Collaborating Outside the Classroom: sharing stories to build strategies

8. Professional Practice – The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning. For me, professional collaboration depends on sharing our classroom stories. This is how we learn from others’ teaching experience and how we reflect on our own. It is how we trade curriculum, analyze assessment, and discover practical solutions to everyday teaching problems. Sometimes we want to share those classroom stories with teachers whose experience closely matches our own: teachers working at our same school, in the same grade level and content area. At the school in which I intern, for example, the 9th and 10th grade Language Arts teachers collaborated to create two common rubrics for summative writing assessments. Here is an image of the 10th grade rubric, which I modified for use with an in-class essay:

Common Rubric example

According to DuFour (2011), “The most comprehensive study of factors affecting schooling…concluded that the most powerful strategy for helping students learn at higher levels was ensuring that teachers work collaboratively in teams to establish the essential learnings all students must acquire [and] to gather evidence of student learning through an ongoing assessment process” (p. 60). This common rubric reflects an established understanding of the essential writing skills students must acquire by the end of 10th grade. In addition, the common rubric creates consistent language around writing instruction that allows students to know what is expected and to build writing skills piece by piece. Because the rubric can be highlighted to focus on different elements of writing, it is adaptable to writing assignments that focus on distinct elements of academic writing, or on specific writing conditions. In the rubric above, for example, I shaded out the Context, Conclusion, Grammar and Professionalism categories. Since I was using the rubric for an in-class essay I wanted my students to be able to focus on the essential ingredients for on-demand writing: Thesis, Organization, Concrete Details and Analysis, without worrying about detailed final editing tasks.  When I graded my students’ in-class essays using this rubric I was impressed by the consistent focus and sophisticated use and analysis of textual evidence I observed in their essays. In the future, I would like to review the rubric with the 10th grade Language Arts team and jointly prioritize rubric categories for in-class essays. On-demand writing is required for many standardized tests, college courses, and careers, and collaborating with other teachers to define essential writing elements specifically for on-demand tasks will serve students well in their writing futures.

Sometimes we need to go outside of our school building to expand our understanding of what constitutes essential learning and how to teach and evaluate it. Professional organizations help us to trade classroom stories with a broader audience. In EDU 6134, a Professional Issues class, I researched three professional organizations that focus on English Language Arts and Literacy instruction. The chart below summarizes what I learned about the professional learning opportunities offered by those organizations.


Webquest 2

Webquest 3

Webquest 4

Webquest 5

These professional organizations all offer opportunities for sharing curriculum, assessments, and instruction. But effective idea sharing, support and collaborative problem solving requires in-person meeting time. According to Desimone (2011), “a more broad-based view of teacher professional development has emerged, treating teacher learning as interactive and social, based in discourse and community practice” (p. 68). The Washington Organization for Reading Development (WORD) is divided into local councils, including a Seattle council and a particularly active Lake Washington council. These latter two meet regularly over the course of the school year and offer opportunities for book talks, author visits, and sharing of strategies around literacy instruction and reading engagement. These offerings form the basis for effective interactive, social, practice-based teacher learning. At these local events I also hope to connect with other educators interested in literacy development at the high school level. By sharing stories about challenges we’ve faced, strategies we’ve used, and books we’ve taught we can all better help our struggling students develop into strong readers and writers.


Desimone, L. (2011). A Primer on effective professional development. Kappan, V92, N6

DuFour, R. (2011). Work together but only if you want to. Kappan, V92,N5


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