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Common Core Implementation Requires Professional Learning

I was invited to share Learning Forward's perspective on effective professional learning at a meeting in Minneapolis hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) on implementing the Common Core State Standards. Teams from many states arrived at the meeting with their long-term plans for implementing Common Core standards. Some states, like Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio, and Colorado, shared their comprehensive plans and curriculum resources that are available to all educators. Some had engaged teacher leaders from across the state as advocates, advisors, and curriculum developers.

I introduced the state education agency teams to the newly revised Standards for Professional Learning. Very few of the attendees were familiar with the previous edition. They raised some questions about how the system of professional learning defined by the standards would help them with the challenges they face. Their concerns led me to ask -- how can we expect to achieve new ways of teaching with traditional models of professional development? After further discussion about this, their attention shifted to questions about using the new vision for professional learning to support implementation of Common Core standards. I finished by sharing some immediate steps for the teams to consider. I invite you to read what I shared and add your own advice for state teams as they prepare for Common Core standards implementation.


1. Carefully consider the learning needs of and intended outcomes for various audiences to construct an intentional, comprehensive professional learning plan. Consider what professional learning designs will best help build awareness and then deeper content understanding with the many audiences and learners states need to reach. This may require coordinating external assistance partners including universities, regional service centers, larger LEAs, teacher leaders, and for-profit vendors. Use workshops, courses, online networks, learning communities, and other powerful designs to achieve deep learning and transformation in practice. Build coherence and alignment among all learning opportunities so that every educator has access to powerful professional learning. Expect that any organization or individual involved in the learning be accountable for the use of resources and results.

2. Tap expertise that resides within schools. Every state has teacher leaders and instructional coaches who have been providing support for other initiatives. Identify and leverage their expertise to serve as champions, curriculum writers, model classroom teachers, teachers of other teachers, and instructional coaches whose support is focused on implementing Common Core. And, while these are expert and eager teachers, recognize they will need support and development in assuming these new responsibilities.

3. Support deep implementation at the school and team level. The most substantive work of Common Core implementation will begin when teams of teachers gather to translate their new understanding and materials into units and lessons for their students. Such collaborative work is most effective when it occurs with colleagues assigned to the same learning team who make a shared commitment to a group of students and to each other. This structure promotes continuous improvement when it is driven by ongoing analysis of data on student performance and aligns educator learning to the needs of the students. It is also promotes reflection as well as classroom-based support for teachers who engage in continuous improvement of their practice. In summary, it incorporates everything essential to ensure that the new vision outlined by the professional learning and Common Core standards becomes a reality for educators and students.

4. Establish a structure to ensure regular feedback from the practitioners in the field who are being asked to implement the Common Core standards. Whether through formal or informal structures, state department and central office staff members need to hear from educators in schools on a regular basis to know what is helping and where additional support is needed. This continuous communication system will accelerate the implementation of Common Core.

These were some of my suggestions. What ideas would you like to share with states?


Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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