I spent the better part of last week with a district that is beginning its implementation of the Common Core standards. I want to share some of their story because I believe it is a fine example of using the Common Core as an opportunity for a professional community to work together to improve student learning. Truth in advertising: as part of this process, the district adopted the textbooks published by my employer. That said, regardless of their textbook selection, their process is still a successful strategy for systemic improvement.
The district began the process by bringing the teachers together to study the new standards. District leadership facilitated, but did not dictate, this study. The teachers determined their current practice would not support all students meeting the challenges of the new standards. They also realized their current tools would meet their needs. Teachers wanted new curriculum tools that not only met all of the content standards, but supported the integration of the practice standards. They also realized they would need to make the district-wide decision to better integrate technology.
Guided by this learning, the teachers set out to find new textbooks that would be the needs they articulated. Rather than trust the salespeak and correlations provided by vendors, they did their own analysis of how their choices support the implementation of both the content and practice standards. They also committed to a district-wide implementation of graphing technology and dynamic geometry software.
As with every group of professionals, teachers come into the change process from several places. Some teachers have been avid technology users for years. In this case, a small group of teachers have been using inquiry-based geometry materials previous to this adoption. Other teachers are new to both the technology and the pedagogy. As a result, the implementation process is designed to support teachers at multiple entry points (differentiated instruction for teachers?).
Support will include:
1) Teachers will have access to traditional face-to-face workshops, as well as just-in-time online training provided by the publisher.
2) Teachers have invited members of their community (including leaders and outside consultants) to visit their classrooms to provide further support.
3) A smaller group of teachers will work to create curriculum documents that will merge the work done by the entire community in their study of the standards with the new materials they have adopted. They will then meet throughout the year to check their thinking.
4) The district has supported having a teacher certified as a regional T3 instructor to provide ongoing technology support.
5) Administrators will attend training to provide them the tools to understand the district’s instructional vision and how they can support the implementation and evaluation of this vision.
This is all possible because the process has been owned by the entire professional community. Some teachers are anxious as many realize they are going to significantly change their classroom experience. Their anxiety does not stem from anger and frustration because a) they own the process and b) the administration continues to support the process. In this case, the professional community has come together and used the Common Core as a driver to evaluate and build their program. Students will be the beneficiaries of this hard work.