What teacher leaders need to implement the Common Core

Anne Jolly taught middle school science for 16 years in Mobile, Alabama. The 1994 Alabama State Teacher of the Year, Anne also worked with the southeast Regional Education Laboratory for eight years and is the author of Team to Teach: A Facilitator’s Guide to Professional Learning TeamsAnne is a Virtual Community Organizer for CTQ’s National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) community and serves on the CTQ Teacher Advisory Board.

Hooray for Marsha and Rod! Their posts on capturing the talents of teacher leaders to implement one of the most important initiatives in our nation, the common core standards, are completely on target.

Teacher leaders are the most dynamic force in education. They are the knowledgeable, high-energy problem-solvers closest to students and other teachers. If we want real change, we will have to rely on teacher leaders to understand the initiative at a deep level, play a lead role in implementation, and help sustain the initiative successfully when the change process gets tough.

From my standpoint, we tend to overlook two important points about teacher leaders when we ask them to head initiatives.

1. Teacher leaders need professional development, too.

Teacher leaders are definitely the “speedboats” of your teaching force, but, as Stephanie Hirsh in her article “Common-Core Work Must Include Teacher Development” points out: “For all the investment of time and resources in the common core, we will not achieve the outcomes we expect and need without comprehensive professional learning for educators that supports the new standards.”

If we expect teacher leaders to be a driving force behind the Common Core standards, then teacher leaders need powerful learning opportunities. Where are those opportunities available for teachers?

Many school districts are providing intensive workshops on the Common Core standards. These are useful only if followed by regular collaboration at the school level. Such collaboration allows teachers to engage in a cycle of study and research about the standards, plan together, implement and learn from one another, and make adjustments. This gives the initiative “stickability.” Teacher leaders are the perfect point people for such a collaborative effort, but they may need knowledge and support on how to facilitate collaborative efforts that truly lead to self-directed teacher learning.

Virtual communities of learning and support also provide compelling and practical professional development opportunities for teacher leaders. One such example is theTeacher Leader Model Standards virtual community, which will be launching soon. (Though I recommend looking around the site in the meantime.)

2. Teacher leaders need support and flexibility. 

Teacher leaders face sometimes overwhelming demands on top of the normal responsibilities of the classroom. To implement Common Core effectively, they need time for deep learning, idea generation, and planning. They need release from non-instructional duties that deprive teachers of time. They need to be able to reach and support other teachers as they collaborate and implement, and this may require release from classroom responsibilities for half a day each day.

Schools need to rethink the structures and supports that are in place for all teachers implementing this initiative, and especially for those leading the charge.

Successful and sustainable change demanded by the common core comes at a cost. All teachers need to see the ongoing investment that schools are putting into this effort.  When the Common Core takes root in the culture of your school, the cost will be well worth the investment.