The artwork for the theme of New Teacher Center’s (NTC) 16th National Symposium on Teacher Induction prominently displays a magnifying glass amplifying great teaching and learning.  My second experience attending an NTC Symposium was exactly that:  an opportunity to delve deeply into the foremost issues currently affecting America’s educators.  In my role as a Local Director of our program partnership with Chicago Public Schools, I am privileged to contribute to supporting the mentors, teachers, and children of America’s third largest city.  Chicago’s educators grapple with the intensity of large urban centers: high poverty, high student need, high expectations and low resources.  Beginning teachers often wonder, “How can I possibly prepare my students for the Common Core States Standards (CCSS) given my daily demands, pressures and realities?”  I was excited to come to this year’s conference to gain concrete ideas to help ease this tension.

The keynote address, “The Common Core State Standards:  An Opportunity to Reform a System of Support for Students and Teachers,” delivered by Student Achievement Partners’ Director of Field Impact Team, Dr. Sandra Alberti, tackled this essential question.  Dr. Alberti challenged the audience to consider how to view the CCSS not as another cog in the defunct American education machine, but as an opportunity to focus on high quality teaching and learning.  To do so, she clarified the major shifts of the Common Core.  Previous state standards, Dr. Alberti explained, which have been around for over twenty years, were essentially flawed:  

  • Instead of standards, they were a long list of vague statements and mysterious assessments;
  • They focused on teacher behaviors;
  • And, most importantly, they did not improve student achievement.

The CCSS, on the other hand, are different in the following ways:

  • They consist of fewer, clearer and deeper expectations,
  • They are aligned to the requirement for college and career readiness,
  • They are based on evidence, and are honest about time commitments.  

Key shifts embedded within the new standards include:

  • Building foundational knowledge through content-rich nonfiction;
  • Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and information;   
  • Regular practice with complex text and academic language.

Dr. Alberti walked participants through provocative examples of how, as a school and district leader, daughter of a third grade teacher and mother of two elementary aged students, she sees the standards as a catalyst for greater focus on coherence and rigor in teaching to result in enhanced student learning.   

I had originally intended to attend sessions related to other conference themes, but Dr. Alberti’s keynote had me hooked!   I craved further examples of how Student Achievement Partners works with teachers and school districts to simplify their usage of the CCSS.  I decided to immerse myself in learning more about CCSS implementation by participating in Dr. Alberti’s extended learning session entitled, “Am I doing the Core?”  In this three-hour, laser focused learning opportunity, participants got messy with the Core.  We watched videos of teachers embedding principles of CCSS into their instruction.  We explored websites such as Engage NY, Achieve the Core, Teaching Channel and America Achieves that provide concrete lessons, examples and videos for CCSS implementation. We received and reviewed a copy of the Instructional Practice Guides (ILG), created by Student Achievement Partnership, to provide a common language for administrators and teachers about the CCSS shifts.  

According to Dr. Alberti, these guides are designed to drive the assessment of effective integration of the CCSS into instructional practice.  While they also support teachers in developing their practice, I loved how they also help coaches and/or mentors in directly supporting new teachers with their usage and improvement of the standards.  Mentors can use the guides to set goals with teachers in the areas of ELA/Literacy and Mathematics for singular lessons or over the course of the year.  These guides are an excellent contribution to field in that they help focus the dialogue on specific elements of the Core that concretely demonstrate incremental improvements towards larger instructional goals.  

The introduction of CCSS represents a significant opportunity for refining and improving practice to promote student learning.  Like any new initiative, the key to its’ success will be in the implementation.  Most importantly, we must support teachers by first helping them understand the standards and then giving them strategies and tools to make the necessary shifts in their practice.  Teacher mentors play a key role in this process; preparing them for this responsibility will be equally as important. The CCSS sessions at this year’s Symposium did just that and I was grateful to have had the opportunity to share in the learning.


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