Let Your Common Core Be Your Guide*

When planning to adopt the new state standards this year, remember that Common Core is a blueprint for your teaching practices, not a prescription.

School doors reopen this week. We spend our summers renewing our energy, nurturing our families and ourselves, studying new methods, and always planning forward for that new group of students.

Not a school year goes by that I don’t get the back-to-school butterflies! As teachers and school leaders, we stand outside our school or classroom with great anticipation, energy, and hopes for a wonderful school year as throngs of students step over our threshold into a world of learning. 

The question of how to provide a stable, safe, and nurturing environment for our students in a continually changing world is always on our minds. Over coffee with colleagues, we lament the rapid pace of educational change, the come-and-go nature of some educational initiatives, and the increasing pressure we feel, as much is added and few things are removed from our plates. We discuss how our students are continually evolving as they become denizens of the 21st century. We struggle to make shifts in our classrooms as new educational research informs our practice as teachers. We learn, study, plan, reconsider, and weigh new ideas in the service of our students born out of national and state educational policies, legislation, and district and school initiatives. At times, we are overwhelmed by the demands we place upon ourselves to keep pace. 

The New Demands of Common Core

Teachers are the most resilient people I know. In a time when teachers and public education have been under attack, somehow or some way we always manage to adapt, modify, and adopt in the best interest of our students. It doesn’t come without struggle as we courageously seek ways to help all students reach their highest potential and engage in new ways of learning, thinking, and teaching.

This year, many teachers will experience a greater expectation to move toward implementation of the Common Core. Yet another change we lament. Perhaps we need to change our mindset.  As some educators have suggested, we need to focus first on what will not change in a sea of sometimes turbulent white water. We need to unwrap what it means to be college- and career-ready.  To be college- and career-ready means we need to consider not only students’ essential cognitive skills, classroom strategies and process, and the content we teach. We must also zero in on the academic behaviors or habits of mind that we want students to engage in as learners. As they prepare for careers and jobs that do not exist today, we will want our students not only to know, but to show us how they know, in complex real-world contexts. This is a tall order, so how do we get started? 

Get Familiar with How the Common Core is Organized.

Understand the big ideas, often referred to as major shifts in English Language Arts and Mathematics. For example, when teaching students to read for meaning, we help them first understand the organization of the text or genre.  Knowing these shifts will help you modify your teaching.
Pay close attention to the staircase or spiral of complexity that reveals a path of learning across grade levels. 
Don’t work alone.  As Tony Wagner once said, isolation is the enemy of improvement. 
Remember that the Common Core is a guide. It doesn’t tell you how to teach. Your curriculum and instructional frameworks provide that guidance. 

Working with Common Core is Like Building a Skyscraper.

Think about a skyscraper.  It is a very complex environment, just like a classroom. To build a beautiful, well designed, and safe skyscraper, you need a blueprint and building code . Common Core is that blueprint. All of the experts on the building site, from electrician, to ironworker, to architect, need to follow the blueprint and communicate with each other. All make necessary and appropriate adjustments when aspects of the construction don’t seem to be aligned, don’t meet the desired outcomes, or are unsafe.  They make decisions based on well-founded principles of designand construction. 

And so it is with teaching. Teaching is indeed extremely complex. We make curricular and instructional decisions based on contemporary research and evidence from our classrooms, informed by how our students learn and the feedback they provide us.

This week, we will stand outside the classroom door, with a warm smile and word of encouragement as families entrust us with their most valuable possessions. We must remind ourselves that becoming is always better than being. We will take a deep breath and step through, knowing that no matter what happens, we will be there for our students. And we will still have those all-too-familiar butterflies, amplified by all we need to accomplish.

*This post is adapted from a talk Dr. Schooling gave recently to the Leon County, Florida, School District.

Share your expertise! Tell us how Common Core is impacting your classroom this year. Or use the comments space below to ask us a question. We’d love to hear from you.

Leave a Reply