Opinion > Commentary

Districts must give teachers the time, opportunity and guidance to develop Common Core


Susan Carle´

Susan Carlé

Fifty years ago, employers sought workers who were proficient in reading, writing and math. Today, they are prioritizing abilities like teamwork, problem solving and communication. The Common Core reflects this shift, which should change not only how students learn, but how we teachers learn (and, of course, teach).

Michael Fullan gets it. As the worldwide authority on education system change said at the EdSource symposium last month, collaborative culture is of utmost importance in the enhancement of teacher learning

This didn’t surprise me much. I am fortunate to work at a school in which teaching and learning are collaborative processes. I teach at the California Academy of Math and Science, a Long Beach Unified math and science magnet high school. Our school was conceived and developed in a collaborative manner, and teamwork is the basis of how we function. We teach our students the skills of teamwork and collaboration through systematic, rigorous cross-curricular and interdisciplinary projects.

However, this is not the case at every school. I attended the EdSource symposium with teachers from across California at the invitation of the Center for Teaching Quality, a national nonprofit whose mission is to mobilize teacher leaders to transform schools. Much of our conversation throughout the day revolved around the need for teachers to have more time to collaborate. My school has grade-level teams with common planning time—but many teachers at the table did not have this kind of setup. They have to squeeze in a moment here and there when they want to collaborate with their co-workers.

Schools like mine shouldn’t be the exception. All teachers need time to collaborate.

In order to fully buy into the Common Core standards, teachers also need time and opportunities to create and/or adapt our own lessons.

I am quite distressed by the preformulated, scripted lessons that are being offered by many districts. These lessons are meant to save teachers planning time, but they are so generic that they do not address the specific needs of any class. And they don’t promote ownership.

Districts should get creative. They must find ways to give teachers the time, opportunity and guidance to develop their own Common Core lessons.

One way to do this is to offer teachers time and instruction to collaboratively write grade-level interdisciplinary projects. Working in teams—as teachers at my school do routinely—helps us practice and model the skills we hope our students will develop, while also getting invested in Common Core-aligned lessons and assessment techniques.

I’m feeling a little impatient—with administrators and even with my peers. It’s time for teachers to stand up and claim the right to write our own curricula and plan our work collaboratively. We are the ones on the front line. We evaluate the needs of our specific students. We know them well. We can ensure that our lessons are culturally and geographically relevant to them. And given the opportunity, we can coordinate with our colleagues down the hall to maximize our students’ learning.

As standards and teaching techniques change, it is up to us as teachers to push for what we need to help our students to succeed.

And it’s time for our districts—all districts—to support California’s teachers in creating new lessons to meet our students’ needs and modeling the kind of collaboration their future employers will expect.

Susan Carlé is a National Board Certified teacher who teaches English Language Arts and AP Psychology with the Long Beach Unified School District. She serves as a mentor to new teachers and is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory.

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Filed under: Commentary, Common Core

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5 Responses to “Districts must give teachers the time, opportunity and guidance to develop Common Core”

  1. Terry Smith said

    on June 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    You wrote: “In order to fully buy into the Common Core standards, teachers also need time and opportunities to create and/or adapt our own lessons.”

    There was a time when teachers were thought of as professionals, that is, they always wrote their own lesson plans instead of being handed a script by others (for example Pearson). The frenzy and over focus on matching how we teach to a set of standards needs to stop. The standards are there as targets, not as golden rules determining lesson plans. And the idea of “training” for the Common Core makes very little sense (except to businesses selling training materials) – how about just reading the standards, having a conversations with peers, then getting to work?

    • Susan Carle replied

      on June 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Terry,
      I agree the professionalism of this profession is suppressed when we are given generic material to teach our students. It is rather like we are trying to teach- in spite of the generic materials- instead of writing and teaching with enthusiasm and passing on our passion about our subjects.
      The training part comes in with some of the collaborative, pre-writing, and writing techniques that are used in Common Core. Some of the teachers, especially the math and science teachers, needed support to add reading/writing components to their curriculum.
      Collaboration takes time. These conversations take more time than a passing period offers. Each new group of teachers, in creating project based learning tasks, needs time to develop their own projects. These type of projects can not be prefabricated for generic use. They are unique to that set of students, at that time, in that place, taking those courses.
      I think your idea of reading the standards, having a conversation with peers and getting to work is what this training should be all about.

  2. Don said

    on June 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    To have more time to collaborate without cutting into instructional time you’ll have to get the unions to loosen their grip on the teacher work day and year. While few expect teachers to put in even more hours than they do already without pay, where are the billions going to come from to pay for this? Some districts are using their extra LCFF dollars to pay for long overdue across the board raises for every teacher without a single minute added. It is all well and good to talk about the need for more professional development and cross-seeding of best practices, but we simply don’t have the money until California decides to make education a priority over its nanny state expenditures.

  3. Chelsea Murphy said

    on June 4, 2014 at 10:06 am

    At the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) we believe that as states transition to the Common Core, it is imperative that the implementation of these new standards include policies and supports that increase the amount of time teachers have for collaboration and professional development. One of the key tools to implementing Common Core can be expanding learning time, that of course must be well planned and intentional. With the Common Core, more time is needed to raise students to new heights and it will require more intensive and time-consuming teaching and learning than schools commonly provide now. Our report looks into how adding more time to the year/day can support Common Core implementation and help create a successful high-quality roadmap for collage and career readiness for all children: http://www.timeandlearning.org/commoncore

    • Susan replied

      on June 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Chelsea,
      How long has Mass. been doing Common Core? Do your teachers get training time? How does NCTL recommend the districts train current teachers? For a start at my school, I wrote lessons and taught the common core technique of close reading lesson writing to both English/history teachers and math/science teachers. They all wrote awesome and unique lessons that not only matched their standards, there lessons met the needs of their specific class and students. It was a four hour commitment of the teacher’s time-and our school’s PD funds. However, it seems to have made a huge difference in the acceptance of the common core changes by our staff and students.

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