Wanted: A "Society of Experts" to Implement the Common Core
in a professional rut
My new favorite cartoon that deals with
education: A man sits atop a camel and has turned to his family of three who
are sitting atop a camel that follows. The man says, “Stop asking me when we’re
going to get there. We’re nomads for crying out loud!”
I use this cartoon when I communicate with
colleagues about the fact that we are in a profession that needs to constantly
find time to look to innovate and try new ideas, while continuing to improve on
what we already know and do.
As in many professions, new knowledge and
procedures are a given. These innovations demand systems and professional
expectations that allow for their implementation. In my experience education
has viewed new approaches and procedures with trepidation, since for the most
part it means changing classroom practice. The newest challenge to teacher
practice comes in the form of the recently released Common Core Standards.
Core: a missed opportunity?
There are truckloads of resources and
supports for educators implementing the new standards. Textbook publishers have
aligned their texts to the new standards and have provided new assessments.
For-profit and non-profit organizations offer conferences and institutes on
ways to make the new standards work in the classroom.
The Association of Supervision and Curriculum
Development (ASCD) is one of the largest educational support organizations in
the country. A quick look at the agenda for their annual conference in Chicago
reveals that a healthy dose of the 400 workshops relate to Common Core
implementation. Sessions feature titles like, “Literacy and Mathematics Tools
for Implementing the Common Core State Standards,” to “Authentic Homework: one
response to the Core Curriculum.”
Many interested teachers will attend the ASCD
conference, picking and choosing from resources and strategies and they will
return home with ideas that benefit their students. But what about all of the
students in a building or district?
How can we ensure that innovation does not
become a chance encounter for students? I am not suggesting that it should be
left up to district professional developers or state departments of education
either. While it might seem systematically more efficient to implement in this
way it rarely works. It becomes one more thing DONE to teachers.
I think innovation and change should become
part and parcel of what we expect teachers to do. This could be a great moment
for teacher innovation, if teachers were compelled to do so and had time to
plan and collaborate. Teachers could take hold of their profession and their
work, working together to determine how best to help their own students, in
their own classrooms to master the standards.
But are teachers to be trusted?
be done, if the will is there.
Imagine if we looked to our teachers as a
“society of experts” as Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan describe the
teachers in Finland in their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every
In Finland, a typical middle school teacher
spends 600 hours in the classroom, while the typical American middle school
teacher spends 1080 hours in the classroom. So how are Finnish teachers using
all that non-instructional time?
Sahlberg, an expert on the Finnish school system, explains that since
teachers are highly trained as research experts in their fields, they are
entrusted with much of the curriculum and assessment that takes place in their
schools. They do not work on instructional plans and techniques in isolation of
one another but collaboratively.
Sahlberg notes, "Because Finnish
teachers take on significant responsibility for curriculum and assessment, as
well as experimenting with and improving teaching methods, some of the most
important aspects of their work are conducted outside of classrooms.” This is
expected as a responsibility of their job. They are not given extra
compensation for this work. It is what they do!
We will gain the trust of society to show we know what works
best for all students once our profession begins to view our work as ongoing
and not as a series of events. If we do so, we will be able to engage in a
professional process of getting better at what we do while looking to innovate
at the same time.