Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Master Teacher Speaks Out on Common Core

Deia Sanders is a master teacher in Mendenhall, Mississippi. In this blog post, Deia talks about her experience with the Common Core Standards as both a master teacher and a member of PARCC Educator Leader Cadre.

common core standards continuous learning
When I was in college I decided to take physics classes as my electives so that I could find out exactly what a black hole was. I took space science for an entire semester in anticipation of finding the answer. The last chapter, the final week of class, covered black holes. After learning more than I ever anticipated about physics and space I only felt as if there was so much more to learn. For every answer I now had, I also had even more follow-up questions. It began a cycle of learning, finding more I wanted to learn about, and feeling as if it was impossible to know it all… but the cycle lead to growth and knowledge that were previously outside my reach.

This scenario parallels my current status in the search for knowledge and best practice as it relates to Common Core. I am currently questioning practices I didn’t previously know existed, and the more I learn, the more I want to learn, and I am caught in a cycle of growth and knowledge as I reach for what is so much bigger than myself.

I am currently writing units for both language and math, and I am serving on PARCC’s Educator Leader Cadre. From being in the fortunate position of liaison between administration and what is happening in the classroom, I feel like I can see what the future holds in terms of disconnects between administration and the common core classrooms. Administrators, please heed my warnings.

Obviously, you have to know the Common Core State Standards. You’ve got to know the progressions from grade level to grade level. Bill McCallum, lead writer to CCSS Math, said that looking at a standard at a particular grade level wasn’t that valuable. You have to look at the standards in the grade level below and above to know at what level you should engage your students with the standard. For an administrator this is valuable because we are reprogramming our teachers to not re-teach previous standards, and to let go of standards no longer in their grade level. An administrator will need to know what this looks like at all levels to know its appropriate performance and appearance in each grade level and classroom.

We are a PARCC State, thus we have the Model Content Frameworks to use as a guide to the CCSS and assessment. It’s long, less than exciting, and probably wasn’t on anyone’s “beach reading list” this summer. I’ve read it several times, and like space, when I finish I have more questions than answers. One question I had for a long time was where exactly the value in a document that’s so large. It wasn’t until we were writing units and deep in to the CCSS that I began to find value in the materials put out as “guides.” It’s not that the guiding documents weren’t valuable before, but to have a document as a guide when you’re not sure where you’re going, made it difficult for me personally to find value in it. I see this in administration as they read these documents with little impact or meaning because there is a strong disconnect between the document and the process… if you’re not knee deep in the process.

We are seeing that the curriculum directors and teachers are the ones with the true knowledge of the changes CCSS are bringing, and because principals aren’t typically in the planning and writing phases, they are now the least knowledgeable about the changes to come. From my unique perspective I can see that administrators are going to have to go deeper in to the journey of Common Core to remain true academic leaders. As an administrator, of course you have to be familiar with all things Common Core. But as with studying astronomy, it was great information, it left me with growth and questions, but I bet if I traveled to space my knowledge would bring clarity.

The questions that developed from that journey would be deeper than the ones developed from simply reading and studying. To know the Common Core, to find the value in everything that supports it you are going to have to take part in all parts of the journey. If there is a group of teachers meeting to write a unit, you need to be there asking questions. If there is a presentation on classroom practices, you need to be involved. Join your staff in ALL parts of the journey, or else they will reach the destination without you. The more involved in the journey, they more clarity you will find in the process.

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