Educator Challenges Common Core Critics
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Common Core State Standards have evoked reactions from all walks of life and from every corner and discipline with U.S. K-12 education. Educator and author Dave Stuart Jr. has taken an approach to the CCSS that many might perceive as atypical and yet refreshing. For additional insights check out our previous interview.
Dr. Berger: Dave you have tackled the divisive topic of Common Core in your practice as a teacher in your classroom. What lessons can school administrators take from your efforts when communicating the broader message and value statement to their staffs and districts?
Dave Stuart Jr.: Start with a single question: what is it that we are trying to produce as a school? Describe that ideal student: what is she like? What skills does she have? What habits? Make this as simple as you can — in my workshops, I ask participants to boil it down to a sentence. Then it’s time to look at and appraise the standards. How do these standards line up with what we’re aiming at as a school? Where do they differ?
In the case of the Common Core, I think the key aim of these standards is obvious: over 100 times, they repeat the phrase “college and career readiness.” Rather than drowning teachers in the minutiae of the standards, start with this big picture: the standards aim at college and career readiness. Can we be for that? I don’t know of a school that’s not interested in preparing students to earn a living — hopefully every school aims at more than that, too, but the standards help us with the earning a living part.
RB: Are most educators speaking in global terms like you are? It would seem that taking a big picture approach, on the surface, would be increasingly difficult as we continue to get more granular with our lens on education (ex. student and observation data). Help me understand this paradox.
DS: That’s a huge problem, Rod — we need both granular and global lenses if we’re to persist in, first of all, simply doing this work, and, secondly, doing the right work. Many teachers are lost (and stressed out) in a granular-only mindset. So while difficult, this type of global outlook is critical — the outcome, in other words, is worth the difficulty that you astutely point out.
RB: What advice do you have for fellow teachers who want to engage in more productive conversations with school leadership and how have your Common Core efforts enhanced this ability in you?
DS: Clarity, clarity, clarity. Educational talk often drowns in fuzzy thinking adorned with buzzwords. Teachers need to start by being very clear about what it is that they seek to produce. What are schools for? And then take the answer to that question and seek to make it one upon which others have common ground.One more tip: remember that no one got into education to do a bad job. Presume positive intentions. That’s enormous for starting and maintaining productive conversations with anyone.
RB: What recommendations do you have for administrations when they have to communicate school-wide policy amidst an environment that is often ripe with concerns over revolving doors with regards to new policies and procedures?
DS: That whole-building vision work is critical. Our schools need to have visions that transcend the tests of time. My school is working on this right now. In my own classroom I strive everyday to promote the long-term flourishing of every student. This means putting my philosophies aside and asking, “What can I do today that will help my students the most? How does this tie into yesterday’s work? Last week’s? Next month’s?”These kinds of questions will help us to tend to be ahead of the curve. They’ll take us out of reactionary mode. And there’s no doubt that admins today need to be brave and have faith. They need to resist giving into the fear that if we’re not pounding kids with test prep then the test is going to get us. That’s not true.
RB: Is there a way to better identify teacher leaders in our schools? Is there rationale for such identification from administrators to improve relations between both parties at-large?
DS: If I was an administrator, I’d have, in writing at all times, a draft spectrum of teachers in my building. Those on the low end of the spectrum would be getting remediated or worked toward leaving the building; those on the high end need to become teacher leaders. Being a teacher leader isn’t just about serving your school; it’s about putting yourself in situations that push and sharpen you. When my administrators asked me to lead PLC, it pushed me out of my comfort zone; there are all kinds of intangibles there for how that trickled over into my teaching and made me better.In terms of improving relations with teachers, I think it’s hard to not like a principal who leads by example and who is willing to move heaven and earth to see that the right work gets done. I respect the heck out of my principals who have said at key times that it’s doing the right work that matters, not every last bureaucratic hula-hoop.
RB: Lastly, I would be interested to know how you personally evaluate school leadership and what variables you find most important for a successful and engaging school culture?DS: I want to see leaders who lead by example. Through my work as both a classroom teacher and a PD facilitator, I’ve now experienced dozens of school cultures, and the ones that are richest tend to be those with principals who have a passionate belief in the excellence of their teachers, who aren’t afraid to speak the truth when they see bad teacher practice, and who lead authentically (meaning they admit mistakes and show shortcomings) and thoughtfulness.
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Dave Stuart Jr. has taught in an urban middle school (Baltimore, MD), a rural high school (Cedar Springs, MI), and some of the richest and poorest schools in New York City. A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core: Using the 32 Literacy Anchor Standards to Develop College- and Career-Ready Students is Dave’s first book.
The best way to get a feel for Dave’s approach is through teachingthecore.com, the blog he started in June 2012. 25,000+ readers per month already know: that Dave is unafraid to be honest and real about matters of teaching and learning.
This interview was originally published on Scholastic District Administrators “Down the Hall” column with Dr. Berger.