Last week 2010 National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling addressed the Implementing Common Core Standards Network of the Council of Chief State School Officers. In her remarks, Wessling described how she is altering her classroom curriculum and instructional practices to implement the English/Language Arts Common Core.
Wessling made a number of very important points in her remarks. Among the many profound comments she shared was one that requires thoughtful consideration and immediate action by state and district leaders responsible for Common Core. "If teachers are not a part of the conversations," she said, "we cannot construct our own learning that enables us to do our work."
This statement makes a number of significant points. First is her use of the term conversations. Many conversations are underway as states and districts prepare for full implementation, but sadly too many of them are without teacher representation. These conversations focus on topics such as implementation plans and timelines, preparation for teachers and principals, communication to multiple audiences, resource acquisition, community engagement, new assessments, changes in curriculum and instruction, and ongoing support for implementation. Engaging teachers in these conversations provides leaders with essential data about what teachers want for successful implementation. Without these data, states and districts may miss vital actions or waste efforts and resources on unnecessary ones.
Second, Wessling underscores the importance of teachers taking an active role as collaborators in efforts related to the implementation of Common Core. If implementation efforts place teachers in the role of passive recipients of actions determined by others, they will miss opportunities to consider the shifts necessary for content and instruction aligned with Common Core. Teachers who actively assess their current practices and build an awareness of the expectations related to Common Core are better able to articulate their needs and to shape their own learning experiences--the learning experiences necessary to contribute to deeper understanding of content and pedagogical shifts, acquisition of pedagogical practices, application of research-based instruction, and continuous improvement driven by data and reflection on their own and students' work.
Finally, inherent in Wessling's message is the challenge to district and state leaders to engage teachers in both state and local decisions related to all aspects of Common Core implementation. Too often decisions inadequately include input from teachers, the primary implementers of Common Core. When teachers are not invited to participate, or representation of teachers is narrow, the genuine needs of teachers remain unknown. Using an excuse that teachers don't know what they don't know as a way to proceed with crucial decisions teachers will be responsible for implementing is an affront to their professionalism.
Successful state and district implementation of Common Core requires substantive engagement of teachers who have the primary responsibility for preparing all students for college and careers.
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward