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Help Teachers Succeed with Content Standards

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Stephanie Hirsh

Last week we learned that nearly 8 in 10 teachers want more professional development tied to Common Core in From Adoption to Practice: Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core from Education Week. Based on a survey of nearly 500 educators, this report highlights teacher opinions on the implementation of college- and career-ready standards. 

I consider this a positive sign—teachers recognize the level of change that new standards require. In this survey, 36% agree "a great deal" that, "my classroom instruction will change as a result of the Common Core," and 44% agree "somewhat." So it stands to reason that they seek support to make such shifts in their teaching.

If college- and career ready standards are to truly transform instruction as envisioned, then support for their implementation will never be a one and done. More than 80% of teachers in this survey said that they had already had professional development for the Common Core, many of them for several hours. To achieve and sustain full standards implementation, systems will need to intentionally embed processes that support continuous learning around Common Core into the daily work of teachers.

If implementing shifts in practice and student learning were easy, no one would have asked for more help. If college- and career-ready standards were more of the same-old, same-old, no one would have asked for more time. Many teachers realize implementing college- and career-ready standards is a radical reexamination of what we expect students to know and be able to do, which means the same for what teachers must know and are able to do.  

At the beginning of a new school year, we have our best opportunity to get this right, so I'd ask school and system leaders to take these four essential steps. There are no short cuts—get ready for the long haul!

  1. Adopt and advocate a vision of the power of college and career-ready standards. Be clear about the time and commitment it takes to achieve them. The process of continuous improvement is at the heart of any great learning organization, and in our world, that means time, support and resources help to ensure that teachers master the standards, change how they teach, and implement the district curriculum. Data from student assessments will tell us if we are getting it right and where we need more work.
  2. Recognize that such deep learning can't be done at the end of the school day or over the course of few days in the summer. Learning needs to be embedded in the daily work of educators. That means school schedules and teacher assignments must radically change. It's no longer acceptable to say it can't be done, because in many places it has been done. This doesn't mean giving teachers a few more days a year or adding one early release day a month; it means substantive reexamination of how teachers are scheduled so that they have time to learn, grow, and collaborate.
  3. Develop the knowledge and skills of teacher leaders to facilitate other educators in their work in learning teams. When we support and leverage the expertise of teacher leaders, they can guide teachers through the process of studying the standards, district curriculum, and new content and strategies embedded in the revised curriculum. Peer leaders help teams design lessons and they provide feedback on the effectiveness of the lessons in helping students successfully meet the standards.
  4. Provide personalized support and resources so all educators can engage in coherent individual and team improvement processes. The professional learning they need as individuals should align seamlessly with the goals of the school and system. All educators need time during the work week to collaboratively examine and understand the standards and curriculum and to develop lessons that lead to improved student learning. The support they need as individuals will vary widely even while they are working toward shared goals of helping all students achieve at higher levels.

The current glut of information about educator and public perceptions of Common Core sends many seemingly contradictory messages, but I am confident about two things. One, parents and educators want their students to experience engaging, meaningful instruction that leads to learning. And two, teachers have the best opportunity to offer students such experiences when school and system leaders support them in building their knowledge and skills. Let's give everyone the best possible chance to succeed.

Stephanie Hirsh Executive Director, Learning Forward

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