Creating a Culture of Teacher Learning: Thinking about the Common Core Standards Systemically
The Common Core Standards create a new and very sophisticated vision for literacy teaching and learning in the 21st Century. Much attention has been paid to the new Standards, including analysis of how the instructional experiences for students need to be very different from typical instruction. Much less attention has been paid by the media and policymakers, however, to the resources and practices that will be allocated to help teachers implement them in their classrooms in ways that are authentic and meaningful to teachers and students alike.
I’m particularly concerned with the lack of attention in the public media and professional literature to the organizational conditions and professional learning structures that help teachers make meaning of the standards and develop strategies for (re)thinking classroom instruction.
Change is hard. It also only makes sense when people understand and believe in what they are expected to be doing and work in conditions that support that in happening. Changing practice requires deep attention to the kinds of professional learning experiences that teachers have access to as part of their workday.
Time is only one of the critical resources. Teachers need scaffolds, protocols, and norms to help them learn to use collaborative time together as a tool to support reflection and inquiry on practice. The kind of talk that leads to changes in practice is rooted in questions about student learning and teacher practice. The vision for teaching and learning described in the new Common Core Standards doesn’t just happen because we provide a description of it or lay out tasks. It requires intentionally designed experiences and organizations that create the conditions and build a culture that supports inquiry, collaboration, risk-taking, deprivatization of practice, and creative, flexible, adaptive choices by learners who are supported in being in learning roles.
NCLE doesn’t take a stance on the Common Core Standards. In one sense, that conversation has passed. (45 states and 3 territories have signed on.) What we want to ensure is that the conversation about implementation and the allocation of resources to support implementation pays equal attention to the learning needs of educators as to the needs of students. We need to ensure that in creating new models of practice for K-12 students, we are creating the conditions for teachers to experience literacy and learning in the ways that we envision for our students.
Are you an educator with questions about how to implement the Common Core Standards in the most meaningful ways possible? The Literacy in Learning Exchange offers access to advice and resources you may find valuable:
- Learning Literacy through Inquiries in a Multiage Primary Classroom— Freida Hammett says her whole philosophy of teaching can be summed up as: "Follow the child." In this chapter from Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: English Language Arts Grade PreK-2, Hammett describes an inquiry project that began with children's fascination with insects, and shows how she guides children through the project in a way that meets the Common Core standards yet puts their interests first. "In my classroom," she says, "the children and I drive the standards, rather than being driven by them."
- Everything's A Conversation: Reading Away Isolation—Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: English Language Arts, Grades 9-12 presents stories of teachers and schools trying to make the Common Core Standards real in their classrooms, and includes numerous examples of literacy instruction across a range of disciplines. In this excerpt from Chapter 2, 2010 Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling describes a transformation she experienced in her teaching of reading, and relates it to her understanding of text complexity in the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. She reassures other educators that regardless of their own teaching realities, "there is a place to begin." A vignette shared by Danielle Lillge illustrates how a team of English language arts teachers from Oak Park, Illinois, has come together around the Common Core Standards with the commitment to change their instruction and improve student literacy.
- Standards for Professional Learning—These standards from Learning Forward, an NCLE stakeholder organization, describe a vision of the conditions, practices, and resources that educators need in order to teach 21st centuries students and skills. They place strong emphasis on collaboration and professional learning communities (or communities of practice) as key elements in professional learning.
- Representing Close Readings in Academic Writing—Close reading and argumentative writing, key concepts addressed in the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, are the topics of this book chapter and audio clip from Eileen Murphy, author of 360 Degrees of Text: Using Poetry to Teach Close Reading and Powerful Writing.
We would love to hear about approaches you’re aware of in your school or in organizations you work with that are doing a good job of building in time and support for teacher learning and professional development of the Common Core Standards. Post comments at the end of this column to share specific approaches and tell how you think they’re helpful for building teacher capacity.