Go around the brambles

With all the changes occurring in the field of education, it’s understandable that teachers feel overwhelmed. Common Core and new technology are enough to make an already stressful job even worse.

This is where the words of Marcus Aurelius can help:

The cucumber is bitter? Then throw is out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around. That’s all you need to know.

Is technology overwhelming you? Then use only what you feel comfortable using. Is Common Core stressing you out? Then teach the great lesson plans you’ve always taught and find one small way they relate to the new standards.

Life is all about perspective. Sometimes we construct anxiety needlessly. If we make small steps of progress and forget perfection, then we’ll find a certain amount of peace in tumultuous times.

P.S. All times are tumultuous–especially in education. 

Welcome to change

For school districts across the country, there are a lot of changes happening right now.

Common Core

Curriculum adoptions

New technology

That last one incorporates a lot. The technology that teachers can use to enhance pedagogy is truly remarkable, and there’s never been another time in history that it’s being developed at such an incredible rate.

There are some educators who are up to the challenge and dive into the use of new apps and devices. Others may not try everything, but rather decide to curate best-practices.

There are also teachers who feel skeptical. “It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They’ve been teaching well for years, so technology is a disruption.

Then there are teachers who are afraid of technology. They’d like to be knowledgeable, but there’s just too much. Combine the many devices and websites with the implementation of Common Core this year, and it’s enough to send some people over the edge (or to an early happy hour).

Here’s what we need to keep in mind: Education is always in a state of flux. Change, disruption, uncertainty–these words will be used to describe schooling for many years to come. Teachers must embrace the unknown and set their minds on the fact that being uncomfortable is an ongoing reality. Is this a bad thing? Not really. Treading water makes a person stronger. As long as we can keep our heads above water, work hard to embrace innovation within the field of education, and learn how to teach rigorous courses at the high levels Common Core demands, the students will thrive.

Common Core implementation

When great ideas are born, it’s truly an occasion to celebrate. When a business or institution has an exciting vision it wants to make a reality, people clamor to participate and turn the imaginary into reality. The challenge to succeed is enough of a thrill for many to go all in–even if the monetary payoff isn’t spectacular.

We know that hard work is what’s needed for ideas to flourish. Overnight success is rare, and many times those individuals or businesses that seem to be overnight successes have actually been at it for a really, really long time.

When the right amount of time and effort have been put forth, then and only then is it time to ship the work. The product might not be perfect. In fact, it probably won’t be. But that’s when you take feedback into consideration and retool the product so it performs better.

Sometimes, shipping basically means “implementing”–like when a business starts a new program, a computer company releases updated software, or U.S. education implements new learning standards.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the K-12 standards that almost every state has begun implementing. In 2010, California adopted the CCSS to no fanfare or outcry. Now, in 2014, the standards are in the classrooms, and people are voicing their opinions. Loudly.

I happen to like the CCSS. Are they perfect? No. Should we consider them living documents that must change regularly? Of course. So I don’t believe the hostility against the standards themselves is warranted.

Here’s my concern: We’re not handling the CCSS implementation wisely.

  1. The standards are being shipped without enough work and piloting. It’s a rush job. Remember, when you ship, you have to sacrifice the initial blood, sweat, and tears. The product won’t be perfect, but sufficient effort was invested. Pulling teachers out of the classroom to create lesson plans and pacing guides is not going to reap the same rewards as paying curriculum specialists, who don’t have the current responsibility of teaching in the classroom, to collaborate on effective learning strategies.

  2. The implementation is bureaucratic in every sense of that ugly word. Checking boxes and including long strings of standards are taking the lion’s share of time, while planning quality lesson and writing effective assessment tools are falling by the wayside. This may be why New York teachers are withdrawing their Common Core support.

  3. A positive aspect about the CCSS (although it could be viewed as a negative) is that it’s broad enough to allow for teacher autonomy and creativity. Educators can use their own gifts to bring the standards to life for their students without being forced to teach with a “one size fits all” mentality. Imagine the Common Core is our galaxy and the teacher is a spaceship that can roam about with his or her students and mine the planets and stars for all their worth.

  4. A sloppy and hasty implementation will upset teachers–even good teachers. If the opportunity for buy-in by the majority of people who will be teaching the CCSS is destroyed, then the Common Core will go the way of No Child Left Behind, which means it’s back to the drawing board. This, in turn, will set the newly credentialed teachers on a swift bus to the town of Jaded.

In short, the CCSS is going to fly or plummet based upon its implementation. If it continues in the box checking way it’s headed, then Icarus is going to fall, baby. If there’s some humanity, compassion, thought, and time infused within the rollout, then the wax won’t melt and our kids will soar.

Hidden curriculum

I’m a big proponent of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Maybe you are, too. Everyone can agree society should strive to provide students with challenging standards and objectives that will benefit them academically and professionally.

Common Core is great, but we can’t forget the hidden curriculum great teachers pass on to students–concepts such as inspiration, motivation, and grit. Mary Catherine Swanson, the founder of AVID, used the term “hidden curriculum” a lot. The longer I teach, the more I come to value these invisible traits teachers need not only employ in the classroom, but live by. This is how students’ emotional intelligence grows. It’s also how teachers stay motivated to help the neediest students.

I’m glad our nation is ironing out what will be taught academically. Now we must not neglect the hidden curriculum that’s necessary so our young people can truly thrive.

Common Core

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will do away with the California Standardized Test (CST) and replace it with an assessment aligned to the new Common Core standards.

“This is one of the most important and revolutionary changes to education policy,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, in a written statement. She said the new law will “better prepare students and teachers for better assessments that reflect the real world knowledge needed for young people to succeed in college and careers.”

I’m a proponent of Common Core. I think it’s a move in the right direction to provide all students with a high quality education. The standards are a compilation of anchor standards, and the rigor for each standard is increased as the students progress through the grades.

I wouldn’t believe all the hype and fear being disseminated through various media outlets. If you have the time, check out the math and English Language Arts standards. I think you’ll find they set the bar high and make the skills our children will be learning comparable to the highest achieving countries in the world (i.e. Finland, South Korea, and Poland).