Recently, I attended a School Leaders Network meeting and was struck by the challenges facing leaders operating schools in the midst of changing standards and assessments. As one member mentioned, “It’s like we’re changing an airplane while in flight.”
While, by and large, the principals we have the privilege of working with are excited about the changes that will come with the Common Core (more rigorous education for kids, new approaches to assessment, greater access and opportunity to careers and college, etc.), they are equally anxious about the steep learning curve ahead – for everyone – teachers, students, parents and families, and themselves.
The SLN Principals surfaced three large challenges during the evening:
- How to get on top of all the information related to the standards and adopted state test, while working 60+ hours a week.
- How to determine how much, how fast, and how hard to push teachers to change as they prepare for the coming years.
- How to communicate a sense of calm and assurance to teachers while experiencing personal anxiety about making it all happen.
I’m too busy to stay current!
While leading students and teachers must take precedence over everything today, it is essential that every principal make time each week to stay abreast of the changing landscape. A few tricks with this:
- Build one hour into your weekly schedule and hold yourself to this time. Remember, if you don’t know where you’re going – it’s unlikely you’ll get there.
- Don’t look for everything – follow your most pressing questions. Some great ones I heard this week: What does the assessment look like? When can I expect to have access to a formative assessment? How do I help teachers know what’s coming? (Tip: If these are your questions, try this terrific blog for a great update: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/state-of-the-common-core-vanessa-vega)
- Keep a shortlist of the best, most informative sites. Vanessa Vega suggests these:
- "Engage New York provides Common Core-aligned lessons and videos.
- Share My Lesson provides free Common Core-aligned lessons for ELA and Math, vetted and supported by the American Federation of Teachers.
- The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education describes how Common Core Standards can be combined with career-based learning to support high-quality, relevant 21st century instruction.
- The National Parent Teacher Association provides grade-level guides in ELA and math to keep parents informed and engaged.
- The Council of Great City Schools has created "parent roadmaps" that provide grade-level guides to Common Core Standards in ELA and Math."
Push my teachers?
No one likes to be pushed. Change is hard, and resistance is a natural reaction. Keep in mind - fear is the most common underlying emotion underneath resistance. People do not want to fail. And teachers don’t want to fail in front of their students. It takes time, practice, and in many cases learning from unsuccessful attempts to master something new. That said, while it’s essential that leaders be compassionate and patient with teachers, they also need to apply gentle and continuous pressure so that ultimately teachers are able to make these shifts for kids.
- Make it okay for teachers to risk failure while trying on new practice.
- Encourage teachers to take baby steps, starting with new practices that seem the most natural for them.
- Celebrate teachers’ attempts with new practices (even when they’re not as stellar as you want).
- Help teachers see what it looks like; model Common Core teaching during your professional development and by showcasing great teacher practice on your campus. If one of your own is creating hubs of engaging, collaborative, rigorous problem-based learning – this can help others know instruction of this nature within your school context is possible.
- The Teaching Channel provides videos showing Common Core-aligned lessons.
Check out Achieve for a helpful leadership resource that identifies next steps leaders can take to implement Common Core practices.
Maintaining composure in times of change
Principals already know - it’s not just teachers who are experiencing the discomfort of change with the shift to the Common Core. It is important that principals maintain a presence of composure throughout these turbulent times ahead. It is also important the leaders take excellent care of themselves. Here are a few tips we recommend:
- Recruit and engage teacher leaders to help you with school leadership. Change is much more palatable when coming from a group of individuals that include teachers.
- Find a group of principals that you trust that you can turn to for advise, troubleshooting, and resources. Now, more than ever, principals need each other.
- Take care of yourself, mind and body. Get good rest, physical exercise, eat right, and maintain activities that feed your soul. Principals often sacrifice these things for the children they serve, until their internal resources are so depleted they simply can’t continue.
So, onward and upward! Remember, principals have one of the most challenging and important jobs in the world. We’re proud to be connected to so many individuals who make a difference