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In Shift to Common Core, Schools Need to Make Time for Collaboration


Alison Wright

If you ask high school math teachers about the Common Core State Standards, you will most likely get mixed reactions. Some rejoice in the complexity and rigor of the standards and the mathematical practices, while others consider the implications for classroom practice—and the current lack of resources—with a great deal of anxiety. The instructional shifts require major changes in the ways that students are presented with information as well as assessed. Teachers can no longer rely on skill-based lessons in which students are "GPS'd" through problems to specific answers. Common-core implementation requires math teachers to start with students' misconceptions and then teach the skills necessary for students to create their own understanding.

So, yes, there are some things that we need to take off teachers' plates in order to make these shifts happen effectively. But I would argue that we must also rethink our notions of time and scheduling within the school day. Together, teachers can solve problems, design lessons, analyze data, and create assessments much more effectively than in insolation. Schools must provide teachers with more time to collaborate, and here are four ideas that could help: 

1) Make room for common planning time

Although many schools already engage in this practice of creating a master schedule that allows teachers to have a common planning time during the school day, some (like mine) do not. Here is what a colleague had to say about a past experience:

"I had common planning with the entire math department and it was extremely beneficial. Did we meet every single day? No, but we did meet frequently to review what was and wasn't working. This included lesson strategies, formative assessments, and summative assessments."

 2) Provide co-teaching opportunities

One summer, I joined forced with a fellow math teacher to teach a group of 40 students who had previously failed Algebra I. The two of used separate classrooms that were right across the hall from each other and co-taught the entire group. It was the best professional-learning experience I have ever had. Working closely with another teacher to develop and execute lessons is a valuable experience that I know would support long-term positive impacts on the growth and implementation of common-core-aligned instructional strategies.

 3) Let teachers lead

Since classroom teachers are the ones developing and implementing new instructional practices for their students, they should be given leadership opportunities to share ideas and bring their work to scale. What would it look like if every grade level or subject area had a master teacher who was given release time to work alongside their colleagues to create resources, analyze data, and provide meaningful professional development?

4) Meet only to "decide and commit"

Currently, teachers spend quite a bit of time attending ineffective meetings that are irrelevant to their classrooms and students. To curb this, business-leadership coach Fred Kofman offers this advice: "The only goal for a meeting is to 'decide and commit.' "  He recommends that any other objectives—including reviewing, discussing, evaluating, updating—be eliminated from meeting agendas; such activities can often be accomplished by other means, including e-mail. By limiting the time that teachers spend in meandering administrative meetings, teachers will have more time for authentic work and collaboration around the common standards.

What other changes could allow teachers more time to implement the common-core standards?

Ali Wright teaches Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. She is a a National Board-certified teacher with more than 10 years of experience.

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