Dr. Vicky Tusken is a 26-year veteran of the classroom. She is Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for the Dekalb Community Unit School District, in DeKalb, Illinois, and serves as the Professional Representative on Executive Council for Kappa Delta Pi.
For the past two or three years, states and school districts around the country have wrestled with the process of adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards. To make the process “simpler,” many have opted to begin with deconstructing or breaking down the standards into smaller pieces in order to develop learning targets and measurable objectives. However, after that process is completed, many classroom teachers and district administrators are left asking the question, “now what?” The next steps are not always that clear.
From both a classroom teacher and district administrator’s perspective, I have found the following four steps extremely helpful in navigating the course from deconstruction to implementation.
Have a Road Map. This may seem a bit obvious to most, but it would surprise you to know how many teachers and school districts are moving forward with little vision as to how to move forward. In my own district, groups of teachers did a phenomenal job of deconstructing the standards and developing “I can” statements and templates from which future units could be developed. However, once the templates were completed, we had to face the “now what” questions. There were so many different directions we could take, and none of them guaranteed that the instructional practices and instructional shifts, the life blood of the Common Core, would be realized. So as a district, we hit the pause button and developed a two-four game plan that describes steps towards the big picture vision. We all acknowledge the road map is not written in stone, but at least everyone has the same understanding in terms of direction, with the same big picture in mind.
Provide Teacher Collaboration Time…and Protect IT! It is well-documented how powerful instruction becomes when teachers are given time to collaborate. The rapid growth of professional learning communities (PLCs) and data-driven instruction speak to this fact. In our district, we have committed to seven early-release days throughout the school year for the sole purpose of teacher collaboration. At the beginning, the teacher groups were given structure from the district, however as the year has progressed, the teacher groups have caught the vision, becoming very focused and teacher-driven. From an administrator’s end, we keep the time sacred and do not force building and district initiatives into the mix.
Focus on one shift/practice at a time. So you have your learning targets, measurable objectives, and even materials aligned with the Common Core, but how do you actually change how you teach? As a grade level team or department, begin with committing to one, and only one, instructional shift or practice at a time. What does that look like? When working with the 8th grade English/Language Arts teachers this past fall, I had them identify which reading standard that appeared to be integrated in many of their reading assignments and recent novel unit. They agreed RL1, which focuses on citing and analyzing textual evidence, was pervasive throughout many of their instructional materials. As a group, they committed to utilizing and sharing a variety of strategies to help their students identify and analyze textual evidence, and creating common written responses and common rubrics to track their students’ progress. As they move into second semester, they plan to focus on close reading strategies to enhance reading comprehension.
KDP Global. I realize I should have put this first, but truly, we are each other’s best resource. All of us are struggling to find our way as we attempt to implement the common core with integrity. I especially encourage members to put out there resources that have been beneficial to their practices. We all know the market is flooded with materials, blogs, and webinars, all claiming to be the magic bullets of implementation. To wade through the mountain of offerings, many of which are not helpful, is daunting. I can’t encourage you all enough to post what IS working for you.
The common core here to stay. However with focus and collaboration, the steps from deconstruction to implementation can transform both teacher practice and student learning.