It happens more than you can imagine… I am one of “those” school reformers… a school improvement consultant. Here’s the scene: I pose the question to teachers, “Knowing that the Common Core State Standards are a change from your previous set of Standards, how should your instructional practice differ?” … And an awkward silence follows. When I do receive a response, usually I hear the widely used cliché: “We are to go deeper.” When I ask, “What does that look like in practice?” No one answers.
When I read articles such as the one published by Ian Altman in the Washington Post (8/14/14) entitled, Seven Things Teachers are Sick of Hearing from School Reformers, I am disheartened. This award-winning teacher sounds like his passion for teaching is waning. We need to value and empower those who shape the learners who will someday manage our nation. As a school reformer, I would like to provide my own list of “Four Tips for Teachers who are ‘Sick of Hearing from School Reformers’ From a School Reformer.” Maybe, just maybe, teachers will discover that not all school reformers are, as Mr. Altman states, “wrong-headed.”
Tip #1: Advocate for Meaningful and Purposeful Professional Learning.
Professional learning is the key to school improvement. There are (dare I say the “s” word?) Standards for Professional Learning as set forth by Learning Forward, an international organization who leads the field in articulating the link between professional learning and student achievement. The seven standards (Learning Communities, Leadership, Data, Resources, Learning Designs, Implementation, and Outcomes) outline the characteristics of professional learning that lead to effective instructional practice, leadership behavior and ultimately improved student results. Advocate that the Standards be adopted into policy and put into practice with fidelity so your professional learning can truly influence teacher effectiveness and student learning.
Tip #2: Look at teaching to the Common Core State Standards from a different perspective.
Much of the turmoil regarding the Common Core State Standards stems from educators searching for the “secret” to teaching to those Standards. Two solutions have been emerging as successful.
Practitioners should shift perspective from teaching the content, to teaching the processes of how to learn and think. The Common Core beckons for the explicit teaching of thinking processes embedded in the language of those standards. When learners are asked to articulate and then, self-define their metacognitive processes in which they were involved during Math and English/Language Arts (e.g. analyzing, inferring, comparing, etc), the results are astounding. They now have the capacity to think independently and the language of assessment is familiar.
Teaching to the Common Core has now been articulated. The Chief Council of State School Officers, through The Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) developed the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and Learning Progressions for Teachers (2013). This comprehensive set of standards outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions educators should possess in order to teach effectively to the Common Core State Standards. This body of work challenges the status quo and redefines professional practice.
I encourage educators to download this valuable resource and self reflect in order to refine your professional practice while reviewing the learning progressions individually or within a professional learning community. Then, modify and adapt your knowledge, skills, and if need be, your disposition according to these standards.
Tip #3: Celebrate, if your school is assessing a lot; that means someone cares deeply about students, instruction, and YOU!
What if teachers viewed student assessment results with the same serious mindset that our neurological community viewed brain scan results? After all, both parties’ assessment results provide insight as to how the student’s brain is functioning. Assessments, both formal and informal (this includes teacher’s anecdotal records) should be respected, and administered with integrity. The results must be analyzed with care; the data are crucial to the future of the student and the system.
Every assessment has some type of insight to offer related to the student, instructional practice, or the system… unless you are not using the proper assessment for the task at hand. There are data analysis specialists who can support you in uncovering that insight. Assessments and the data produced from those assessments lead to continuous improvement. If your system is assessing students often, then someone cares and that is a reason to celebrate.
Tip#4: Let the reformers in because we have been to places you haven’t.
As I share research-based strategies and theories with teachers and school leaders in various settings throughout our nation, their creative implementation of what they’ve learned never ceases to amaze me. I feel honored to represent that collective body of knowledge since I am always granted permission to share with others.
When Mr. Altman asks school reformers to “back off” and “get out of
the way,” does he realize that ALL educators can be and should be viewed as school reformers? To follow his directive would have a dangerous effect on our educational community.
A very successful friend, colleague, and mentor carries the philosophy, “Choose how you want ‘to be.’” Since the inception of the Common Core, educators now speak a common language of instruction and in effect, belong to a virtual national Professional Learning Community. Are we going ‘to be’ at odds with one another, or are we going ‘to be’ a community who works together for the same goal: student success? I know how I’m going to “Choose ‘to be.’” How will you Choose?
Dr. Frances A. Miller,