From the very first one room school house to the modern multi-grade school, one thing has remained relatively constant…the “sacred solitary classroom.” The SSC is built around the idea that teacher’s classrooms are just that, they are sacred. Teachers have clung to the idea that teaching is an art form where the lay person is not qualified to question current practices or methodologies. Each teacher artist is best left alone to master their craft. For the very best teachers, and I am talking the top 10 percent, the results might be priceless. But what about the other 90 percent? Am I comfortable sending my children to a SSC? As an educator, I long believed the system was flawed but only needed a little tweaking. As a parent, I am less comfortable believing a little tweaking will suffice or that the artist in my child’s classroom is best left in isolation.I personally believe teaching is an art. It is also a science and a combination of skills specific to the profession It certainly isn’t easy and anyone who simplifies teaching into catch phrases and cliches minimizes its complexities. For as long as I have been in the profession I have heard the experts extol the virtues of change and the need to grab onto the latest educational fad. Any teacher who has been in the profession longer than 3 years is more than likely already beginning to suffer from change fatigue. The pendulum of change swings far and wide in education and most change initiatives have been repackaged more than once. The interesting thing about change is that it is not relevant in the sacred solitary classroom. It is merely a crutch for teachers who feel abused by a system that is maddeningly in a constant state of change. It is a bit like trying to live in a house where the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms are perpetually under renovation.

In the SSC teachers pick and choose the changes they implement into their practices. The good teachers find those pieces they can use to get better. Others feel compelled to abandon old practices and completely adopt the latest research based program. These teachers are later frustrated when the next wave of change comes before they have completely implemented the last program. It doesn’t take long for teachers in the SSC to realize change only needs to occur if someone is monitoring the change process, and too often no one is watching. For those teachers suffering from change fatigue, working in isolation has its benefits! So long as teachers can talk the talk, no one seems to mind whether or not they walk the walk.

If you don’t believe me, here is an example of what I mean. Walk into any school professing to have implemented professional learning communities and ask the first teacher you see to explain the essential elements of PLC’s. Likely the teacher will say something like “Oh yeah, we are doing PLC’s, we collaborate as a 3rd grade team every week. We analyze student data and Mrs Johnson takes the students who need a tier 2 intervention. Mr. Jones and I do an enrichment activities for those students who had mastery based on the tier one instruction.” Wow, you think to yourself, these guys are amazing. It sounds like we have found teachers who really walk the walk, but what would happen if you pushed a little harder and asked a few more direct questions? How often do you actually get to divide the students up for interventions? Every week…or do schedule changes like testing, fieldtrips, assemblies and teacher illness impact your ability to be consistent? Do you use common assessments and are they related to the core standards? Do you have common assessments for math, science and language arts? What do you do with the students who already have mastery of the core concepts? How do you report student progress; is it based on a mean score or is it mastery based? The reality is that as long as teachers can talk the talk, there is little requiring them to walk the walk.

When No Child Left Behind was instituted in 2001, everything in education changed… everything but the things teachers actually do in their classrooms.

We need to focus on the part of the schooling machine that is broken…the sacred solitary classroom and begin work to establish a collaborative environment where teachers focus on the standards. I will grant that there have been pockets of innovation that have made efforts to create greater collaboration among teachers, but most are isolated to a few willing teachers and rarely move beyond a single school building. Real change won’t occur until educational leaders decide to hold themselves accountable for monitoring school and student outcomes relative to state and national standards.

MasteryConnect provides teachers with three simple tools; the ability to monitor and track student performance around the standards, the ability to create and share common assessments and it provides them with access to a global professional learning community. It is simple and efficient and protects what we as teachers should value the most…our ability to apply our individual skills as a teacher to the art and science of teaching, while helping us to stay focused on what we are ultimately employed to do…ensure that all students are not just being exposed to the standards, but that each student’s success, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or gender, is preserved.