Working Together vs. Working Alone: Multiplying Our Instructional Knowledge Base When it comes to Teaching Writing in the Era of the Common Core


Teaching writing in the era of the Common Core requires a relentless demeanor. Being content to just survive…to chill…to relax won’t raise the level of writing in our classrooms. Consciously realizing that we are in the midst of the most rigorous standards we’ve encountered in the history of education, a different spirit is in order.  Having been there, done that in terms of “quick fixes” that do nothing, but have us orbiting and then returning to the our initial launch pad unchanged, has left our perspectives somewhat flawed. However, refusing to make excuses when we have a chance to make an impact will honor both the intent of the standards and the integrity of the student writers in which the standards were designed.

Our place in this new world of writing demands should not be replaced with anything less than what authentic best practice looks and sounds like within the four walls of our writers workshops. While considering the standards which correlate with our particular grade level, we must honor the work set out for us as both teachers of writing and students of writing. In consideration of this, adopting a growth mindset- one of resiliency and one of agency, is in order.

Although, there is a lot to be said for stability, longevity and persistence as you travel along the same path, the late, great Yogi Berra once offered these words, “When you get to the Y in the road, take it.” So now to ponder this Y in the road… preservation vs. pursuit, I ask you…what’s your choice?

Relentless teachers of writing, willingly living within a mindset of pursuit rather than preservation of existing state of affairs, will elevate both teaching and learning expectations and follow through.

Sustainable writing success can be achieved in two ways: with many members on board or with just a few, but the one way success will not be imminent, is on a solo flight. Favoring the first, supports the pursuit of an ongoing and constantly reflective collaborative approach to creating life-long writers, not just state assessment writers, rote writers, joyless writers…safe, same old writers. However, there is something about knowing that you are teaching and growing as part of a team that gives you a different spirit. Co-collaborators refuse to make excuses when they have a chance to make things better – to make things right, even when that means doing things differently than they’ve always done them. Dedicated teams hold each other accountable for the growth and joy of the student and teacher population.

With the help of my team I’ve come to realize 2 things that teachers of writing must never be content with:

  1. Status quo.
  2. Watching from the sidelines. Alone.

Reflecting only briefly on the first of these two writing enemies, not much else needs to be said in terms of resisting becoming complacent and content with status quo.  There is important work to be done when we consider the standards. Being content in doing what we’ve always done is oppression of student needs, not a plan of pursuit for customization and rigor. We are not here to just let things macerate in mediocrity and same old, same old. We are here to make a difference. To bring joy to learning…so learning doesn’t just disappear when we are not around to fuel it.  We are here to grow independent learners, thinkers and writers in the 21st century!

Examining the second culprit of complacency is where the emphasis needs to settle. Recognizing that working in quarantine with one’s self does not produce a win. We must get off the bench. Get in the game. Refuse to sit on the sidelines when we can play in the game. Sitting back and watching other people change the world of teaching, doesn’t make us part of the miracle. Step up and refuse to watch success happen through other people’s actions and efforts.

Have you ever noticed that some teachers are loners and some are leaders and some relish in the constant support of their team in pursuit of becoming better at what they do, not in preservation of status quo? The posture of people who know they have banked a toolbox of strategic weaponry against instructional defeat alongside their team to strengthen their teaching of writing- of mode, and genre, and story, and conferencing, and revision, and minilesson are not on the defense…in contrast, they are offensive. Adhering to a posture of preservation will only lead one to fester in a stature of defense. And quite frankly, who wants to hibernate in a pothole of defense. Alone.

The world of teaching writing is hard. It has challenges. Attempting to hold your ground in isolation of what you’ve always done, will not afford you or your students the opportunity to take on new ground.

My principal just recently asked his staff to answer a reflective question during grade level professional learning communities. The question was perhaps unsettling for some and yet affirming for others. The question was:

“If someone already knows how to teach something, then why would they entertain a new approach?”

As teachers, the answer to this question should spark a “don’t be content” attitude if we are teachers who are forever seeking the answer to our very own question in return:

“How can I work harder to get better at what I do?”

All responses naturally leading back to the betterment of instruction for the sole purpose of providing only the best for our students. Fortunately we have the power to change and to evolve, as wealth of knowledge and support exists in each other as team members. However, constantly focusing on what is, for example: the problems in our classrooms, the holes in our curriculum, the past efforts that failed, won’t feed us or our students forward. Rather –we must choose to focus on what can be. We will no doubt have to battle through things to make a difference. But the outcome of the battle far outweighs the mediocrity of simply submitting to status quo.

When the odds feel against you and when teaching gets harder, your power from your team gets stronger. Working alongside your team will always be greater than working alone. Togetherness multiplies effectiveness when we choose to work side by side. Combining our talents with the talents of our peers ensures that our knowledge is multiplied by the knowledge of others.

We tell our students this all the time when we coerce a Turn and Talk in our lessons. In our classrooms, we attempt to foster communities of co-construction of knowledge, of discussion and teamwork, but often our pontificating of classroom tactics doesn’t match our emulation of collegial practice. Our intended work with our students can’t be separate from our professional relationships with our colleagues. We can’t limit our teaching lives to just our knowledge base. We must consciously seek and find wisdom in the knowledge and collaboration of our peers.

Often what is found is either overestimation or underestimation of the talents in our teaching lives. Overestimating results in limiting our teaching to just our knowledge base. Underestimating of talents results in not fully utilizing the talents that exist in our very own repertoire of skills. Together over estimators and under estimators can multiply the pursuit of strategic change through collaboration and tear down the walls of solitary preservation.

Amazing things can happen when we bring our talents together for the greater good of our students. Our efforts are multiplied and we do become stronger as educators and as a result our students (and us) reap the rewards.

So now let’s return to that Y in the road. In pondering preservation vs. pursuit, I ask you…what’s your choice? Turn and Talk.

~Val Piccini

One thought on “Working Together vs. Working Alone: Multiplying Our Instructional Knowledge Base When it comes to Teaching Writing in the Era of the Common Core”

  1. Collaboration is key! We need to feed off of each other’s ideas and talents. In sharing ideas, we learn from each other; both become stronger.
    Lauren and I have working together to do presentations for her faculty on the three modes. We have shared with each other. Then we shared with her faculty. They then brought back their ways of incorporating what we shared with them. How wonderful!
    Why don’t we use each other as resources? We need to.


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