Arriving with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in 40+ U.S. states is tremendous pressure for schools to get results and to be masters of the Core as quickly as possible. Invoking the Growth Mindset as we accept the challenge of the Core standards will help our schools maintain the momentum and stamina we need to develop expertise.
How can schools set themselves up to cultivate Common Core experts? None of us is currently an expert in the CCSS. Expertise will emerge with classroom practice and experience implementing these standards with real students. It will emerge with the willingness to take responsible risks and to participate in collective reflection. It will emerge with strong collaboration and compassionate patience. These qualities are only gained in a risk-tolerant system through strategic, purposeful effort which includes timely, formative feedback.
3.3 million teachers will be asked to change their practices, routines, and lessons this year to align with the Common Core State Standards. That is a staggering number when you think about that many Americans essentially experiencing a major job change at the same time!
It is inevitable that with all this change, some of us will fail. We will mess it up. We will get it wrong and forget some essential component (of a standard, a lesson, a concept). Our central offices will mess up too. Trainings will go awry, resources arrive late, and support will be well-intentioned, but spotty. Are we prepared to tolerate this process and allow ourselves to take the necessary responsible risks to LEARN and grow?
I hope so.
How can we create these risk tolerant cultures? First, reward people for taking responsible risks by offering public praise and encouragement. The reality is, it is a risk to take the initiative to plan a lesson that aligns with the CCSS, teach it to students, and share one's results with colleagues. The rigor and complexity of the CCSS is the first hurdle a teacher must face, then there is the fear that his/her particular students may not be able to access the standard, and finally the vulnerability of showing other educators what the results are. If educators actively encourage one another to engage in this process without judgment and with a Growth Mindset, then we can try, fail, and succeed in this implementation without fear stopping us.
Strategic, purposeful effort
How big is the task of implementing the Common Core? Richard DuFour, author of Professional Learning Communities at Work claims that it can take up to 23 years to teach all of the state standards of the past (typically students go to school for 13 years). The Common Core isn't much better, with 46 English-Language Arts standards in K-3. Thus if we hope to become expert implementers of Common Core, strategy is key. This work will take time and practice. Educators must create teams that determine which standards and targets should be addressed first and as a priority. In teams, teachers can approach these standards and learning targets in chunks that make sense to them, to the needs of businesses and universities in their area, and in emerging markets.
This work becomes purposeful when teams of teachers set priority goals together, and articulate those goals vertically, K-12. They create a mutually responsible culture where they know what is coming before and what is expected in the future. Knowing that you are a part of a purposeful effort that is bigger than just yourself (and not an individual lost in a sea of complexity) is incredibly motivating.
Timely, Formative Feedback
Timely, formative feedback is about staying engaged and connected to one another. First, we have to have people in charge of paying attention. Being able to pay attention to the necessary details during a time of upheaval is a skill, and in education we can benefit from identifying people who are good at it, those who like to gather information, organize it, and communicate it. These folks can help us see that what one building is doing is similar or connected to what another building is doing. Who are the connectors in your building?
When we share this information widely and often, we are able to reflect about the variance in quality, depth of knowledge, and level of skill of each attempt. If we are timely, we can provide formative, corrective feedback early before teams become too attached to practices, lessons, or ideas that are only superficially addressing the CCSS.
Here is where strategic and well-placed communication and praise of our administrators can have an enormous positive impact on our work. Central office administrators and Principals can carry the torch for teacher teams by using Growth Minded feedback ("We have adopted standards before, and we can learn these too."), reminding everyone that CCSS is a collective, K-12 effort ("We are all in this together."), that we have a shared vision ("How can other people's work inspire us?"), and that obstacles are to be expected ("This will be difficult, but worth it."). The goal is to help a busy, distracted, and thinly spread teacher persevere and stay the course.
Growing Our Own
Cultivating CCSS experts at home is the best way to face these standards and support our students in achieving excellence. Applying our best thinking with our students, examining student work together, identifying the patterns of need that our students exhibit, using common rubrics and common performance assessments, these actions will allow educators to develop into true, confident experts. I am so excited to see how educators develop and grow with this new opportunity!
About Emily Diehl
Emily Diehl is an instructional coach in California and an educator consultant for Mindset Works. She works with K-12 classrooms, parents, and educators in raising levels of student learning, especially with implementation of the CCSS. She has contributed many lessons and experience to the Brainology program and actively implements growth mindset strategies in her school district.