Educators working hard to implement the Common Core State Standards are motivated largely by one vision: All students will learn advanced, authentic content in engaging and meaningful ways. These educators recognize that successful implementation means significant changes and challenges for them, both as teachers and as learners.
Not only must they deepen their content knowledge, educators also must learn new instructional strategies aligned to the standards, evaluate different teaching resources, and develop new formative assessments -- all while practicing, monitoring, and adjusting their daily practice and long-term plans.
While states and school systems have helped by offering orientations and full-day training sessions, getting to the heart of successful implementation in classrooms requires ongoing learning and support by and for all teachers. When educators embed their learning about Common Core implementation in the learning team process, they are more likely to experience the transformation of knowledge and practice that is essential for long-term sustainable change.
The first three steps in this process are key to its success.
- Identify student learning priorities with specificity. Educator learning must begin with these questions: What do our students need to learn? What are the essential knowledge and skills called for in the Common Core standards that our students need to master next, and where are students now in relation to those outcomes? Where are our students prone to struggle? Educators will access a variety of data sources to answer these questions, including their own formative data and classroom work. Following this analysis, educators can establish priorities for their own learning.
- Determine what educators need to know and be able to do to ensure students meet their learning goals. Clarifying educators’ learning outcomes is the next critical step. This requires connecting analysis of data about student learning gaps to the knowledge and skills educators need to facilitate the student learning process. When educators can pinpoint the standards students need to master, they can assess their own depth of knowledge about them as well as identify the instructional shifts that will best support student success.
- Plan the professional learning agenda. The team is in a position to plan its professional learning when it has connected what students need to learn with what team members need to learn and be able to do as educators. Ideally, every learning team can work with local or state educators or carefully identified partners who have deep expertise in the content and strategies that align with the learning team’s needs. Studying the meaning of the standards, tapping the insights of experts face-to-face or online, and observing skillful peers as they teach are very important. Equally important are opportunities to experience as a student what teaching in new ways entails. Finally, practicing lessons with coaching and feedback will help internalize and sustain the improvements.
Schools and systems use collaborative learning teams in a multitude of ways, and they are not all equal. Learning Forward advocates that the most powerful form of learning for educators occurs in the school among a team of colleagues who share collective responsibility for a group of students as well as the same subject and/or grade levels. These educators participate in an ongoing cycle of learning and continuous improvement, preferably under the skillful leadership of a specially prepared facilitator.
As a result, great insights and practices spread from teacher to teacher and school to school. And in engaging as active, challenged learners, educators demonstrate for students a key message of the Common Core: We can all learn at higher levels.
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.