Keys to Implementing Common Core Standards

Posted by James Scoolis on July 9, 2012

The movement to Common Core Standards represents a change in how students are taught.  It promotes thinking and problem solving over memorization and item knowledge.  It provides students with skills and strategies that they can use throughout their lives.  It is good for kids.   As a school or district leader you have a lot of influence on how successful this implementation will be.  Here are five important things every administrator should know and do.

Establish a clear vision for instruction.

In Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform, Michael Fullan writes,

Working on vision means examining and reexamining, and making explicit to ourselves why we came into teaching. Asking, “What difference am I trying to make personally?” is a good place to start…I cannot stress enough that personal purpose and vision are the starting agenda. It comes from within. It gives meaning to work.

Communicate your vision consistently in writing and in person to anyone who will listen—teachers, parents and students.   Communicate to your school community that adopting Common Core Standards  is a change that will build on the school or district strengths.  Your commitment comes from a desire to capitalize on teacher strengths rather than repair teacher weaknesses.  Find and compliment teachers’ areas of expertise.  Implementing the Common Core will require long-term commitment.  Support teachers with professional development and collaboration time.  Make sure you actually do what you say you are going to do.

Do not get caught up in the details of each standard.

Keep your eye on the big picture.  I am reminded of a statement about standards that I heard when the term standards first became common place in education.

“We have upped our standards. Now up yours.”

Improving or even establishing standards by themselves will not improve instruction.  Improving instruction will improve instruction; use the Common Core Standards as guides and talking points, but focus on the process of teaching.

Focus instruction on process not content.

One of the keys to the common core standards is a recognition that we cannot teach all students everything they need to know.  We can teach them how to use problem solving tools to find out what they need to know.   Access to information—on the Internet for example—is a key component of this effort.  Technology is a tool, not an end in itself.  Students should also be encouraged  to solve real world problems and communicate their thinking in blogs and websites, collaborating with peers and colleagues.

Build capacity.

Leadership is strongest when it is given and shared.  The best organizations and schools grow leaders and, in doing so, develop people. One person cannot implement the new standards.  It will take the collective effort of everyone working together. Growing leaders is a conscious act. Developing and spreading leaders throughout the school is not an accident.

Leaders grow leaders by sharing decision-making, creating an environment in which trying new ideas is the norm, and by creating a culture of continuous improvement.  Rely on in-house expertise for professional development.  Support collaboration.  Start with the willing and support them with materials and professional development opportunities.  Set them up as mentors and observe how they do.  You will probably find that some teachers are natural at being teacher leaders and others are not.  Writer’s workshop guru Lucy Calkins writes,

In general, I tend to find that the people who push to the front of the line, saying, “Oh, I would definitely be wonderful in a leadership role. I know so much!” tend not to be well accepted by their peers, and those who instead say, “I don’t feel ready for such a role, I still have so much to learn,” will fare better.


Demonstrate your willingness to be a public learner.

Start a blog, be a collaborative partner, learn how to give a common assessment, learn through common reading of professional books.  Explain to parents in writing and in person what students are learning and how they are learning it.  When others see you taking risks and doing what they are being asked to do, they will be much more likely to do so as well.


Published by

James Scoolis

James Scoolis, Ed.D., is principal of Monarch Grove Elementary School
in Los Osos, California and a member of the TICAL cadre.

2 thoughts on “Keys to Implementing Common Core Standards”

  1. James,
    I appreciate and concur with your ‘common sense’ approach to understanding, implementing, and championing the Common Core Standards. When I first read them I was almost dumbstruck with the tone throughout the document that it is okay to not only teach children what they need to know but do it in new, creative ways. You perceive this but I am not certain that many folks really, really do not understand how these standards really open the door to creativity in the classroom.

  2. Thanks Skip. I have found that teachers are relieved’ when I tell them they do not need to teach each standard to ‘mastery’ IF they have taught students how to think and reason. It makes teaching a whole lot more fun for them, too once they can embrace the inherent creativity that they embody and that they can bring out in students. And thats a nod to Sir Ken Robinson.

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