Over the past two weeks, I’ve been meeting with our PK-8 teachers at grade level meetings (content area meetings with 7-8 Math and ELA) with two purposes in mind. One, I wanted to listen. Our teachers are not alone in their implementation of new curriculum–they are supported by our curriculum coordinator and building principals and teacher leaders. I needed them to know that they have my support too, that I’m listening to them on how common core implementation is going, and that we as a leadership team are not working in isolation of the realities of the classroom. Two, I wanted to check my own thinking and know if what we planned to do this year is working in the classroom–if our leadership expectations are realistic and if so, are they clear to our teachers? As every district has made different local decisions and I know many of our teachers have friends and family in other districts, I wanted to make sure our teachers understand what we’re doing at RCS with the common core standards and the common core modules as developed by NYS (yes, they’re two different things). Today, I begin a series of posts to share our expectations with our larger school community.
I’ve been talking about making good instructional decisions for some time–it was the main idea of my opening day session with teachers both last year and this year. In some districts, the common core modules ( instructional units developed by NYS) are being implemented fully, page by page. In other districts, teachers and administrators began a couple of years ago to develop their own curriculum aligned to the common core standards. In Randolph, we have a combination of the two approaches.
Listen, no matter what the State intended K-8 curriculum may be, our teachers must make good instructional decisions for the students seated in front of them every day. If it’s a teacher at grades 7-12, those instructional decisions may be different for the period 2 Biology class to the period 11 Biology class. Our teachers are not teaching the common core modules, as developed by NYS, without consideration of 100 other factors on any given day. Most important is careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the 20-25 students seated in front of them–what background knowledge do those students have, what curriculum were they taught in prior years and what learning did they retain? What are the interests and skills of the students? All factors that great teachers have considered in planning lessons for decades.
And since the beginning of time, including when I started teaching, we have had to consider the NYS standards in our subject area and where I taught, it was a local decision that all teachers meet the Career Development and Occupational Studies standards too. We’ve had textbook materials to factor into our decisions, state tests to consider, and if we were lucky, a curriculum left by the teacher we replaced. How do the common core modules and standards come in to play now? Well, those NYS standards were pretty darn vague. Most of us complained about them and as administrators thought, “a teacher could plan any lesson she likes and simply type in a NYS standard to make it fit.” We complained that the standards needed to be a more substantial curriculum that teachers and administrators could follow. For years I have included in my leadership a goal to have a more consistent curriculum grades K-8 so that our students would have a strong, common experience not just learn something due to the luck of the draw or whatever teacher he gets that year. So now we have these curriculum modules, but we don’t know yet if they are reliable since they’re very new and are relatively untested.
So our teachers, our experts in the field, are evaluating the NYS common core modules as they align to the common core standards and as they align to our other instructional materials including iReady and Ready, our reading series materials and our data on students through formative and state test results. We don’t wish to abandon, disregard, or relegate to an “if I have time” status any of those good things we’ve been doing the past few years that have helped our students meet with greater success. We realize our mathematics K-8 curriculum has not had the emphasis needed to prepare our students for Math in high school. We began addressing that problem two years ago and have made great gains–luckily in many grade levels the modules are enhancing what we’re doing. And when we find that they’re not, or a teacher has a better way to teach something, or our students aren’t ready for a module lesson–we’re modifying and adapting. But we are aligning to a more rigorous set of standards than what we’ve had in the past (more about that tomorrow).
The analysis and study of the modules is being done largely on the fly by hard working, dedicated teachers who didn’t have the opportunity to do this in advance of the school year in any detail because the modules are still coming out from NYSED. New modules come out from the State weekly. We are using the common core modules as a curriculum resource to help us raise our standards as our students are ready. Teachers are expected to study the modules and to make good instructional decisions for their students as we continue to align our taught curriculum to the stated common core curriculum. This will take time. We are doing the best that we can in an imperfect implementation system—but always with the best interest of our students in mind. If it doesn’t feel that way in your home–please talk to your child’s teacher. In Thursday’s post, I’ll write more about homework.
Tomorrow: Why Do We Need to Change At All?