Common Core for School Leaders: A Guide to Developing Systemic Curriculum Growth
Co-written by Michael Fisher and Steven Weber
Across our country, the Common Core State Standards are in varying degrees of implementation. For most, this is a “get your feet wet” year before everything must be in alignment for the following school year. Teachers are increasingly under the microscope with the implementation and many of the criticisms about it point largely to not knowing what to do next. State Department of Education officials are trying to give some direction and clarity, but it still leaves much to interpretation and action at the local level, meaning that School Leaders in individual buildings are largely responsible for how these new standards infiltrate current professional practice.
Action requires knowledge though, beyond just knowing that we are walking a new path. Because this is new territory, we must consider our path in sections and lay the foundation for a curricular journey that will take us to places we’ve never been before. We have to make some hard decisions and take on some tough conversations in order to do the work that needs to be done to create College and Career Ready Students.
We have to be prepared to specifically articulate what we are going to cut, what we are going to keep, and what we are going to create. (Jacobs, 2010)
So how can Principals support teachers in their Common Core Integration efforts?
• Establish a Common Focus: College and Career Readiness
Let the document on page 7 of the Common Core State Standards be your Alignment Guide. Let this document be the umbrella under which you focus any other initiative in your schools. Ask questions of your staff that point their practice back to these capacities and make them your new mission.
• Develop Collaborative Teams: (not three teachers writing the units for the entire school district) Teachers must collaborate around Curriculum Design. Any singular work done in the 21st Century is for naught. Collaboration is a primary 21st Century skill (p21.org) and if students are going to be successful in whatever career they decide to undertake, collaboration is going to be a key component. Teachers and Administrators need to be the model for this. See Cure for the Common Core (Fisher, 2011).
• Plan Your Work Time: (During the school day)
In order to develop curriculum, teachers will need time allocated for professional conversations. When it comes to curriculum development, for many school systems, "there is a gap between the compass and the clock – between what's deeply important to us and the way we spend our time" (Covey, Merrill & Merrill, 1994, p. 16). Administrators must create time for teachers to engage in purposeful work.
• Collaborate Beyond the School:
Utilize technology to enhance ongoing communication and collaboration within and across schools.
• Establish an Implementation Timeline: (A Common Goal)
Map your professional development (Tasks, Actions to meet those tasks, Artifacts to Create, and Evidence that you met your goal).
• Implement the Plan:
This sounds like common sense. However, many school districts spend too much time planning, only to realize that there is little time left to implement the plan.
• Celebrate Small Wins:
Be mindful of lofty goals. Shape the changes you wish to see into small manageable steps. A year’s worth of curriculum is not going to be aligned by next Friday. Look for the alignment of one learning experience that will be delivered in the next two months. Then complete another one, and then another one. Perhaps think about how Curriculum Development and Alignment can be rolled into a summer curriculum project. Also think about rewarding teachers for participating in this work, especially in terms of how well they are collaborating around the creation of the Common Core aligned operational curriculum.
A common complaint among teachers and administrators is a lack of time to reflect on the written, taught and received curriculum. School leaders must create a schedule which allows for continuous improvement, rather than hoping teachers will meet before and after school. The schedule that school administrators create reflects a matter of priorities and curriculum development should be a priority. In August, teachers are beginning the school year and some complain that it is too early in the year to discuss the curriculum. In March and April, teachers have spring break and other holidays which interfere with curriculum meetings. In May, teachers are amazed that another school year is coming to a close.
In order to prepare for the integration and alignment of the Common Core State Standards, educators should be asking many of the following questions:
1. What are the essential learning outcomes or enduring understandings for each course?
2. What are the key concepts and skills in each unit of study?
3. Are we attempting to teach too many concepts and skills in some units?
4. Are we teaching all key concepts and skills for mastery or should we aim for introducing
some concepts/skills and mastery of others?
5. When will we assess student understanding?
6. How will we support students when they do not learn the new standards?
7. What will we except as evidence that that the skills have been mastered?
8. In what ways does our curriculum demonstrate depth and complexity versus content coverage?
9. How does our school support collaborative curriculum conversations?
10. What is the dynamic of our school culture? How can we maintain or shift to the positive?
Curriculum leadership (Weber, 2010) involves collaboration across schools, a district vision, communication, reflection, specific learning goals and a method for measuring student understanding. School Leaders have an important role to play in supporting the implementation of the new standards, and the role of the building principal as curriculum leader means that they are an integral part of the curriculum development and alignment process. Everybody works together for the benefit of our 21st Century Children.
This post was collaboratively written by Steven Weber and Michael Fisher, both ASCD EDge members and frequent bloggers. Weber is the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Fisher is an educational consultant and a member of the Curriculum 21 team. Fisher resides in Buffalo, New York. You can find Steven on ASCD Edge as well as Twitter, and his website K-12 Curriculum Development. Michael can be found on the EDge as well, along with Twitter,his blog, and his website.
Common Core State Standards (2010)
Covey, S.R., Merrill, A.R., & Merrill, R.R. (1994). First things first. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Jacobs, H.H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.