Under the new Common Core State Standards, literacy is considered a “shared responsibility” across all content areas. We have long known that students in every content area need core literacy skills to succeed, including the ability to make thinking and problem solving visible through writing and the ability to read complex texts for meaning. However, it is no secret that most secondary schools lack the teacher capacity to successfully integrate literacy into every classroom throughout the school. That means that instead of acting as an “inspector” of teaching skill, school leaders must improve classroom instruction by shifting to the role of “builder” of teacher capacity.
Professional development will be critical to improving teaching, and one key component of that professional development will involve teachers learning from each other through intentional collaboration. When teachers share and collaborate their skills improve, but there is more to collaboration than simply sharing. When teachers take the time to share and collaborate they develop a shared commitment to each other. Ultimately, that shared commitment translates into ownership, and when teachers take ownership, student achievement improves.
Teacher collaboration requires time, effort, and the commitment of a strong, resolute school leader. The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Breaking Ranks Framework have consistently promoted the need to foster a collaborative culture of accountability based on mutual trust and shared responsibility. NASSP has joined 29 other leading organizations for educators in serving as a stakeholder in the newly formed National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE).
The first major research findings from the group were released on Wednesday in its report Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works. The report was based upon survey responses drawn from more than 2,400 educators across all grade levels and subject areas. It investigated the connection between professional learning, teacher collaboration, and student learning. One compelling finding was that 77% of school leaders and educators across subject areas agreed with the statement that “developing student literacy is one of the most important parts of my job.”
The report is well-timed, as schools across the country get ready to implement the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, which challenge educators to successfully teach complex literacy skills across content areas. The report was emphatic in recommending stronger support for ongoing teacher learning and collaboration. According to NCLE Director Kent Williamson, “If we believe that developing student literacy is a shared responsibility, we must support educators as they learn, plan, and teach collaboratively.”
Survey results suggest that time for structured collaboration in schools may actually be shrinking at a time when it is needed most. The report also emphasized the vital role that principals play in actively modeling collaboration—a factor that was strongly correlated with higher levels of trust in a school and more rapid spread of best practices.
The report outlines critical steps that federal and state policymakers and school officials can take to help eliminate the roadblocks to literacy learning in the content areas, including:
- Provide the necessary support to ensure that educators know how to teach the elements of literacy pertinent to their content areas.
- Embed educator collaboration in the school day. This is important for deep student learning, and is a necessary prerequisite to the success of other school reforms.
- Fund professional learning that is ongoing, job-embedded and collaborative; educators who engage in this kind of learning are better able to employ and advance literacy learning across grades and subjects.
- Structure the use of educator time to maximize their ability to develop collective capacity for improving literacy learning across a school or school system.
- Promote accountability by encouraging educators in a school or system to reach shared agreements about successful literacy learning and the steps they will take together to fulfill these agreements.
The most effective school systems in the world design their schools so that educators spend substantial portions of their day working alongside each other to problem solve and grow together. The report concludes that if we want today’s students to meet the demands of tomorrow’s world, now is the time to remodel our institutions. Teaching can no longer be a solitary pursuit.
To read the full report, visit www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/remodeling.
About National Center for Literacy Education
NCLE is a coalition of 30 professional education associations, policy organizations and foundations united to support schools in elevating literacy learning. Through support for practice, research and policy change, we are building a movement around the power of educator teams to advance literacy learning. Effective collaborative inquiry teams build sustainable capacity in schools by giving teachers skills, structures and support systems to continually learn from and refine their shared practice. NCLE’s portfolio of free resources supports and connects educator teams in collaborating across subject areas and school walls to meet student literacy needs, while building accessible knowledge about effective team practices. By using the digital tools available today, combined with the expertise and infrastructure of our stakeholder organizations, we are building a living network to foster the literacies of tomorrow. To find out more, visit us at www.literacyinlearningexchange.org.