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December 1, 2012
Vol. 70
No. 4

Tell Me About … / The Lessons You've Learned About the Common Core

Find Time

One of the most difficult challenges we've dealt with in preparing to implement the Common Core curriculum has been finding time to work with staff. At Gateway, we have captured time that is built into our teachers' contract for early release days and extended faculty meetings to dive into this huge undertaking.
Two years ago, we spent a lot of this dedicated time going through the Common Core standards to become familiar with the changes and new expectations. We are now creating curriculum maps and unit plans. We all agree that we want our documents to be useful and not just binders that sit on a shelf. During this time of transition, teachers have been working diligently to cover both the old framework and the new standards.
<ATTRIB>—Joanne Blocker, director of academics, Gateway Regional School District, Massachusetts</ATTRIB>

Listen to Teachers

In implementing the Common Core State Standards, we feel somewhat as though we are assembling the airplane while flying to our destination! We're gathering resources, revamping our curriculum maps, reviewing text complexity, looking for quality performance-based assessments, revising rubrics, designing rigorous yet engaging lesson plans, attending informational meetings, considering policy changes, educating community members and parents, collaborating every moment we can find—all while loving and teaching our students.
During the transition, it is paramount to listen to teachers and really hear what they are saying. When teachers say they need resources, training, and especially time, we must listen and do the best we can to provide the resources. Communication during the transition is crucial to maintain positive morale and energy to accomplish this challenging work.
<ATTRIB>—Sheila R. Jacobs, director of secondary instruction, Russellville School District, Arkansas</ATTRIB>

Make It a Team Effort

Involving district stakeholders in the process, rather than just a few district staff or outside consultants, has been a key to Orange County Schools' success in preparing for the Common Core standards.
In fall 2010, the district assembled a central-office Common Core planning team. The team created guiding principles, developed an aggressive three-year timeline, and crafted a robust communication plan. The team decided to use federal Race to the Top funds to contract with selected language arts, math, and science teachers to develop curriculum maps, content-area resources, and formative assessments. The district Common Core team designed and led professional development during the summers to equip school-level teams of 12–15 staff members to communicate Common Core standards and practices in site-based workshops. We used Google docs and Moodle to share curriculum maps and provide online training. Our focus this year is to understand the six instructional shifts and how to use them to effectively implement the Common Core State Standards.
<ATTRIB>—Denise C. Morton, chief academic officer, Orange County Schools, Hillsborough, North Carolina</ATTRIB>

Focus on the Big Picture

For the Common Core State Standards to work as intended, school districts will need to revamp many practices. St. Vrain Valley Schools responded to this challenge by embarking on a systematic, multiyear process of rigorous curriculum design.
To help us focus on the "why" of our curriculum redesign, we first examined our existing practices and compared them with the guaranteed, viable curriculum we desired. This vision-setting phase helped connect our staff to the big picture.
In a multiyear process, our content leadership teams (one teacher representative from each school) designed a set of curricular resources aligned with the Common Core initiative.
In year one, we determined the "what" of curriculum, providing teachers with resources they could use collaboratively to design instruction to address the "how." The content leadership teams created units of study and curriculum maps including scope, sequence, and pacing. In year two, we developed performance assessments with associated rubrics and interim assessments aligned to the maps.
Currently, in year three, we are collecting student work to score and provide exemplars for our teaching staff. In addition, we continue to gather print and Internet resources that support the implementation of our units of study.
To ensure sustainable implementation, we created a communication plan, involved our administrative staff, and provided ongoing school-level professional development activities. A series of one-day training sessions on the new standards and curricular resources prepared teachers for continued dialogue in their professional learning communities.
<ATTRIB>—Kahle Charles, director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Colorado</ATTRIB>

Build Understanding at All Levels

In a large district like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, one of the challenges of implementing the Common Core State Standards is achieving fidelity of implementation in 159 schools with more than 9,000 teachers. Our district strategy was to establish a common understanding of the major shifts in teaching and learning across the entire organization. A steering committee composed of administrators, teachers, and curriculum specialists met monthly to design, plan, and implement our training modules.
School board members and executive staff members received quarterly training sessions. In addition, monthly training for principals, assistant principals, literacy facilitators, and math facilitators built a strong cadre of instructional leaders to take ownership of school-based training of teachers.
During 2011–12, the district focused on implementing Writing Anchor Standard 1 (W1), which states that students must be able to "write arguments to support claims in analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence." Teachers uploaded to a Sharepoint site the student performance tasks they created for this standard, thus building a library of performance tasks for teachers across the district to use. In 2012–13, the district is focusing on several additional reading and writing anchor standards. We have also developed a wiki site with resources, training modules, performance tasks, and curriculum units.
Despite the daunting implementation timeline, our strategy to build understanding at all levels of the district has proved a wise investment.
<ATTRIB>—Ann Clark, deputy superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina</ATTRIB>


The most significant success our district experienced in preparing for the Common Core State Standards is in curriculum development. Our district was part of a local consortium that provided staff development to assist in the writing of instructional units. Teachers and administrators told us that this was one of their best professional development experiences. Redesigning the curriculum to align to the Common Core State Standards challenged our staff to reflect, refocus, and reinvest in what they need to teach and how they now need to approach instruction.
I recommend collaboration with other districts if it's an option. Working side by side with colleagues during these turbulent times is invaluable!
<ATTRIB>—Salvatore F. Menzo, superintendent, Wallingford Public School District, Connecticut</ATTRIB>

We want to hear your stories. Future "Tell Me About" columns will feature readers' experiences with using technology to enrich learning, leading schools, and more. To see upcoming questions and contribute a response, go to www.ascd.org/tellmeabout.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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