It’s an understatement to say the “next big thing” in K-12 education is the Common Core State Standards, the result of a state-led initiative to establish common educational standards in mathematics and English/language arts across the United States. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common-core standards and have begun or will shortly begin to transition into using them in classrooms this school year.
A key feature of the common core is the building of conceptual understanding and procedures from kindergarten through 12th grade, meaning teacher collaboration within and between grade levels will be a necessity. Beyond prescribing professional development within districts and states, the adoption of the common-core standards provides an unprecedented opportunity for teachers to meaningfully collaborate with their peers around the nation. As schools move their students toward the same educational goals, it makes sense for teachers to share ideas, instructional strategies, and reflections in real time. Engagement in meaningful conversation with fellow educators will provide teachers with support to understand and implement the standards.
Common-core implementation can be defined as the steps taken by states, counties, and districts to raise awareness, build resources, develop and establish professional learning opportunities and collaborations, and align curriculum, instruction, and assessments, as well as strategies and practices developed and reflected upon by teachers.
Online learning communities can provide a space for teachers nationwide to come together as peers to navigate standards implementation.
The success of our students depends on our ability to facilitate the standards-implementation conversation."
Teacher learning communities are nothing new, but, in the context of the common core, they will open new doors and provide greater opportunity for interaction between educators who previously did not have a purpose or means for collaboration. With the common core new to everyone, discussing and establishing new practices will be crucial to student success, and the ideal platform for this national discussion is the online learning community.
Instant messaging, message boards, blogs, wikis, and social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook all have a place in the national common-core discussion. Additionally, learning-management systems, such as Blackboard and Moodle, give a defined space for all of these tools to come together. The possibilities for collaboration and conversation are endless, but here are some ideas to get started with online teacher learning communities focusing on the common core:
Synchronous collaboration. Synchronous tools such as instant messaging, chat rooms, videoconferencing, and Skype give teachers a chance to converse and collaborate in real time about standards and implementation. From chance encounters after a hard day in the classroom to arranged meetings with a group of peers in a common grade level or content area, synchronous collaboration provides the immediacy of a face-to-face conversation without the need for members to be in the same geographic location. Both formal and informal conversations will be meaningful for community members as the standards are implemented.
Message boards and online forums. Message boards and forums provide both ongoing and archived conversations for community members to contribute to and access at their convenience. Among other approaches, common-core message boards could be organized by content area, grade level, key features of the standards, or classroom strategies.
Blogs. Helping teachers share their experiences will be crucial to building a collective understanding of what common core looks like in the classroom. From administrators and legislators to teachers and parents, no one can predict the frustrations and successes that will accompany implementation. In sharing their attitudes and emotions about the process through blogging, teachers can guide a larger policy-and-practice conversation and ensure that no educator is left feeling isolated in uncharted waters.
Wikis. As definitions of common-core jargon are developed and clarified and new buzzwords pop up, wikis can provide a working space for stakeholders to share knowledge. Wikis are open online websites that allow their users to work as simultaneous co-authors and editors. Wiki pages usually read like encyclopedia entries, with the bonus of hyperlinks connecting to other relevant information. Wikis can be updated by anyone with an interest in the topic at hand.
Social networking. Type CCSS or Common Core State Standards into Twitter’s search field, and you’ll see just what a hot topic this is. From elementary teachers and college professors to organizations and publications, the common core has everyone tweeting. Even if a teacher is not ready to tweet about the standards, he or she can follow what others have to say to stay current on common-core news. And, they can retweet those updates they find particularly interesting.
Collaboration apps. Common-core implementation means the evolution of the grade-level collaboration meeting. Thanks to a variety of Web-based applications, even less tech-savvy educators can easily invite others into their common-core conversations. Tools such as Google Docs, Sync.in, and Zoho allow members to manage group collaboration more privately than with a wiki.
Learning-management systems. An LMS is the software that stores and enables online courses and training sessions. As professional-development modules are developed to support teachers in implementing the common core, these systems will play a part in their facilitation. There is an enormous need for timely, accessible professional learning related to the common core, and online courses—whether offered for credit or just personal growth—will allow teachers across the country to collaborate meaningfully. Chunking the common-core standards into manageable pieces that can be explored in online courses will be another way for online teacher learning communities to expand the conversation.
Through all these avenues and many more, online teacher learning communities can launch, support, and promote collaboration on the common core and more. The success of our students depends on our ability to facilitate the standards-implementation conversation. What better place to start than in online learning communities?
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as How Online Communities Can Ease the Common-Core Transition