As a former high school teacher, I most looked forward to returning in the fall and seeing how much students changed over the summer. Some grew inches taller, while others developed athletic talents or gained some newfound wisdom through summer volunteer work. But no matter what, I could always count on one truth: kids grow and change over time. So, as you head off for the summer and prepare plans for the new school year, I ask you to consider this one thing that remains consistent in our profession—growth.
In my work with teachers and school leaders across the country, I find that, though most educators are up for the task of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many express a sense of fatigue as yet another initiative is rolled out. In fact, ASCD released a report called Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core State Standards: Moving from Adoption to Implementation to Sustainability that identified initiative fatigue as one barrier to CCSS implementation. A recommendation for combating this fatigue is to provide teachers with resources that demonstrate how to align best practices with the new standards. Many of you have already taken action by reading the standards at www.corestandards.org. There, you see that the standards are organized around building students’ skills over the course of their academic career. The vertical alignment of the standards supports the use of ongoing formative assessments that monitor student progress over time. Thus, tracking student growth over time, instead of focusing on one “final” test score, is a key component to combating initiative fatigue.
When presented with an engaging and rich curriculum that focuses on supporting academic progress, not one that is merely a checklist for covering the standards, research shows that students grow academically. Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins often liken standards to a building code. They assert that, while architects and builders must attend to the code, the code is not the purpose of the design. For me, this is an intriguing and inviting proposition for teachers. As architects and designers of learning, not merely building code enforcers, educators have the power to shape student growth over time. The standards provide what students need to be successful.Teachers provide the “how”—the pathway for getting students there. To that end,teacher creativity is more important than ever.
How can one be creative in such a high-stakes, standards- driven environment? I recommend taking advantage of the many free online resources that provide lesson plans, articles, and professional learning on topics like ELL (English Language Learners), CCSS, differentiation, and formative assessments. ASCD’s EduCoreTM tool is a free online resource portal that has materials intended to build teachers’ knowledge around the Common Core standards; and for secondary teachers, there are instructional resources from the Literacy Design Collaborative and Mathematics Design Collaborative.
Other websites, like www.achievethecore.org, provide teachers with resources on text-dependent questions and lesson exemplars. Therefore, the creativity comes from matching the right resource to the right students under a clear learning goal. During my time as a teacher, and now as an educator who works with teachers, I find that it is the “how to” that is most appealing to me; the skill is in the ability to adapt based on where learners are.
Albert Einstein said, “Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.” The summer can be a great time to recharge your batteries and unwind from the busy school year. I also find that the summer provides a great opportunity for reflection and allows us to be thoughtful about the changes we make in our practice. When the focus of teaching is on student growth, standards are simply a means to an end.
Sherida Britt is the Director for Tools for Teachers at ASCD. During Britt’s tenure as a faculty member at ASCD, she has devised interactive professional development products and materials to instruct educators on topics such as RTI, formative assessment, literacy in content areas, and differentiation. Britt, now the Director for Tools for Teachers at ASCD, coordinates initiatives with the ASCD online production team, subject matter experts, programmers, graphic artists, and multimedia professionals to develop interactive online and multimedia professional development products, tools, and materials. After spending much of her childhood traveling the world as part of a military family, Britt continues to enjoy meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. To date, her most exciting trip was visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates while she trained teachers in differentiation.