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Game Planning for Common Core

I watched my two favorite football teams lose over the weekend: my alma mater, and my hometown NFL team. While I'm not a huge football fan, I understand the sport and get engaged when these teams play. It was a disappointing weekend for my teams, so in seeking some enlightenment from the experience, I thought about how implementation of Common Core is like the games I watched. I found a number of crossovers with implementing the Common Core.

Both of my teams had clear quarterback challenges this weekend despite each having a strong, celebrated quarterback. So what happened? How is it possible for successful quarterbacks to have such bad games and lead their teams to losses?

The answer is that no one player is fully responsible for a win or a loss. There are 11 players on the field, each with a role and responsibility to contribute to achieving the win. Each must understand the overall vision, know which plays to use, know how to adapt as a play unfolds on the field, and be accountable for what happens.

Monday film reviews for both teams were certainly unpleasant experiences, yet these deeply analytic opportunities to examine every aspect of the players' moves will provide rich feedback to players and coaches and likely become the focus on ongoing practice during the week.

With the implementation of Common Core, I wonder who is providing the vision, the preparation for adapting to the unanticipated, the accountability, and the deep review with rich feedback to teachers and their principals. I wonder if Common Core game plays are thoughtfully considered, explicitly articulated, sufficiently practiced, and analytically reviewed. I wonder too if the coaches who support teachers and principals have played the game themselves to understand how it works in order to have the empathy and contextual knowledge to coach effectively.

If we place so much emphasis (and eventually blame) on the quarterback, we discount the missed tackles, bad blocks, and poor officiating that allow the quarterback to succeed. Similarly, schools and districts may be focusing their attention only on the quarterbacks--the teachers--without carefully considering the roles and responsibilities of other members of the team, and providing professional learning with coaching and rich feedback to prepare every member to perform at his or her best. We must make sure we are properly preparing our players at all positions on our Common Core team.

Knowing the high stakes of college and pro football, I'm confident that these gaps and breakdowns that led to my teams' losses over the weekend are being addressed. With Common Core, we're still in the preseason and have opportunities to refine gaps in our content, skills, and play. But while we may have another two years before the season begins for assessments on Common Core standards, each day counts.

Educators must hone their expertise, engage the whole team in reviewing game films, dig deeply into their individual and collective practice, and play to win every day. To do this, educators need professional learning that prepares the entire team for their individual and collective roles.

Implementation of Common Core standards is not a light-switch change. Any new set of behaviors requires new information, skill development, authentic opportunities to practice with constructive feedback and support and healthy doses of persistence and patience. For football teams to be ready for their season, specialized coaches and leaders design purposeful teaching, drilling, and practice opportunities replete with explicit instruction and thoughtful feedback. For educators to be ready to start the season prepared for the new game, they need focused professional learning that includes intensive coaching and team building.

As we move to implement Common Core, it is important to remember that there will be wins and losses on a daily basis. It's how we analyze game film and use what we observe to change how we play that matters in achieving wins for each student.

Common Core standards are game changers. And the stakes for students and their educators are so much higher than in a football game.

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

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