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Districts Try Collaborative Approaches to Train Teachers in Common Core

As the Common Core State Standards are rolled out throughout the country, districts and schools have had to find ways to smoothly transition their teachers and students to them. A report from the Center for American Progress, released this week, takes a look at six districts that are working teacher voices into the process.

The districts—in Baltimore; Georgetown, Ohio; Glendale Heights, Ill.; San Diego; Carmichael, Calif.; and Reno, Nev.range from just over 1,000 students to nearly 88,000 and have students from a wide variety of backgrounds. However, they're all relying heavily on teachers as they implement the standards, primarily by creating new leadership opportunities in one of three ways:

  1. Getting teachers involved in decisionmaking for their schools and districts. The report highlights districts that form committees of teachers or former teachers to help guide school policy, often alongside union representatives and district officials, allowing decisions to be made by the people who know students' needs best.
  2. Creating roles for teachers outside the classroom. Three districts have what the report calls "teachers on special assignment"--educators who left their roles in the classroom to help schools transition to the common core. In one district, program coordinators create instructional materials and act as their schools' go-to experts on the new standards. In another, "instructional resource specialists" play a similar role while also acting as a mediator between the district and teachers. In the third district, math coaches provide support for elementary teachers.
  3. Offering leadership opportunities to top teachers. Four of the highlighted districts also allow teachers to step into new roles without leaving the classroom entirely. Baltimore's system is hierarchical, with teachers earning "achievement units" on the path to becoming lead teachers. In other districts, teachers form "instructional cadres" to develop common-core materials or task forces to address needs like enrollment or communications outside of school hours. One district allows some teachers one period a day to help colleagues with common-core-related issues.

The report highlights some other ways districts are getting teachers involved in common core implementation, too, particularly teacher-created professional development and teacher involvement in making curricular materials. Schools and districts also set aside time for collaboration between teachers, generally through a weekly early release day or an additional prep period designated for that purpose.

"While each district studied for this report had a different system," the report's authors write, "leaders in each district formalized ways of empowering teachers and giving them a voice in the implementation of the Common Core standards."

The effectiveness of each approach on academic achievement remains to be seen, though time for collaboration is a constant concern for educators. And some of the techniques CAP lists are less about the standards than about collaboration itself, with the idea that giving teachers space to collaborate will eventually lead to better common-core implementation.

Though the CAP report is a little short on details—many of the programs involve teachers who "support" their colleagues in unexplained waysit's available in full online for any schools looking for inspiration when it comes to finding room for teacher collaboration.

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