange during the NCTE Convention in mid-November. It was partially influenced, I’m sure, by the more than 600 stimulating sessions. There was a time when the words collaboration or team within the descriptions of NCTE convention sessions would primarily indicate cooperative learning and student collaboration, but a similar search of the 2012 program resulted in nearly a hundred sessions focused on teacher collaboration for the purpose of professional learning and improved literacy teaching and learning. Based on observations in Las Vegas, I believe that many educator groups chose to sign up for the following reasons:

 

  1. They recognize that it's time for a national movement that calls for investment in educator learning and decision making.

Regardless of where you stand on the series of reforms that have swept through our schools and classrooms over the past decade, there is a widespread sense that most of the change has been done to educators rather than by them. Those involved in the NCLE movement believe that if you want to sustain change in schools, you start by investing in the structures that support purposeful collaborative work by teachers. In the NCTE booth where NCLE was represented by a small table, a video, and a map full of pins and colored paper, convention-goers were excited by the prospect of being part of this national movement. It wasn’t just about “putting their school on the map,” but more about the shared belief in teacher agency and collaboration.

Perhaps some of the energy behind the groups signing up on the Exchange resulted from Sir Ken Robinson’s galvanizing talk about the power of imagination and creativity to transform learning, and about the many aspects of school system design that fail to nurture inquiry and problem solving.

  1. They already participate in a group but seek more substance and support.

During NCLE sessions at the Convention and during one-on-one conversations in the booth, we heard repeated stories of schools that had implemented professional learning communities in name only—without training or the structures necessary for effective learning to occur. We also heard stories about learning teams of teachers finding one another across district boundaries because the individuals did not have access to collaboration within their own schools.  NCLE is committed to helping all educators gain the support needed to do the work they value most, regardless of the present context.

  1. They see a way to stay in touch with colleagues who share their interests and questions.

Visitors to the booth described how they already participate in learning communities but are excited by the prospect of being able to share and network across learning communities. Many new NCLE groups indicated that their professional learning goals are focused on implementing Common Core State Standards. The more that collaborative teams are entrusted with decision-making responsibility for how standards will be pursued, the better the chances that innovations can be sustained. The promise of "following" the work of other teams whose inquiry question interests you is an alluring one.

Several NCTE affiliates, led by the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, have formed “hub” groups in their states that other teams can follow and draw resources from. By systematically affiliating with school teams from a given region or state, groups that support teachers and schools in a particular geographic area can build a strong, ongoing exchange with those they seek to serve. Instead of merely getting together once a year at a conference to exchange insights, these educators have created a structure for frequent infusions of support, resources, and advocacy.

  1. Educators want to connect with the resources of 30 leading professional learning organizations.

Even at the NCTE Convention, participants were thrilled by the convenience of visiting just one spot, the Literacy in Learning Exchange, to find valuable resources from 30 leading associations and foundations about literacy and collaborative inquiry. Math teachers and social studies teachers who were co-presenting with their English teacher colleagues were surprised to find their professional organization on the list and to know that these organizations were combining their efforts and their resources to support this national movement.

 

Many of the NCTE convention observations noted above are also appearing in early analysis of a recent nationwide survey of 11,000 educators regarding their professional development experiences and interests.  Nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported that they participate in some sort of collaborative inquiry group, but less than half of the respondents had more than an hour a week built into their schedules for structured collaboration. Watch for more details about the survey results in an upcoming From NCLE Perspective.

Both as executive director of NCTE and in my role as director of the NCLE initiative, I am humbled by the remarkable goodwill and innovative spirit demonstrated by our “early adopter” teams, the network of NCLE stakeholder organizations, and our remarkably energetic staff. The pieces are in place for educators to change the dynamic of school reform for the future.

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