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How secondary school principals can master the Common Core

School leaders will have to ensure teachers have the necessary knowledge to put Common Core standards into practice.

As states move toward implementing the Common Core State Standards, school principals must ensure they are fully equipped to help classroom teachers incorporate the standards as effectively as possible.

Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., have adopted the Common Core standards, and 90 percent of U.S. students are covered by the standards, said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), during an AEE webinar that examined how principals can ensure that students will be ready to master the new college- and career-ready standards and can demonstrate this mastery on the new 2014 state assessments.

While states are in various stages of implementing the standards, “principals play a critical role in this work,” Wise said.

“Leading secondary school principals and experts see the Common Core implementation as an opportunity” for schools to put into motion changes that have proven effective in transforming teaching and learning, Wise said.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holiday recently observed that the state’s educators face a challenge in identifying high-quality, engaging instructional resources that support and reinforce the new Common Core State Standards—something that is true for all states, said Tracey Lamb, principal of Fulton County High School in Hickman, Ky. Kentucky was the first state to adopt the common standards.

The state has been working on aligning its instruction to the Common Core State Standards since June 2010, and all schools in the state participate in high school and college readiness tests in grades 8, 10, and 11. Some efforts include revising curriculum maps and pacing guides, and making samples of instructional units available to help teachers.

Lamb said there are a handful of key ways a principal can lead his or her school’s change efforts when it comes to implementing the Common Core standards:

  • Become educated on the Common Core State Standards inside and out.
  • Actively participate in all available trainings offered, and apply lessons learned.
  • Use all tools available through your state and district.
  • Build capacity within your school building.
  • Make sure vertical alignment occurs between elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Use free apps, such as the Common Core Standards app.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities and peer networking.
  • Ensure time is built in for teachers to use and implement the Common Core standards for instruction and assessment.
  • Monitor, monitor, monitor progress.
  • Provide time for teachers to analyze data and make necessary revisions.

In addition to these key steps, Kentucky has created Leadership Network Cohort Trainings, which are modeled on the most current research-based data available on effective professional development. There are eight cohorts in the state, and the program focuses on capacity-building. Teams from school districts attend training and obtain resources, and as a team they put together a plan regarding how they will deliver those materials and that knowledge to their own staff.

The state also recently implemented the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System—a program that lets teachers access Common Core standards, programs of study, deconstructed standards, student information, and more.

Principals can perform “learning checks” three or four times a year to ensure that teachers are on target and that students understand the material, Lamb said. Classroom walk-throughs with meaningful, immediate feedback to teachers, as well as honest evaluations of teachers, is key.

“Average isn’t good enough,” said Mel Riddile, associate director for high school services with the National Association of Secondary School Principals and a former high school administrator. “The Common Core, and those of us who have really worked to increase the number of college- and career-ready students, see this as the best opportunity we’ve had in a long time, and with that opportunity comes challenges.”

The Common Core effort is causing a “major shift” in the education conversation, Riddile said, because it will force educators and administrators to measure something different and new.

“This is about a second order change—we have to learn new skills, new habits, and new behaviors. We have to unlearn what bad habits we have,” he said.

School leaders must know what their school’s teachers know about the standards, and they must be knowledgeable about what needs to be done in the classroom as well as what must be done on a building level.

“This is a big culture change for schools,” Riddile said.

School principals will need vision, focus, and a positive mindset as the process continues.

“The fidelity of implementation of these standards is going to be the ‘make it or break it’ issue,” Riddile said. “We’ll have to collaborate [and] share leadership throughout the school; leaders are going to have to grow more leaders … and build the collective capacity of our staff.”

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Laura Ascione

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