Tackling Literacy Together: Are We Ready?

Expectations for what it means to be literate are rising. The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one embodiment of the more complex literacy skills that all of today’s students need to be college and career ready. These rising expectations present challenges for us as educators, but, as is often the case, along with challenge comes opportunity. In this case, the challenge of implementing the new standards creates an opportunity to redefine how educators learn and work together, making education the “learning profession” we have been striving to be.

Over the past two decades, research evidence has mounted that professional collaboration among educators is one of the most powerful forms of professional development and has significant impacts on student learning. 

At the same time, practicing educators have increasingly joined together in various forms of learning communities, seeking to tap each other’s expertise and maximize their collective impact. Unfortunately, the way most schools organize time and space has lagged behind, continuing to resemble the traditional “egg carton” model. In his recent blog post “From Artisan Teachers to Learning Teams,” Tom Carroll of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future describes the limitations of the solo practitioner model for today’s learning needs and points towards more effective approaches.

What if the transition to Common Core provides the spark for a broader transformation for how educators think about their work? What if instead of going to “trainings” on the Common Core we embraced the fact that transitioning to new standards will be an ongoing learning process, where we commit to a cycle of shared inquiry grounded in our own classroom practice and our students’ learning?

Today’s literacy expectations are not only more rigorous, they are deeply interconnected across traditional subject areas and modes of literacy (reading, writing, media, digital). To meet the challenge of developing these literacy skills in our students, it just makes sense to work together—for educators to pool their skills, resources, and expertise. By doing so, we can seize the opportunity to redefine teaching as a profession defined by collective responsibility and continuous learning.

NCLE’s mission is to support schools in working together to meet rising literacy expectations. To build a knowledge base for action, we knew we needed clear and up-to-date data on how schools are currently taking on the challenge. Last fall we conducted the first “National Survey of Collaborative Professional Learning Opportunities,” a nationally representative survey of educators of all roles, grade levels, and subject areas to find out where we stand as a nation in the following areas:

  • How do various kinds of educators see their role in supporting literacy learning?
  • What kinds of training and resources do they have to carry out that role and what do they find most useful?
  • To what extent are schools structured to allow educators to work together to elevate literacy learning?
  • What building blocks for professional collaboration are already in place?
  • What supports are needed to make professional collaboration effective in improving student learning?

Our goal was to establish a national baseline for the use of effective professional collaboration around literacy learning and document the most critical needs. Findings from the survey will be released at an April 3rd event in Washington, D.C., featuring panelists including practicing teachers and superintendents, prominent researchers, and leaders at the U.S. Department of Education. That day will also be the start of a movement from knowledge to action, taking what we learned from the survey to build an agenda for supporting professional collaboration to elevate literacy learning.

At the April 3 event, our panelists will discuss what these findings mean for how teachers, school leaders, and policymakers can support the kinds of professional collaboration that make a difference for student literacy.

Our findings and recommendations will also be available as of April 3 here on the Literacy and Learning Exchange.  In subsequent weeks, we will be spotlighting what we learned from the survey about particular issues, such as the role of principals and literacy coaches in supporting teacher collaboration and the status of professional collaboration in low income schools. We hope you will check back then and in the following weeks and be part of the conversation.