The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will require school leaders to effect long-term, systemic change in school culture and classroom practice. Principals must reset expectations and change belief systems around student achievement in a way that places all students on the pathway to college and career. Principals must fundamentally change classroom practice, move students from ‘behaving to believing to achieving,’ and significantly raise student achievement schoolwide over an extended period of time. And principals must accomplish it all with diminishing resources and larger class sizes.
No one has yet fully implemented the standards. So, teachers and principals are all learners. But the CCSS mandates draw on a set of skills and experiences that some school leaders have already acquired if they have successfully:
Turned Around an Underperforming School. We can no longer pretend that the same old methods will wring us better results. With the CCSS shift, all but a few schools now find themselves in a turnaround mode, which requires a much different set of skills than simply leading a school. Turning around a school takes more than knowledge. It requires both laser-like focus and will power. Implementation of the Common Core will require strong, consistent, resolute leadership over five or more years to put in place and sustain the meaningful changes the CCSS require.
Culture Creator – The old top-down leadership styles will not create the type of collaborative community of practice needed to effectively implement these new standards. Those leaders who know what it takes to change both expectations and practices will have a decided advantage in implementing the new standards.
Change Leadership – The success of the CCSS rests on how well school leaders implement them school wide. Implementation is not considered to be a strength of most schools. Principals who have successfully implemented a multi-year, school wide change initiative that has resulted in improved student achievement will find the CSSS to be familiar ground.
Cross Content Literacy – Literacy is the common ground of the Common Core. School wide literacy—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—is a minimum expectation under the CCSS. Literacy has never been a integral part of the secondary classroom. In fact, cross-content literacy is much like a transplanted organ, and the body continually seeks to reject it. Clearly, school wide literacy is the most difficult of all initiatives to implement with fidelity at the secondary level. In fact, less than one percent of secondary schools have in place or are attempting to implement a school wide literacy initiative. Thus, cross-content literacy may be the best indicator of how far we have to go to implement the CCSS and how much work is ahead of us in building teacher capacity. Secondary schools do not have the capacity to deliver the literacy requirements of these new standards. Few content teachers have any preparation in integrating literacy into their instruction. In fact, very few teachers or principals have ever worked in or visited a school with a school wide literacy program. They have no idea what it will look like.
Improved Classroom Instruction School Wide – The CCSS will require profound changes in teaching practice.
Math – Instead of working math problems, students will be expected to apply math concepts to real-world situations using higher-order thinking skills and, in writing, explain the logic they used to arrive at a particular solution.
ELA and Literacy – Students will be expected to closely read much more complex text and to write argumentative essays citing evidence gleaned from multiple sources.
Fewer and Deeper – The standards, while fewer in number, must be taught in much greater depth and teachers must integrate literacy into their content instruction, all in the same or less instructional time. While these profound changes may not require more knowledge of course content, they will require teachers to update their practice.
Building Collective Capacity – Those principals, who have established a defined set of school wide instructional practices used in every classroom, including bell-to-bell instruction, will have solid foundation upon which to build more rigorous instruction.
What states are training principals to implement the CCSS?
I have worked in 27 states and met with teams from another 14 states during the past two years, and I can attest that we are past the adoption phase of CCSS. Most states are now doing some work with teachers and principals around reading and understanding the “what” and “why” of the CCSS. This is a necessary and logical next step.
But long, hard work of implementing the standards with fidelity lies ahead. Principals should attend teacher-focused CCSS training, but they need so much more than a fundamental understanding of the standards.
School leaders need to know what schoolwide changes must be in place and how to implement them. And we all need to recognize this implementation as a decade-long—not a year-long–initiative. Oklahoma’s Vision 2020, for instance, has it right in acknowledging the time and work it will take to completely retrain our teachers and build the collective capacity of our schools to get all students college-, career-, and citizenship ready.
Kentucky is about two years ahead of most states in teacher training and in forming communities of practice for teachers and principals around implementation of the standards. However, Kentucky principals have not received training in school turnaround, changing school culture, implementing school wide literacy, leading change, or in establishing and implementing school wide instructional practices.
Over the past years, Louisiana has placed considerable importance on literacy instruction. With Striving Reader grants, some Louisiana schools are receiving technical assistance in implementing school wide literacy initiatives.
The Montana Office of Public instruction has the most comprehensive approach for school leaders yet. Montana has teamed their Striving Reader grant with Common Core implementation and have partnered with the School Administrators of Montana (SAM) to offer full-day training designed specifically for school leaders.
All of these initiatives, as daunting as they are, represent only the beginning of the implementation phase. The CCSS are not the only initiatives that principals are implementing at this time. New teacher evaluation systems tied to student test data and new state accountability systems that include graduation rate form a “perfect storm” of implementation challenges for already overtaxed school leaders.
I am confident that we are on the right path. These standards are worthy of our aspirations. We need to continually remind everyone that implementation of the CCSS is about more than a few cosmetic changes and more like a complete remodeling or full-scale renovation.
Common Core Action Briefs: NASSP has joined with Achieve, College Summit, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, to provide action briefs outlining the role of secondary school leaders, elementary school leaders, and school counselors in the implementation of the CCSS, with support from MetLife Foundation.
Southern Region Education Board (SREB)