Implementing the Common Core State Standards: Teachers Know Best

By Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

The Common Core State Standards are arguably one of the most important educational initiatives in decades. Yet even the most brilliant reform will be unsuccessful unless implemented successfully.

Without question, teachers are an integral part of this implementation and the long-term success of the standards. Whether they’re still test-driving the standards or are in full implementation mode, teachers are feeling the pressure.

Understood, it’s not the “standards” themselves that will bring about dramatic change. It’s how teachers bring them to life day-to-day that will make the difference for students. At SDE, we’ve had countless opportunities to hear teachers share their Common Core experiences about what’s working, how it’s working, and with whom it’s working. What we’ve learned is that teachers are striving to really understand the standards, know what children are expected to learn, effectively change their instruction to meet new expectations, and even assess differently. We’ve also learned that, when the going gets tough, teachers must allow their hard-earned, classroom common sense to be their guide.

Teachers Know Best

The new standards establish what students need to learn. But they do not dictate how teachers should teach—such as which writing process or metacognitive strategy to use. It’s up to the teachers, curriculum developers, and schools to do that.

In other words, teachers are free to provide whatever tools and knowledge students need to reach the goals set out in the standards. Clearly, the designers of the Common Core standards believe that teachers do know best and should allow their professional judgment and experience to be their trusted guides in the implementation process.

Core Knowledge Is Power

The standards have ushered in a whole new set of requirements. To best develop the skills articulated in the standards and make necessary changes in their instruction, teachers must know the standards inside and out. It’s not enough to be “familiar with” such concepts as the complexity staircase, discipline knowledge, and dual intensity. Teachers must truly understand these essential concepts and how to bring these concepts to life in the classroom. That means a close reading of the standards is absolutely essential to take on this important responsibility and do it well.

CCSS-Friendly Practices

Teachers must dismiss the notion that they have to throw out their existing curriculum. CCSS is not a national curriculum. It is a set of shared set of goals and expectations for students designed to prepare them to become career- and college-ready. It is not a new idea, but one that takes teachers back to good teaching practices they’re probably already familiar with, such as:

  • Integrating technology into the classroom
  • Developing literacy skills in all content areas—not just English class
  • Using the Understanding by Design framework to implement a standards-based curriculum that leads to student understanding and achievement
  • Personalizing instruction through Writing Workshops
  • Addressing text complexity in Guided Reading and Reading Workshop
  • Challenging students to answer the ‘big question” through inquiry-based projects
  • Formatively assessing students rather than depending on multiple choice questions
  • Teaching students to understand and apply math using Singapore strategies
  • Determining skill levels through mastery-based assessment
  • Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of every student

In fact, when teachers understand how their existing professional knowledge about 21st teaching and learning aligns with the CCS, they may find they are more prepared to embrace the standards than they realize.

For more insight into how to implement the Common Core State Standards, check out SDE’s webinar Keeping Common Sense in the Common Core: You Know More than You Think! by CCSS expert and author Katie McKnight, Ph.D.

Partner with SDE