Talking Common Core With Parents
No matter how you feel about them, the Common Core State Standards are here. Teachers in most states are expected to use the standards for planning, instruction, and assessment—with 65 percent of educators reporting they believe the standards will improve students’ learning.
But what do these changes mean for parents? As a teacher, I need parents to be involved in the shift to the common core. As a parent, I want to know what my child is going to be expected to know and do and how I can support his or her learning at home.
Teachers can’t expect all parents to be up to date with the latest changes in curriculum and shifts in education. We need to remember that most parents rely on what they hear—from teachers, school communications, other parents, and the media.
As a teacher, I feel it’s my responsibility to not only inform families about what the common-core standards are but to invite them to partner with me in supporting their children's academic growth. So how do we talk to families about what the common core means for their children? Here are some strategies I use:
Get acquainted. Before you talk to parents about the common core, make sure you are familiar with the standards: what they are, how they work, grade-level expectations, and where you can find resources to answer questions you may have. You don't need to be a common-core expert to talk about them. The standards are relatively new, and many of us are learning and shifting our practice as we move along. Even as a National Board-certified, 27-year teaching veteran, I am still gathering information, creating, reflecting, and modifying lessons to align them with the common core—while ensuring that they are comprehensible and meet the needs of my students.
Former Center for Teaching Quality teacherpreneur Rob Kriete has created two wonderful and easy-to-use tools for teachers to use with parents when explaining the common-core standards. The first is a color poster highlighting 21st-century skills that teachers are helping students develop through common-core lessons. The second is an evidence sheet for sharing concrete examples of how teachers use the standards in their classroom practice to impact children's learning. You can download additional resources and blogs for parents and teachers here.
Start early. I like to inform parents at the beginning of the school year what the expectations are for their child’s grade level. This gives families a chance to review the skills and concepts their children will be taught—and it gives me the opportunity to provide direction on what they can do to support students at home.
Back to School night is the perfect setting to formally introduce the standards to parents. In addition to reviewing procedures, routines, and classroom expectations, I include a segment in my presentation that introduces families to the curriculum and standards. I also provide parents with a few handouts that highlight the major common-core anchor standards in English/language arts and math. You can easily find resources on the web or make your own. A simple handout that I like to use was teacher-created and provides parents with a few key ideas about common core and instructional shifts.
I also provide a list of simple, open-ended question stems that parents can use to facilitate deeper conversations with their children. Questions include: "What was the best part of your day, and why?" and "Can you tell me more?" These open-ended questions create more opportunities for communication between parents and students than, "How was your day?" If you have parents that speak another home language, try to provide translated handouts whenever possible.
Keep it simple, keep it current. Reading the common-core standards can be overwhelming, so keep it simple when sharing them with parents. I like to break them down into parent-friendly, non-eduspeak language. I also make sure to highlight just a few skills and concepts we will be focusing on in class. On the front of homework folders, I list reading skills that parents can help with at home, and I put Mmath skills on the back. Weekly newsletters and class websites are additional ways to provide ongoing information about what standards are being taught in the classroom.
Show and tell. One of the most effective and powerful ways to inform parents about the common core is to let them see it in action and experience it first hand. Instead of traditional parent-teacher conferences, I use student-led conferences. These allow students to be involved in the information process, and parents get to see the standards in practice. They can also see how well their children are meeting the standards and learn strategies for helping them improve.
Team up with colleagues or parent groups like the PTA and invite parents to interactive workshops that introduce them to common-core lessons and assessments. Engaging parents in the actual lessons and assessments help them develop a deeper understanding of what their children are experiencing in the classroom.
Provide resources. Although the web offers many resources and articles about the common-core standards, I like to filter and share a few geared specifically towards parents. I post links to these resources on our class page, along with activities parents can do at home to help support the school program.
Be honest. Like anything new, the common core will take some transition time. Don't be afraid to be honest with parents if you don't have all the answers. Parents will appreciate your time and efforts to keep them informed.