January 23, 2014 by

Implementing the Common Core Can Be Challenging—Virtual Learning Networks Can Help

By Jason Flom

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

—Yogi Berra

ASCD VLNTherein lies the challenge of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In theory it should be simple: Raise standards, stamp “Common Core Aligned” on textbooks, and voila! We’ve won the race to the top.

Clouds part. Angels sing. Harps strum.

In practice, however, implementation of new standards is challenging and absolutely unable to standardize. Like students themselves, each school is an individual and complex system that changes according to its own dynamics. Transforming traditions, local norms, and long-standing expectations is complicated by the fact that each school is inhabited by people of varying ages with a myriad of patterns, habits, beliefs about teaching and learning and limits on their autonomy.

Additionally, constraints on time, scheduling, and allocation of funds further exacerbate the challenges of professional growth, especially in a high-stakes environment. Collectively, these “Problems of Practice” (POP) can inhibit and stifle even the most well intended improvement to adult and student learning.

Some POP are

  • Systemic. When in the world do teachers ever have enough time to use the bathroom, much less “shift” their instructional patterns—the pedagogical equivalent of changing their golf swing?
  • Contextual. Don’t science teachers have enough to do without integrating more reading and writing skills that may bore students or make science miserable for those who may be talented in scientific understanding, but who struggle with processing language?
  • Capacity Driven. How do the standards translate into effective unit and lesson development, and what in the world is an anchor standard and how is it different from a grade-specific standard?
  • Social. Isn’t this just more top-down change that heightens my stakes rather than actually improving the student learning experience?

The unfortunate result is that while the CCSS are more student-centered than the majority of the state standards, the stresses of racing to raise the test scores threaten the standards’ potential to empower learning.

Amid the challenges, however, hide the opportunities. Innovation is often born at the intersection of creativity, collaboration, and need. And the POP of implementing the CCSS present just such a need.

With a bit of creativity and shared inquiry, solving the POP of implementing the CCSS can be a reality. Consider these two factors:

  1. Educators in 46 states are all implementing the same standards within a similar time frame (and thereby encountering variations on similar problems).
  2. Virtual networks—with the wealth of digital tools available today—offer synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to build knowledge together. Think of them as constructivist communities.

Enter ASCD, stage left.

To fill the niche of building educator capacity during CCSS implementation, ASCD is developing Virtual Learning Networks (VLN) with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The VLNs are designed to collaboratively explore the problems of practice when implementing the Common Core standards. This is an opportunity to learn with other leadership minded educators while crowdsourcing strategies and solutions to common hurdles.

The VLNs will consist of three main components (all of which are free!):

  1. Webinars that address a specific problem of practice.
  2. Opportunities to network and share resources as part of a group on ASCD’s EDge® social networking platform.
  3. Resources to leverage and use available on the EduCore™ online tool.

Headed by ASCD Faculty members, the VLNs will focus on four main areas:

  1. Mathematics
  2. English Language Arts
  3. Social Studies
  4. Science

The road between theory and practice can be bumpy, trying, and no fun alone. The same holds true for growing as an educator. This is a chance to nurture your professional self and to grow as a learner with other professionals who will help support you and who you in turn also support.

In this way, the VLNs offer an opportunity to circle around a POP and find, create, and share implementable solutions. Perhaps the differences between theory and practice are minimized by collaboration, but that’s still a theory. Join a VLN and let’s put it in practice.

Check them out, see when the next round of webinars are, and get involved. Your experiences, knowledge, and learning may very well make the difference for others.