George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Teacher leadership has officially come into vogue in the education sphere. Everyone from central districts and federal offices to teachers unions and universities is either partnering with teacher-centered groups or creating their own. Among many of the education reform ideas, teacher leadership has had a billion definitions, which few people agree upon, but it's not a silver bullet -- it's James Bond's Golden Gun. With the right elements in place and the right people making sure these elements are working, any other initiative can easily work with teachers at the fore.

Even an initiative as divisive as the Common Core State Standards.

The CCSS debate still boils the blood of many a pundit and educator. If anything, politicians, think tanks, and philanthropists have had to respond to the pushback from all sides of the debate's spectrum. With all that has been going on, teachers on the ground have had to implement the standards to some fidelity. The idea of fidelity becomes difficult when there's a serious conflict between what experts think teachers should do in the classroom and what teachers actually do in the classroom.

But this also assumes that teachers in the classroom aren't themselves experts, an idea often exacerbated by policy makers who strip their policies of ongoing teacher input. As such, the average teacher who sees the standards might first ask if educators developed it. Regardless of whether or not teachers agree with each other on pedagogy, most teachers I speak to would feel comforted by the idea that teachers had a hand in developing, testing, and giving feedback for the standards they taught. That's why my advice is as follows (set to a well-known tune about the benefits of sharing).

Give It Away (The Standards Themselves)

Let teachers delve into them. Despite the objections of many think tanks, the standards ought to have another set of eyes screen them and see if they make sense for our students who are struggling the most. This must be in the context of trust and response on the part of the district assigning this work to a task force of teachers. If there is a large disconnect between what the experts say should happen in the classroom and what teachers are doing, why not hand it over to the teachers and make them the experts?

Side note: I've seen some teacher groups try to advocate for the CCSS as well. The best ones always ground their work in what's happening in the schools, not what’s happening in ivory towers or hotel conferences. The work of the school must be central.

Give It Away (The Curriculum)

When teachers in New York City (full disclosure: I'm one) were told that we would receive curriculum, we didn't get the books until a month into school. Most of the teachers I know didn't even use half the books until January. Why? For one, curriculum maps aren't developed in the middle of the year, but rather during the spring and summer, well after we've administered the state exams. This gives us time to reflect and have conversations with one another about how best to approach what we're teaching. Secondly, we still have to look at the material in the new books and align our maps to them. Even with multiple overviews of the new curriculum, it failed that first year because whoever was responsible didn't get it to us on time.

I teach math, and perhaps this scenario looks different for English Language Arts curriculum, but my point is that all of this can be avoided if teachers are allowed to work on curricula with their colleagues and with the support of administration and other staff. This idea that teachers have to get scripted lessons and unit plans handed down to them from their district doesn't help teachers own their profession.

Give It Away Now (The Assessment)

Even the testing ought to have teachers at the lead. If we're intentional about the process of a teacher's work (pedagogy, curriculum, and standards), then assessment of this work needs to align with the other work they do. This might be the hardest part to transform since our current accountability systems rely heavily on assessment -- mainly because it's the easiest to quantify. Yet if we believe in differentiation and ownership for students, then we have to show even more trust in teachers with the right supports and contexts. We need an array of different assessments, and eventually, we'll need to look at those various assessments to review a student's entire body of work, not simply for the three-hour block they get for the four major subject areas.

If the CCSS is to succeed, it won't be because of the flashy commercials, the stickers and t-shirts, or any sort of rally organized around it. This will come from our foremost practitioners of the CCSS, whether they agree with it or not. Then again, I also believe we'd see a sea change in how educators see it overall. Of course, I also believe that, if these three processes are followed, the need for the Common Core might be diminished.

After all, part of the premise for the CCSS is that teachers don't know what to teach. The better question ought to be: "What if teachers decided what could be taught?"

Was this useful? (2)

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

John X's picture

My question is: Why NOW advocate teacher involvement and not in the planning stages years ago? Why weren't teachers initially involved, since we are the ones delivering the content. This is another massive usurpation of state and local educational control. For those who don't know who created Common Core ( When you follow the money, you'll see the carrot-and-stick approach of the feds granting money IF the states implement and states tying CC test performance to teacher pay.

RobtheQuiet's picture

I presume that by "the teachers" we are referring to the current K-12 faculty who are the ones bearing the brunt of the changeover. But shouldn't the freshman year college professors have the weightiest say in what the K-12 results are? If we were to measure colleges and universities by the success of graduates in the marketplace we should be looking at all phases of education to harmonize. I don't see this addressed by whatever program is in vogue during a political cycle, but rather a generational process of continuous observation and feedback. I also see a pitfall in handing over a curriculum in an attempt to cookie-cut successful students without regard to the individualistic nature of children and the particular talents of individual teachers. As a parent I have seen talented teachers paralyzed by administrators who are more concerned with public relations than quality education. The point about widening the assessment regime to encompass a student's entire body of work is excellent, but I think we need to emphasize that the teachers and students are the co-owners of the process, whereas the administrators and think tanks should be supportive, not ministerial.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

JohnX and RobTheQuiet, I find that anytime I start thinking about education from 10,000 feet I end up paralyzed. Yes, there are issues with Capital E Education and policy making is never pretty or done as well as it should be. Here's what I know, though- I can exhaust myself banging my head against walls that won't break (like the ones you describe here) or I can roll up my sleeves and get to work trying to improve the day-to-day experiences of the kids and teachers around me. *That's* a good use of my energy and time, in my opinion.

RobtheQuiet's picture

I guess my next question leads to how well teachers are prepared and what is the nature of feedback from educational outcomes to educator training.

Maria Pichardo's picture

As an educator, I feel that when the Common Core State Standards were introduced to our teachers, we weren't given enough time to process and plan our lessons. In addition, the district gave us Common Core units that had to be taught a specific way, but the assessments did not correlate to the way that the units were taught. Therefore, I agree that teachers should be more involved in the decision making, and given more liberty to decide how the standards should be taught in the classroom. After all, we do have first hand knowledge on how diverse students are responding to the new standards. Personally, when I am given the opportunity to plan and collaborate with my colleagues, I find that I am better prepared to help my students experience success. We most definitely need time to plan, create, and reflect on our practices. If we were part of the decision making process, many educators would own their profession. The only question that comes to mind right now is how many educators would be willing to accept this major responsibility.

Jalawn111's picture

As a fellow educator, I would have appreciated a more definitive date as to when the standards were to be in place. My state told us mid year we would switch test to match the standards and it has been such a hardship having my students switch gears in preparation for the new test and standards. I personally would have loved to be able to take sample test that went along with the standards so that I could zone in on the areas that my students may have had trouble with and just for certain wording. The standards are not necessarily as challenging as the assessments used to test them.

Christy Salyer's picture

Giving the teachers more control and power over decisions is key. If principals create a culture of relationships among the teachers and form groups among them, this can lower insecurities in teachers and help encourage them to share ideas. Together the teachers could brainstorm strategies for implementing and teaching via the common core standards.

Chris's picture

My school is trying to systematically align our curriculum with the Common Core Standards. We started with Algebra 1, moved to Algebra 2, and now we are starting Geometry. We have continually adjusted our Algebra 1 material and we want to do more, but even with the new standards, it still just seems like the old material being presented in a different way. I feel that educators were thrown into the fire with these standards and tests and we were not given a fair amount of time to digest the Standards and make quality lessons, units, and material. The amount of time and energy we have spent of writing the curriculum for Algebra 1 is insane. As educators, we need to have more say in what Standards are best for our students, how assessments should look, and how we should be able to teach this material. We need to get connected and start looking at education as a whole, not individually in districts or states.

Sdschule's picture
21st Century Leadership

We need to start with training leadership properly. Maybe then they can sufficiently support their teachers.

Xiaofang Deng's picture

As an educator who have worked in three different schools for around six years, I am always been told to make planning based on the Common Core State Standards. We can choose what to teach under the Standards, but are not a part of what should be taught. I think this is not happening in only a few schools. Ackerman & Mackenzie (2007) point out, teachers leaders are the ones who assume responsibility for something they care desperately about, they can help with making better decisions on curriculum and also make school to be a better one. For the school, if teachers are involved in the decision making process, they will show more commitment in carrying out their responsibilities, and also with more ownership with the entire school. I am very positive on teachers involving in shaping the curriculum.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.