Partnering as a Way to "Deprivatize" Your Professional Practice

Lately, I've been hearing and reading the term “deprivatizing practice” in reference to building capacity for teaching and learning. The term has elicited strong reactions for me. I wonder, whose practice needs deprivatizing? And who is deprivatizing it? It feels like someone is doing something to me, like another attempt to point the finger at teachers and demand change. Once I get beyond my initial reaction, I reflect on what it really means.

As a classroom teacher and leader of adult learning, I've witnessed many powerful learning experiences with others. I recall exploratory conversations with peers, interactions with visitors to my classroom, group viewings of videotaped lessons I conducted, and opportunities to collaborate in leading adult learning.

In the most profound moments, I felt a sense of vulnerability and an acceptance of me and my practice—the good, the bad, and the ugly. More than anything, I felt supported. These experiences enriched my practice because they gave me greater clarity about where I was as a practitioner and where I wanted to go. Sometimes other people inspired me; sometimes they revealed areas of growth. One quality of these experiences is that they occurred in relationship with others. It is precisely that aspect—relationships—that I see at the heart of deprivatizing practice.

Relationships are vital to teaching and learning. Unfortunately, schools are not designed for adults to meet and work together on a regular basis. Developing consistent working relationships is relegated to the innovators, the trendsetters, and those who have the resources to create new structures for adult learning.

Rather than lament the design of schools and wait for someone to fix them for us, we, in whatever position we hold (teacher, administrator, coach, consultant, partner), must create conditions for ourselves for more meaningful working relationships. But recognize that taking such action can come at a cost.

I remember an experience I had after having left the classroom, standing in front of my peers as a facilitator. I remember feeling that I was at a crossroads. I could go down the path that I saw others before me go, playing the role of one who has answers. That path felt safer, more certain. Or I could choose to be a learner—open to inquiry, dialogue, differences, and the uncertainty that comes from collaborating with others. I knew this required me to be vulnerable. I was scared, maybe because I had spent 18 years in a classroom as the sole adult and, admittedly, often thinking I was the one with the answers. Being somewhat vulnerable is part of the territory on the path to deprivatization. Risk-taking is involved and so we must pay attention to creating safe conditions for experimentation and learning from mistakes.

Partnering is a safe way to start to open up our practice. Finding a buddy with whom to celebrate, share resources, and create is a great support emotionally, intellectually, and practically.  JoAnn Lawrence, director of curriculum and instruction at Rowland Unified School District, was my partner in supporting teachers and administrators learning together. We spent a lot of time together creating and implementing our best thinking. We held each other accountable for the work and sometimes disagreed. We always respected each other and valued the differences we brought to the partnership.

In reflecting on collaboration, JoAnn once shared a quality of her experience, “It is almost visceral. It is almost a feeling I have where I know I am learning, and that idea connected and some new idea formed or a new creative, innovative thought came up, and it is almost at times, almost joyful. It is almost an elatedness, because we made a connection, and new ideas are being formed.” I hope that we modeled a level of deep collaboration for others.

Partnering is an equal, mutual, relationship and it can begin in simple ways. Find a buddy and plan to share the results of a lesson, begin a conversation about a mutual professional interest. Start anywhere and see where it takes you. I find that as teachers we often think we have to be perfect. We are supposed to know everything, be heroes, change lives. Sometimes we want the luxury to be ourselves, to learn, to make mistakes because we tried something we were passionate about. It is a risk to open our practice to include others, but I have found that the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

Two teacher colleagues of mine developed a powerful partnership as members of a community of practice working to improve their students’ writing through writers workshop. In this clip, Cindy Bak, a second-grade teacher, talks about what deprivatizing practice means to her and how she collaborated with others. In this clip, Susie Burch talks about professional learning in terms that I think reflect her deprivatizing practice in a community of practice.

The Exchange Framework identifies five hallmarks of deprivatized practice.

You might also get inspiration from watching these video clips from Billy Mitchell Elementary School—in the first two clips,  first-grade teacher Jodi Manby discusses what happened when she opened her classroom to observation; in the third clip, classroom visitors debrief about their experiences.   

Hear members of a New Jersey superintendents community of practice describe how they used the Instructional Rounds approach in this Web seminar recording: Focus on the Core: An Introduction to Instructional Rounds.

Most Recent: November 8, 2012
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    Deprivatizing Professional Practice

    "Rather than lament the design of schools and wait for someone to fix them for us, we, in whatever position we hold (teacher, administrator, coach, consultant, partner), must create conditions for ourselves for more meaningful working relationships. But recognize that taking such action can come at a cost."

    This short excerpt from your article sums up clearly the notion of "distributed leadership." In distributed leadership, the principal is no longer the sole leader in the school. Of course, he or she holds the title of principal and, hence, major decisions affecting the school must bear her stamp of approval. However, each teacher holds responsibilities, which they must wield wisely and in collaboration with their colleagues because they, the teachers, are primarily responsible for creating the conditions for optimum learning within the classroom. Distributed leadership provides a forum of exchange and decentralization . It empowers teachers to make classroom decisions they deem appropriate in their eadeavor to provide quality instruction and learning.

    Having said this, there are hurdles, as you suggest. Some principals may feel uncomfortable with the idea of having teachers make important decisions--even those pertaining to instructional delivery. They may feel that their authority might slip away with every inch they give their teachers. But we're in a new age and schools need to be reformed if we expect our children to truly learn. Instead of clinging to their authority, principals should be the facilitators of collegial collaboration among teachers who teach the same subjects and grades. Principals should provide opportunities for their teachers to meet regularly, socialize, observe one another in action and share their best practices with one another. in sum, teachers must be allowed to develop a good working relationship that will eventually benefit students and their school.

    I didn't mean to be too long; I guess I got carried away because this is a topic that I particularly like to talk about. Below are a couple of interesting works that participants in this forum might find helpful.



    Hord, S. M. (Ed.) (2004). Learning together, leading together: Changing schools through professional learning communities. New York: Teachers College Press.


    Donaldson, Jr. G. A. (2009). Cultivating leadership in schools: Connecting people, purpose, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Carla Aranda

    Community in a hiearchical system


    You bring up a great topic in distributed leadership.  I  too hold a passion for this and for me it is about building community in a hierarchical system.  It natural for us to want to learn with each other but we have been schooled for individualization.  My hope is that, as an educational community, we can access each others' gifts and follow or lead as the circumstance requires. 

    Catherine Nelson

    Langauge of "deprivatizing"

    Nice piece, Carla.  I know when we were working on the Framework we went round and round about using the term "de-privatizing."  Was it too jargony? Too mechanical?  I think you have put your finger on the problem when you say it sounds like something that would be done TO teachers, not by them.  The way you talk about partnering and being in relationship- and the lovely example of your collaboration with Joann- capture the right spirit.  I'm determined to keep thinking about the right language to reflect that spirit.

    Carla Aranda

    We are in this together

    Thanks, Catherine.  Maybe if we focus on "we" and "us" and doing things together, we begin to create a space for shared ownership of teaching and learning.  Deprivitizing, then, is what is happening as we engage in acts of mutual accountability.