Why Is Deprivatizing Practice a Core Concept of NCLE?
Deprivatizing practice. That phrase is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? What does "deprivatizing practice" mean and why is it a core concept of the National Center for Literacy Education?
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary doesn’t even recognize the word deprivatizing. However, if you Google it, you’ll come up with a number of articles that use it to describe the ways that educators, especially teachers, can begin to make the instructional practices and routines in their classrooms more open to collegial conversation and collective inquiry, or more "public."
In a day of reality TV, “public” can often have negative connotations. The world sees the good, the bad, and the ugly, and tends to provide a de-contextualized and often emotional reaction. That’s not what we mean by deprivatizing practice.
At the core of an education profession that engages in continuous improvement is the need for ongoing conversation about what good practice looks like. Educators' practices are made up of all the regular, patterned ways in which educators go about their work, reflecting both conscious and unconscious understandings of what good teaching and learning look like. These teaching acts are often hidden from their colleagues in an organizational system. Teachers may have little time or support for opening classroom doors for observation and conversation. The work of school principals is typically framed within a building, not part of a network of instructional leaders. A literacy coach might be completely isolated in the system—viewing her role as distinct from that of administrator and teacher.
In an article last year in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande, surgeon and journalist (you may know his book The Checklist Manifesto) describes the need in all disciplines for cultural norms that support inquiry and conversation with one’s colleagues.
Gawande talks about how essential coaching is in sports, especially for top athletes. It’s become quite normal in business to hire management consultants or coaches to provide feedback on skills and strategies. Why is it, Gawande wonders, that in other professions, inviting a colleague in to observe you work and then provide feedback is considered a sign of struggling practice rather than a normal characteristic of expert professionals? He notes,
"Yet, modern society increasingly depends upon ordinary people taking responsibility for doing extraordinary things: operating inside people’s bodies, teaching eighth graders algebraic concepts that Euclid would have struggled with, building a highway through a mountain, constructing a wireless computer network across a state, running a factory, reducing a city’s crime rate. . . . We treat guidance for professionals as a luxury—you can guess what gets cut first when school-district budgets are slashed. (p. 8, online version)"
Good teaching, skilled instructional leadership, effective administration all require a willingness to invite conversation, inquiry, and collaborative analysis of the everyday patterns of one’s practice. On the Literacy in Learning Exchange site, you’ll see teams that are making the commitment to do this with one another and with you, readers of this site who choose to “follow” them.
However, to effectively create change for students, this can’t be an individual action, but rather needs to be deliberatively fostered by organizational systems which put in place conditions designed to support educators in this process of deprivatizing—or making public—their work. For instance, such conditions might include:
- creating time for professionals to talk with one another as part of their work day.
- ensuring that professional development is built around opportunities to observe practice, have conversations about it, and then safely try it out.
- making it safe for professionals to admit areas in which they are engaged in their own learning and development.
In order to create a system of ongoing improvement in teaching and learning, NCLE recognizes that educators need to talk to one another, share struggles, celebrate insights, and make visible educational practice. That's why you'll find the phrase "deprivatizing practice" featured prominently as a searchable term in the Exchange Resource Library.
We are committed to sharing the rich and varied resources and expertise of our stakeholders as well as materials developed and used by educator teams on the Exchange. You may want to investigate the resources listed below, which illustrate that no matter what your professional role is, there are steps you can take to make your own practice more public and open to investigation, collaboration, and collective learning:
- Benefits for Classroom Observers: In this clip, first-grade teacher Jodi Manby discusses what she hopes the observers to her classroom get out of the experience, both short-term and long-term.
- The Teacher Researcher Group Process: In this podcast, Cathy Fleischer, the facilitator of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project's Teacher Research Group, describes the process group members use to collaborate around their individual questions.
- Coresearching and Coreflecting: The Power of Teacher Inquiry Communities: In this chapter from On Teacher Inquiry, Diane Waff explores how her work as a teacher researcher was influenced by participation in three different teacher inquiry communities—a K–12 community focused on multicultural education, a secondary school community focused on teacher leadership, and a K–college community focused on teacher research.
- In this NCTE Instructional Leadership Series Web seminar, presenters Carla Colmenarez, Rex Babiera, Cindy Kim Bak, Sarah Opatkiewicz, and JoAnn Lawrence talk about the work of participants in a community of practice in Rowland Unified School District (RUSD) in southern California.