Egg Cartons and Collaboration

Very, very early in my teaching career a more seasoned colleague shared with me his lamentation on the profession: As teachers, we are the eggs; the school is our egg carton. Each of us is separated off into our own little protective compartment—our classroom—never touching, never interacting, never discussing.

A new report from the National Center for Literacy Education, Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works, appears to suggest that little has changed in the last 20 years in that regard. According to its findings, only 40% of educators have the opportunity to co-plan with colleagues more than once a month. And yet, co-planning is the one professional learning experience survey respondents value the most. In fact, a majority of educators have less than one hour per week to work with other members of their learning teams. (A one-page infographic summarizing the report’s findings is also available.)

For a profession firmly focused on developing a love of life-long learning, this reality may seem counter-intuitive. However, the pressures of time and available resources too often dictate policy. The good news, as the report also states, is that many of the building blocks to begin to rectify this problem may be already in place: educator teams, online professional networks, smart use of student data, and—perhaps most importantly—instructional coaches and school librarians.

Changing the climate and culture of our schools to embrace collaboration may seem a daunting task. Policymakers at the school, district, state, and national level all have a role in the kind of systemic remodeling for which the report calls. But, as classroom teachers, we must be that change. Now, as classrooms across the country begin the heavily lifting of implementing new standards and striving for college and career readiness, the work becomes more important than ever. This may the time to finally break free from our Styrofoam sarcophagi, to escape our egg-carton mentality, and model for our students the kind of life-long learning we desire to see in them.

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