This need for a clearly defined vision of instruction opens a new window of opportunity as the educational leader of your school or district. Buzz words and phrases fill the air. You hear, “an inch wide and a mile deep,” “depth of knowledge,” “build conceptual understanding,” and more, but what does it all mean? What does it look like in practice? Answering these questions so that teachers and students have the guidance they need for success is the task for the educational leader now and in the future.
To help you communicate this integrated vision of deeper learning so that your teachers can appreciate what is required and are confident to teach for understanding rather than checking standards off the list, I make these three suggestions.
First, begin with the end in mind. Sounds cliché? Perhaps, but it is important. You have to begin by understanding what you want CCSS instruction to look like, sound like, and feel like in your building. You must take time to formulate a clear vision before you can communicate it with success. Nothing is worse for teachers than to be given vague statements from a leader who has not done his/her own study and developed a vision based on the experience of grappling with the new ideas.
Teachers are like any other people. They desire to know what is expected. They want direction as to how to get there. They want to have their questions answered with certainty by someone with intimate knowledge of the issue.
As the leader, take time to read the standards for yourself, and then ponder:
- What does implementing these standards look like?
- How will we know if our students have mastered them?
- How will we measure success?
- Does our measurement of success match the expectations of the standards?
- If we are not checking them off a list, how do we assess them?
By taking time to read the standards, understand the integration, and visualize the implementation you will have a solid base for communicating what you want your teachers to know and be able to do.
Second, be mindful of how you present this information to your staff. Consider, what is your most effective style of communicating new information? Do you believe in the one long faculty meeting? Are you the sort of leader that works best with small groups? Do you have a structure in place that supports more than one conversation on this topic?
The CCSS is a big shift for teachers and students. It is not typically something that can be accomplished in a “one and done” type of meeting. Knowing how you work best and developing a time-line of multiple communications in your preferred style will bolster your ability to communicate clearly and at a pace and depth that teachers can handle. Having a multi-conversation plan allows you to deliver smaller pieces of information at any one time.
Bite-size pieces bring us to suggestion number three. When you discuss the CCSS with your teachers you will be sharing your educational vision for your school, but you will also have to debunk any myths that are circulating among your staff. Teachers may have heard other people saying things that aren’t true or aren’t relevant. It is part of your vision building job to set the myths straight. This ties right back to suggestion one: know your vision inside and out.
For these reasons, I suggest that you plan for multiple discussions of small bits of information at a time. This will allow for you to share the vision, debunk the myths, and most importantly, give teachers time to assimilate the new knowledge. One of the biggest complaints teachers have when learning about new mandates and implementations is that there is no time for assimilation. Teachers, just like kids in a classroom need time to think, discuss, think, and visualize before they implement. By all means, plan and provide for this critical assimilation time.
The CCSS require integration of concepts and building on lower levels of knowledge to reach new heights. The checklist approach won’t work as well this time. Educational leaders are being called upon to explain what the catch phrases, buzz words, and new expectations really mean. Use these three suggestions to help communicate what you know to your teachers so they understand the vision and are confident enough in their practice to teach for integrated understanding. First, know your vision inside and out. Second, create a plan for communicating multiple times in the format that you feel most comfortable. Third, give your teachers time to assimilate the new information and way of doing things.
Following these three suggestions will have you well on your way to clear communication with positive outcomes.