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Breaking Out of Isolation

July 3, 2011


Teachers may view self-contained classrooms as both a barrier to collegial interaction and a way of     protecting classroom activities against interruptions and distractive influences. Thus, the four walls of the classroom were both isolation and insulation during my first two years of teaching.

Although written over 20 years ago, an article in the Journal of Curriculum by David J. Flinders provides an analysis that reflects the nature of teacher isolation today. During his research, Flinders observed that teachers not only accepted their relative isolation but actively strove to maintain it. “At those points in the day when teachers had the greatest discretion over their use of time, they typically went out of their way to avoid contact with others. Often described prep period as ‘quiet time, which I’m very reluctant to give up.’” Flinders observed how the interpersonal demands of teaching that take a very heavy toll on a teacher’s desire to seek additional interpersonal contact outside the classroom.

He thoughtfully noted that “teaching is an open-ended activity. Teachers may thus view themselves as engaged in a relentless pursuit toward and ever-receding horizon. Because instructional demands typically surpass available resources, the teacher’s work is never finished in any definitive sense.”

During my second year teaching this tension between collegiality and the “relentless pursuit” was so profound it made me view collegial interactions as a distraction, and, a threat to my own professional survival and success.

Flinder’s eloquently summed up his analysis of my own experience thus far, “Because time and energy are scarce commodities in the overall ecology of teaching, I viewed collegial interaction in terms of its direct and immediate impact on my own ability to complete instructional tasks. When the work experience is defined by large classes and limited fiscal support, Isolation is not just a work condition it is an effective strategy that allows teachers to conserve scarce occupational and interpersonal resources. My own isolation stemmed from a highly professional motive to provide the best instruction possible with scarce resources.

If Flinder’s 1988 article presented isolation as a barrier to professional development and school reform, today’s hyper-connected society views such behavior as symptomatic of a major personality disorder.

Realizing the importance of connecting with colleagues and the administration I reached out this spring by responding to an add announcing openings on the school’s literacy sub-committee. That intensely positive interaction left me so energized that I found the strength within myself to accept an invitation to a meet up in Boston of young professionals in education. At the meet up I was introduced to remarkable individuals working with New Schools Venture Fund, Roxbury Prep., Mass. Insight and Education, and the Achievement Network. From conversations I became impassioned about the exciting innovations that are revolutionizing the field of education. The frustrating fact is that the enormous investment, innovation and work of these organization’s are benefiting a minority of the students in our country. In this nation, our youth have inequitable access to such innovative educational resources and tools.

There is an education revolution taking place and extraordinary, passionate individuals and groups dedicating themselves to positively impacting the field. Yet, no obvious way to bring it to my students. Grants are granted to states and schools but rarely individual teachers. If technology companies and publishing houses form partnerships with school systems and districts, then I will form partnerships with start-ups and entities that do not have size pre-requisites.

I cannot isolate myself in my classroom. My students and I do not have that luxury.  If I am going to get my student’s access to the fruits of the education technology revolution, I will have to open my door, and go knock on theirs.

Link to Flinder’s Acticle:

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