Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is one of my ‘4 Cs’ essential for effective instruction. In order to have academic success under the guidance of the Common Core, you need:
The CCSS themselves
I strongly believe that you won’t find a teacher doing great things in the classroom in regards to student learning that does not have instruction focused on these 4 pillars. Obviously to be successful with CCSS, a teacher needs to understand what the standards are and use them to guide their instruction. They need to be creative in thinking of ways to approach learning that will be effective for the specific students they serve at that specific time. They need to be committed to the success of their students, the process of reflection, and consistent improvement as an instructor. However, in many ways most importantly, they need to have a collaborative network. I will even say that for the best results, some kind of formal collaboration will be present.
Collaboration looks different depending on the situation. There is something incredibly powerful about those quick, unintentional brainstorming sessions over the lunch table that leave you with some ideas to think about in regards to dealing with a student’s behavior problems. It can be a nice change of pace to be part of a book club with colleagues from different grade levels or departments that you wouldn’t normally get time to plan professionally with. It can take a huge load off your shoulders when you burst into the room of your neighboring teacher and ask for some advice about how to re-teach a lesson that went horribly wrong that day. But, for me, the pure deliberate and intentional nature of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) leads to deliberate and intentional collaborative instructional decisions. These decisions have great impact on teaching and learning.
In my district, teachers have been given incredible support from leadership in the area of collaboration. This is a huge gift that does not go unappreciated, as we are much more effective teachers because of it. Every Monday morning, our students arrive one hour late so that we can meet in grade-level teams to discuss all things related to our instruction. In these meetings, we prepare each week with an agenda ahead of time, bring materials, and keep discussion focused on the four critical questions outlined in the book Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, Eaker, DuFour, and Mattos).
This time has been invaluable in that, I’m sure you’ve noticed, CCSS are, in many ways, for lack of a better word … vague. Take CCSS.ELA.RI.2.9 for example. “Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.” This standard is left up to the interpretation of the teacher. In our PLC meetings, we are able to really take this standard (and many others apart) and ask:
- How many points could be considered important in any given piece of text?
- How closely related should the texts for 2nd graders be?
- Given this specific text, what kind of written comparison would be expected from a 2nd grader meeting standard? Would an oral comparison be held to a different standard?
- What scaffolds are appropriate to be provided? At what point in the learning?
These questions, along with ones about what materials we will use to teach, effective instructional strategies, and the most appropriate assessments, help us ensure that all students in our grade level receive the same level of quality instruction.
Without this time set aside for specific collaboration, I would be at a loss for exactly how to teach and assess using the CCSS. This time for intentional collaboration has been instrumental in understanding and implementing CCSS. PLCs provide inspiration for creativity in the classroom. There’s no denying the fact that my team is committed to teaching students effectively. There you have it … it all ties back to collaboration.
How does collaboration look in your world?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.