Teacher leaders: The secret to Common Core implementation

Rod Powell teaches high school social studies in Mooresville, North Carolina. A 24-year teaching veteran and a National Board Certified Teacher, Rod is a member of CTQ’s Implementing Common Core Standards (ICCS) team and is currently being trained to be a Virtual Community Organizer.

A recent EdWeek article by Catherine Gewertz details the results of a survey about progress toward common core implementation. The survey found that while many states have adopted the new standards, only a few have put them into practice. A great deal of planning remains to be done toward full implementation–and it makes sense to have teachers lead this charge. My colleague Marsha Ratzel recently wrote an excellent blog post about the need for teachers to take ownership of common core implementation.

I’ve had the good fortune to be part of the Center for Teaching Quality’s ICCS (Implementing Common Core Standards) team. This group consists of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) from Kentucky and North Carolina who worked to create and implement lessons modeled on math and literacy Common Core standards. This is an incredibly gifted group of teacher leaders blazing a common core path. My colleagues and I developed sample common core modules, refined them on a virtual platform, tried them in own classrooms, and videotaped the lessons.

Being part of this group has only reinforced my belief that teacher leaders are the key to successful common core implementation (or any other staff development, for that matter).

Below are five ways teacher leaders can help to effectively implement the common core:

1. Embrace Change

“The only constant in education is change.” This is an overused expression but is especially true in matters of curriculum. New research and pedagogical findings point to new chances to increase student learning and achievement. We need to be flexible and realize that the old way is often not the best way. How better to adopt to the common core than by tapping into the three big “E’s” of teacher leaders: Energy, Enthusiasm, and Expertise.

2. Think Big Picture

What will your school look like in five years? Will it be a place where students are engaged in meaningful learning that truly prepares them for the workplace and the challenges of a 21st-century environment? Implementing common core will be a huge step toward realizing that vision. Again, teacher leaders can provide valuable insights and experiences that will shape the vision of your school and the Common Core’s part in it.

 3. Use Each Teacher’s Talents

Each teacher leader brings different skills and talents to the table. Some are organizers, some are curricular and subject area experts, while others are motivators and “movers of the masses.” Administrators can identify what teacher leaders can do to help and encourage them to participate in key leadership roles that reflect their strengths. Teacher leaders, too, can be aware of their individual skills and think about how they can best use them to help their peers.

4. Accept Initial Imperfections

As a practicing teacher who has put common core standards into effect in my classroom, I can say that the process is sometimes messy and not without snags and slowdowns. Student writing takes time to assess; student reading and math skills vary widely within groups; class discussions and projects often take unexpected yet valuable detours. Teacher leaders are positioned to smooth these imperfections from the ground level.  They can, for example, facilitate effective staff development and collaboration for their colleagues that’s based on their own classroom experiences.

5. Be Open to Alternative Assessments

Common Core standards involve reading and math skills that are not easily measured by standardized multiple choice tests. Flexibility will be required as teacher leaders develop and test new methods of assessing these standards.  This flexibility might include creating common planning time for teacher leaders, easing accountability scores, or implementing professional development about alternative assessments.