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Getting to How: Leading for Long-Term Implementation of the Common Core State Standards

Leadership Development 19

…Your most important resource is your own willingness to experiment, your courage to take risks and your commitment to continual learning for yourself and your students.

                                                                                                                -Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman

After a record eighty days of sunshine, the rain finally returned to the Seattle area.  By chance, this day happened to fall on a non-school day for students, providing the perfect opportunity to enjoy lunch and discussion with several colleagues who, like me, are building principals.  Spanning a variety of topics while sipping the first warm bowls of soup of the season, our conversation shifted to the Common Core State Standards (CCCS).  We discussed our current understanding of the Common Core, implementation timelines, and the leadership challenges we anticipated.  Key questions or themes emerging from our conversation included:


In repeated conversations with my teachers, I note many of these same concerns and some anxiety around implementation.  What I don’t hear is resistance to the goals of Common Core.  For instance, one teacher shared, “The Common Core stresses me out, not the idea of it … I just worry about the transition.”  I share her concerns and those of my colleagues.  And I imagine our concerns and anxieties are not uncommon.

As I think about my role as a principal in helping transition my staff to the CCSS, I’m guided by Brad Portin, who describes the new work of the principal as being the leader of instructional leadership teams. I believe that such teams are the key to Common Core implementation.  At my school, leadership teams help to get the entire staff “on the same page” regarding school improvement. As we transition to the Common Core, we indeed will need to develop a common vision for implementing the standards and for how they will play out in our curriculum.  These same leadership teams also help foster classroom-based instructional improvements necessary to better student outcomes – or, in Common Core terms, to help students meet the new standards.

I see my role as a learning-focused leader as being about supporting teams on both efforts.  And, I’ve been seeking out materials to help me effectively do so. In her post “Unpacking the Common Core” in Success at the Core’s Core Connections blog, my colleague Merrilou Harrison described a process for unpacking the standards, which included utilizing Success at the Core’s Leadership module, Implementing New Programs. As I work with my school’s leadership teams on building a schoolwide plan for implementing the Common Core, we will start by exploring this module.  And, because I predict that our conversations will quickly turn to curriculum, we will use the Aligning Curriculum module.  I particularly think that this module’s handout “Four Questions About Curriculum Alignment” and accompanying video “Horizontal and Vertical Curriculum Alignment” will help department- and grade-level teams develop a common understanding of: what an aligned curriculum means, why it is so important, how an aligned curriculum benefits students, and how we can assess and celebrate our progress toward full implementation of the new standards.

In conjunction with our schoolwide implementation efforts, leadership teams, my assistant principal, and I will work together to promote practical instructional strategies aligned with the Common Core.  Teacher teams, based on their instructional goals, interests and classroom context, will explore and implement various practices modeled in the SaC’s Teacher Development strategies. In mathematics, for example, teachers have identified persistence and perseverance in using mathematical discourse as a key practice they want to foster. The “Facilitating Student-Centered Discussion” and “Analyzing Data” strategies support this goal. In language arts,  “Building Content Vocabulary” and “Making Inferences” are strategies teachers have identified as being beneficial in helping students meet the new standards. Further, across all content and grade level teams, teachers are continuing their exploration of the various practices detailed under the Teacher Development Assessment Strategies tab.

BB King once stated, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”  Whether veteran or novice, principal, teacher or coach, as new learning – like understanding how to implement the Common Core State Standards – comes our way, I look forward to working side by side with fellow educators in the pursuit of excellence in instruction and greater student achievement.


You might also like:

The Common Core: A Lifeline for a Nation at Risk?
Common Core: How to Evolve from Learning to Pass a Test, to Learning to Learn
A Success at the Core Activity to Kick-Off the Year

14 Responses to Getting to How: Leading for Long-Term Implementation of the Common Core State Standards

  1. Ken Benny says:

    You’ve identified the key areas for supporting teachers toward implementation of the common core. A word you used is transition, which = change. You can almost do a find and replace: Find ‘transition’; Replace with ‘change’. So like most other initiatives, the role of the leader of instructional leadership teams (love that title) will be to support people through the change process. So, change strategies, good or bad, will either be the portal or the obstacle to implementation.

    • ailene baxter says:

      Thank you Ken for your thoughtful response. A key challenge I keep at the heart of my leadership is being thoughtful and respectful in crafting learning experiences with teachers that are high challenge and low risk–sort of the essence of motivation theory. Success at the Core is a tremendous resource and is nimble enough that I can use it in a variety of ways-depending on the entry point with individual or teams of teachers. In addition, I believe strongly in Margery Ginsberg’s (University of Washington) work on intrinsic motivation and culturally relevant teaching. Her latest work, “Transformative Professional Learning” has been a key foundational element of my work with teachers. It pairs beautifully with S@C. Can’t wait to talk with you more. Thanks again.

  2. Great stuff Dr. B. Looking forward to sharing your success at AWSP on Sunday!

  3. Obadiah Dunham says:

    Thanks for your insight from a school leader perspective. It is nice to hear how other leaders are attacking the challenges of implementing the CCSS.

  4. Merrilou Harrison says:

    You have really outlined a practical way for leaders to guide the teachers through this transition. It is not always easy for leaders to immerse themselves into being Instructional Leaders, but you have given them a great road map of suggestions.

  5. Tyler Rice says:


    As you alluded to in your post, the CCSS really represent a shift to higher-order thinking skills and away from simple content knowledge.

    The traditional educational model centers almost completely around content knowledge delivery. Many teachers are still operating in this model. The shift to the CCSS may help to break the mold but only if teachers embrace the spirit of the standards, rather than simply trying to add them to what they already do.

    Is this a mindset shift that you see teachers embracing?

    If not, how will you facilitate this shift?

    • ailene baxter says:

      Tyler-you always ask the BEST questions! I love your focus on inquiry. I do believe teachers are trying to embrace the spirit of the standards-no small challenge, and certainly not without anxiety. Creativity with resources-time, vision, professional learning opportunities,collaborative structures,and hope are important considerations in facilitating these kids of transformative shifts in teacher practice. Inquiry–asking the right questions and continuing to probe deeper on those questions are key as well. Thanks for always making me think!

      • Tyler Rice says:

        What excites me most about the CCSS is the potential to help catalyze change – which is much needed in education.

        Of course, this will require visionary leaders to help drive this change!

  6. Beth Ashley says:

    I really like the way you have developed a plan for utilizing leadership teams and the resources in Success at the Core to begin implementation of the Common Core State Standards. These strategies will support rich conversations and deep learning in your school!

  7. Heather Byington says:

    It sounds like you have a pretty comprehensive plan for how you envision supporting your school in its transition to CCSS. It looks like you are planning to have educators use a lot of SaC resources to facilitate and enrich their discussions as they reflect on this transition. At your school, where and when do these discussions typically happen? Is this the type of thing that usually happens during PLC time, staff meetings, in service days? I think that as my district is looking at the shift to CCSS and TPEP, our administrators are looking at when these conversations are happening and who needs to be included in them. Thanks!

    • ailene baxter says:

      Thanks Heather. Time is always a factor and there is certainly never enough. This is a complicated question because the work always involves multiple layers, it’s on-going, and we really leverage teacher interest and inquiry, NBCT, and teacher leadership whenever possible. The short or easy answer is that most conversations occur through a series of late start Wednesdays. Each has a differing focus, form formal principal led PD, department, and grade level teaming.

      • Tyler Rice says:

        I agree that this is so critical. Teachers have so much on our plates; we have to be given time to “work on the work.’

        There just isn’t time for “sit and get” PD anymore. There’s too much real work to do!

        The beauty of this is that we learn more by doing than we ever did by listening.

  8. Andrea Brixey says:

    What great reading. Ailene, you have given teacher leaders a great map to utilize for staff-driven work on the CCSS. Thanks for that.

    More interesting in this post, though, is the discussion between you and Tyler about refocusing teaching on critical thinking. One of my questions–as a teacher–is how to practice critical thinking with a group of 32 students. Is there an efficent way to practice thinking critically in a class with 32 students? Or does that point to Tylers comment about reforms needed in our system? If anyone has any tips about where to find instructional techniques to address teaching critical thinking in large classes, I’m in.

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