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The Common Core – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

May 9, 2014

When looking at the Common Core, I see more opportunity than I do challenges. I see the opportunity for teachers to engage more in the “art” of teaching. I see the opportunity for greater focus and financial support to integrate the 21st Century tools our students use in their personal lives. I see the opportunity to take all students to application and synthesis as part of their learning.   I see the opportunity for teachers to engage in the art of teaching. As a profession, we have spent significant time and resources on training our teachers in the science of teaching, direct interactive instruction and implementing researched based curriculum in a structured and consistent manner. The importance of this can not be understated as we consider Bloom’s taxonomy and providing our students with the foundational skills needed and acquired through gaining knowledge and developing skills to support comprehension. However, as we get into the higher levels of learning that support students as critical thinkers where they begin experimenting, comparing ideas, evaluating outcomes and imagining possibilities, we need to engage with them from the heart. Teaching and learning involve emotion. We can inspire a student. We can also bore a student. The Common Core with it’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration create opportunities for teachers to engage the mind and help students understand the “why” of their learning and the “why” of what they are learning.   Part of the transition to the Common Core will be in changing the mind-set of educators on how they approach the presentation of lessons in the classroom. There will have to be a shift in professional development, the tools used to support the learning of both the teacher and the student and how we teach students to express their understanding. It will take a while to adjust from a long-held practice of filling in bubbles and circling the correct answer to supporting students in articulating how they have arrived at their conclusions, but this approach will ultimately engage the learner in much deeper learning.   Transitions can cause trepidation. Thirteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act, a policy that strongly encouraged a very regimented approach to teaching, our educators are being asked to make quick shift in their practice. It will take time to make the mental adjustment, to engage in professional development and reading that support our teachers’ expertise and to implement changes in the classroom that support the Common Core. Educators are by a nature a conscientious group of people. They want to do what is best for their students. They want to meet the expectations set forth by their profession. It can however feel challenging to have to sway with the winds of both the State and Federal legislature as politicians define the focus of instructional expectations and the funding that is allocated to support the changes of those expectations.   It is our responsibility as administrators to teach our teachers and our communities. It is our responsibility to support our educators in understanding the origin of and the “why” behind the Common Core. It is our responsibility to assist our teachers in understanding the caliber of input that was provided by our professional colleagues toward informing this educational policy.   In order to successfully make this shift with buy-in from the teachers who are charged with modifying their current practice, we need to provide them with the knowledge, tools, professional development and time to adapt their practice. This will be done through an allocation of resources that will allow for the opportunity to engage in study and professional collaboration combined with the sharing of ideas, successes and failures. A well-organized Professional Learning Community focused on the successful implementation of the Common Core can support this. As the teacher’s pedagogical approach shifts they will need access to 21st Century learning tools that will support their instruction in conjunction with on-going professional development on how to incorporate these into the classroom instructional model.   Ensuring and monitoring the success of Common Core implementation will be measured not only by the data collected from students’ Smarter Balance testing results, but also by how teachers’ instructional practices change, the tools they use, their knowledge base and comfort level with teaching to the higher level of learning that the Common Core has set forth as well as student work samples and projects. In order to evaluate on-going progress and success, site leadership should take time at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information on their staffs’ comfort level with the new standards, how confident they feel in the professional development they have been provided with, what tools and instructional strategies are currently being used in the classroom, the level of buy-in they have to the Common Core. After gathering this information, site staff and it’s instructional leadership team can decide on goals for the year and what type of professional development should be provided to support the goals for the site as a whole and for individual teachers looking to gain specific areas of expertise. The same survey given at the beginning of the year should be given to the staff again at the end of the year. Once the results are analyzed, they should be presented to the site’s instructional leadership team and then to the full staff. This process should be cyclical and can become a part of the planning done during the spring to plan for the following school year.   Are these challenges or opportunities? I understand the mind-set of viewing these as challenges, particularly in terms of funding a transition of this magnitude, but I do see great opportunity in the process of making this change. It appears that as educators, we may be participating in a revolution of our education system; a revolution that may have a similar impact on how we teach as the industrial revolution did. I suspect this period of history will one day be studied for the influence it is having on society in the same manner in which the impact of the industrial revolution is studied for its effect on our culture. This is an exciting time.

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