The Grand Escape: From the Solitary Classroom to a New Social Architecture


ISKME’s “Teachers Advancing Common Core Learning” project addresses teacher isolation by building networks of collaborators.

The project is part of the Teacher Practice Networks Initiative, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Here’s a bird’s eye view of educators grappling with Common Core implementation today: in each of the thousands of individual classrooms, there is a lone teacher thumbing through texts or clicking through online curriculum to better understand the new literacy standards, such as close reading, prescribed by the Common Core State Standards, or CCSS.

Now, hovering over the insular, walled classrooms, imagine a different kind of architecture, one where teachers know what their colleagues are doing. This social architecture is based on a collaborative agreement that literacy, for example, is a shared responsibility, as are other core competencies and deeper learning.

To instill deeper learning across classrooms, teachers literally need to build new structures in three ways:

  1. By leveraging their own strengths and through facilitated attempts at change;
  2. By demonstrating an openness to listen and try new approaches;
  3. And, by a willingness to extend their influence to other teachers while welcoming the influence of teachers outside their sphere as well.

I am part of ISKME’s team working on Teachers Advancing Common Core Learning, or TACCL, a project advancing a model of teacher collaboration across disciplines. We use face-to-face and online processes for constructing new curriculum and building network connections among teachers. Our team is working with teacher leaders in California and North Carolina to facilitate their use of tools, approaches, and open educational resources (OER) toward building an architecture that is social in nature.

Why do this? Our experience demonstrates that collaboration supports implementation of change. Common Core – a major shift in instruction and student learning – demands a radical new support system for teachers to collaborate on ways to successfully shift practices, define high-quality resources, and take a deeper, more targeted approach to subject matter, regardless of discipline. We support this collaborative approach by focusing on close reading of texts across disciplines, and by deepening and integrating math practice in alignment with CCSS.


This is so inspiring – it changes the whole way I will look at unit planning for next year, and to think about how more meaningful education is for students when it’s not in an isolated block.


Initiating the TACCL project last November, our professional development team led a two-day training for 54 teacher fellows centered around the curriculum, Measuring Human Rights: High School Mathematics Unit, a cross-disciplinary unit collaboratively built as part of ISKME’s Primary Source Project. The unit is authored by Tamar Posner, former Primary Source cohort member and now the Math Lead on the TACCL project.

In this unit, students are asked to read and interpret primary sources to address the question “How do we measure the attainment of human rights?” By engaging in close reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN’s Guide to Indicators of Human Rights, and analyzing data about development indicators from multiple databases, students are expected to examine the complexities of using indicators to measure human rights. Using this example, the workshop activities enabled teacher cohorts to immediately engage together around the demands of close reading and building evidence from text across discipline, with mathematical rigor and critical thinking, all key principles of Common Core.


The process opens up our thinking by encouraging us to discover texts that have less explicit connections to our subjects.


Leveraging ISKME’s OER Commons teacher network, the TACCL teacher fellows are working together to build the knowledge and practice needed for effective CCSS implementation of lessons, units, and text sets in grades 7-12, in English Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies or Science. They spent the bulk of the day learning not only how to use the Primary Source hub, and its Building Textual Evidence Toolkit, but also discussing the purpose and benefits of using collaborative digital tools and open online resources to collaborate on tasks, such as organizing content, with their cohort during different phases of the work. They got the chance to create, present, and discuss the importance of design thinking and to organize instructional activities in a coherent sequence. Each step along the way, they worked together, got feedback, and reflected on their approach.


I have worked with my colleagues forever, but this is first time we’ve actually WORKED together.

Working as a team is really powerful because of the support to go more deeply into content matter.


What our work continues to show is that a collaborative lesson building approach is necessary for scaffolding student learning across subjects. The social architecture, then, can support concrete impact on student learning when collaborative models like ours are used.

After the teachers engage in collaborative curriculum work over the next few months, each fellow is expected to share what she or he has created and learned with 21 other teachers, resulting in an extended network of 1,000 teachers. Although these teachers are highly motivated and inspired to collaborate, they said they didn’t know more than a handful of other teachers well enough to ask them to work together. As we said in the beginning of this post, their classroom responsibilities and conventional school structures hinder the development of outside interactions with other teachers.

Our biggest challenge, then, will be to help our teacher leaders reach a broader teaching community so they can share their activities and create widespread changes in curriculum design and practice. We plan to achieve scale by using the project’s network hub and group features on OER Commons, as well as through social media, especially Twitter and blog posts, where our teacher leaders can reach out beyond their own local contacts. Given these objectives, our work will surpass mere implementation of the new Common Core standards in each classroom, and also build leaders who are learning to be flexible and vocal, rather than standing as isolated obstacles to change.


See more exemplary content related to this work.



Photo credit: by Innovation_School, CC BY-NC