What I heard on no less than four new client calls last week was this: “We’re just kinda all over the place with the Common Core.”

Welp.  I would agree.

Schools are all over the place with providing support to teachers as they implement the Common Core…a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  A new expert telling us to do X while another comes and says Y is the only way to go.

At best, we’re overwhelming teachers.  At worst, we’re straight up confusing them!

When you don’t have a plan to take teachers from where they are to where they need to be, you end up spending a lot of money and time to create a whole bunch of headache for teachers.  Here’s what that looks like:

  • When we don’t have clear expectations of what we need teachers to know and which date they need to know it, they put it on the back burner because they have more important things to do.  They figure that if it was that important, you would set a deadline.
  • You don’t let teachers in on the plan to get them well-versed in the Common Core (or whatever else you are implementing along the way that requires action from the staff) and so everything seems like a shot in the dark and “yet another” training without much context at all for its use
  • We send teachers to professional development that you know nothing about, so when they have questions, there’s nowhere to go for immediate answers
  • You bring in a speaker or professional developer without giving that speaker the context for their work – this, too, becomes “yet another” training that teachers have to sit through…without purpose
  • You spend a small fortune on new materials that support your implementation, you hand them over to your staff excitedly and they take them back to their class and don’t use them because they don’t know how and when and why
  • We spend time talking in team meetings about how we NEED to do this and NEED to do that, but we don’t go beyond that – – there’s a lot of talking but not a lot of action

And here’s the thing – the situations I’m describing aren’t necessarily unmotivated people, but they ARE undeveloped in their plan.

So, how do we turn this around?  Well, you start by having a very frank conversation with your staff (principal, coach, leadership team, curriculum directors should be a part of this convo with the staff).

“So, I’m here to talk with you today about some mistakes that I’ve made as we have implemented the Common Core so far – and how we’re going to turn things around.  I realize that you have been to trainings, received resources and spent a fair amount of your teaming/department time talking about the Common Core.  The problem is, we’ve done a lot of talking.  Some of it has been on-task and some of it has been off-task.  What we have been missing is a clear set of actions to take so that by December 2014, we are fully CCSS implemented in each classroom. ”

Then the leader goes on and says this: “My plan is to take a different component of the Common Core each month and focus on just that component during our staff meetings, team meetings and for professional development.  When we have our trainer for writing come, she will be training us on how writing relates to the ‘component’ of the month.  As we have new opportunities for PD through the district or through outside resources, we will see if that PD fits into our component of the month or not.  If it doesn’t, we will not do it then.  If it does, we will consider sending representatives from our team so that everyone gets the information back to the teachers.”

Then the leader gives focus.

“Our first component is text dependent questions.  I know we’ve talked a lot about this for the past year, but as I get into the classrooms, I see a smattering of implementation – some of you are doing it, some of you aren’t.  So, for the month of January, we will be focusing on having each teacher, regardless of content, asking at least 3 text-dependent questions per class period or content area.  This means that if I were to drop in and watch your teaching, I would see text dependent questions at least every hour.  In your team meetings and in our upcoming staff meeting in two weeks, we will focus on HOW to meet my challenge for you – this is the work of the teams!”

Now, I know for some of you reading this, you might be thinking, “But WAIT – we have 10,000,000,000 things we have to do, how do we focus on just one?”

Well – that’s how it works.  Momentum starts small, but habitual.  You cannot be habitual with text dependent questioning (for example), when you are focusing on 4-5 other things…things get lost in the shuffle and we end up spending a whole lot of time on a bunch of little things and the results are less than stellar.  When the results are less-than stellar, we tend to drop doing whatever it is didn’t get us the desired result.

So, trust me on this.  Have the conversation with your staff – be honest, be clear and get started on ONE THING.

Yep, just ONE.