ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Academic game changer...Charting the course for successful implementation
by Stuart Yager, Carol Webb, Rene Noppe and Donna McCaw
Stuart Yager is an associate professor educational leadership at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Carol Webb and Rene No ppe are assistant professors
in educational leadership at WIU. Donna McCaw recently retired from WIU and currently works with the Common Core Institute.
Part III: Charting the course
School reform movements are not new to policy and decision makers. Each decade seems to have brought at least one new idea or program that would “fix” a system that many believed to be broken. This is the third in a four-part series giving school board members background knowledge on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the potential impact these new standards will have on teaching and learning, things for boards to look for and district implementation issues.
A school district’s journey toward implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) begins with school board commitment. Ultimately, this commitment is focused on ensuring that high school graduates have the necessary skills to be college- or career-ready when they complete high school.
Commitment starts with the board sharing a vision for CCSS implementation and communicating this vision to all constituents in the district.
Early on, the school board can take steps to develop a shared vision for implementing the new standards by discussing and collectively answering essential questions at the board table. Answering these important questions during open meetings is the best way to inform the public, demonstrate commitment and encourage district employees about implementation.
The public should see the board reaching consensus regarding a vision for Common Core implementation. However, many essential questions exist for the board.
One of the most important is to understand the rationale for why we have new standards. Discussion at the board table may center on the level at which the district’s graduates are ready for college or to enter a career. From there, the discussion may move in the direction of political pressures being placed on public education or even global economics.
Another top question for the board is what their district’s high school diploma currently means or what it should mean. The board should ask if high school graduation is seen by the community as an important achievement. Is it merely a rite of passage or does the diploma represent a rigorous accomplishment? And does that diploma stand for value?
The board also should consider if the diploma is respected by those who earn it. Often, achieving a high school diploma has little to do with what the graduate knows and can do with the attained knowledge. Frequently, the diploma means attending school for a specified number of in-class hours and earning a minimum passing grade in the required courses.
Another question to consider: What evidence is available to indicate how successful the district’s graduates are two, three or even five years after graduation? School districts should have mechanisms in place to complete feedback loops in order to study their high school graduates’ preparedness for college or careers. This would include data from area employers, college and university admission offices, and satisfaction surveys of graduates.
Another necessary step for school boards to demonstrate support for the implementation of the new standards is to provide awareness to all stakeholders. This includes parents, students, community leaders, faculty and staff.
Often, school board members forget about the importance of communicating commitment and vision about change initiatives to students, community leaders and non-teaching staff. This is in contrast to intensely communicating to teachers and administrators.
Communicating to stakeholder groups can often be best accomplished in an open format where one or two board members attend speaking events to communicate the collective vision and commitment of the board for implementation. At each of these forums, an opportunity for question and answer is vitally important.
Board members must be absolutely clear regarding the commitment and vision regarding Common Core State Standards. Also, after the presentation, the tone should be that of non-judgmental listening. This includes maintaining a relaxed, friendly body posture, making eye contact and thanking people for sharing their thoughts.
Board members should provide time for the audience to ask questions and then encourage people personally to follow-up by phone calls or e-mails. Often it is helpful to have someone attend the meeting to take notes and record the names of those asking questions. Follow-up letters containing clear answers and a note of thanks to those citizens who ask questions will be beneficial.
Additionally, general awareness sessions presented during school board meetings can be a great use of board meeting time by providing the media with key points so that those attending see the commitment being demonstrated.
Finally, at the start of professional development days for all district employees, board members can give opening remarks to communicate commitment, vision and support for all in attendance to hear.
Clearly, it is important to try to have two school board members present at Common Core awareness activities to demonstrate support and commitment for implementation. Having groups of two, as opposed to only one board member, attend speaking engagements is a good way to demonstrate support and solidarity.
This strategy provides a level of accountability and communicates a team approach to all who hear the presentation. And it’s always good to have an extra set of eyes and ears paying attention to both the content and the process of the dialogue.
Aligning current district assessments to the new standards is just as important as creating awareness. Students should begin to experience and practice with the same types of assessment that they will encounter later on the new high-stakes tests beginning in 2014.
Teachers should learn to develop and incorporate these assessment items into their regular classroom instruction. Board members who understand this will know the importance of providing release time for teachers to develop these next-generation assessments to use in their classrooms.
In addition to aligning assessments, teachers will need considerable professional development about how to adjust instruction to the rigor required in the new standards. New instructional strategies will be required for students to master the rigor required by the new standards.
Finally, teachers will need support in mapping the district curriculum to the CCSS. Mapping curriculum into a scope and sequence aligned with the new standards will require considerable release time for teachers.
The work of the board to achieve these professional development outcomes is twofold.
First, the board must allocate funds to provide this necessary professional development. This also means providing release time for teachers to attend workshops and to develop district materials.
Teachers and administrators also will need to attend state and even national conferences about transition to the CCSS. By attending these workshops, teachers and administrators will learn about the time they will need and how to use it to develop assessments, instructional units and curriculum maps. Principals will need to develop tools to support their teachers as the implementation begins and evolves.
Second, the board must discuss with district administrators how to monitor the work of the teachers and to ensure accountability for implementing the work. The board should expect periodic updates from teachers and administrators at board meetings about the implementation process and status. These updates are best done during board work sessions where there can be a relaxed dialogue between the board and the teacher or administrator presenters.
Work sessions should occur about once per quarter and last no more than one hour. This communication process also will inform the public and media present at board meetings where these updates occur.
By connecting the board’s vision for the implementation of the CCSS to the steps above, the board will best be able to ensure expectations for quality implementation. These action steps represent a vibrant strategic plan for implementation of the CCSS, which includes providing frequent communication to the public and the district employees.
The steps also specify that resources be provided to teachers to get the job done as well as tools for administrators and teacher leaders for monitoring the implementation. These steps can also help guide the board through any future change processes that will come about as educational technologies advance.
The steps outlined here for implementation of the Common Core State Standards — commitment, communication and resources — will support strong change management far into the future.
Other parts in the series are:
Part I: May/June — Common Core 101
Part II: July/August — Shifting the focus
Part IV: November/December — Eating the elephant
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