Getting to How: Leading for Long-Term Implementation of the Common Core State Standards
…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:
- How do I break down the Common Core and what are my responsibilities, as a building principal, for implementation?
- How is our established curriculum aligned with the Common Core?
- What current instructional strategies and practices fit with the expectations of the new standards?
- I want to support my teachers in implementing the Common Core; how do I best go about this?
- Is this a new name for the same thing, and if so, why am I stressing?
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.