Common Core Implementation- Reflecting on the “How”


“As challenging as it must have been to write and finesse the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, that accomplishment is nothing compared to the work of teaching in ways that bring all students to these ambitious expectations.  The goal is clear.  The pathway is not.” – From Pathways to the Common Core – Lucy Calkins,


I am sure like most of my colleagues across the nation, I am spending a significant portion of my time engaged in work that will help our districts, schools, and classrooms transition to full implementation of the Common Core Standards.  I feel fortunate to work with a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and dynamic team of educators, and what I know is that every time we sit down together to evaluate and modify our plan, we get reminded of just how many pieces there are in the puzzle, and also how important this work is.  I wrote a post awhile ago focused on the “why” of Common Core and how it is essential to help educators understand the “why” and not just the “what” of the standards, but where I find I am spending most of my time and mental energy these days is on the “how”.  Leading a successful change initiative is no easy task, but what I am noticing is that asking the right “how” questions is helping us be really thoughtful in planning, designing and implementing the steps that ultimately get us closer to full implementation.  So I thought I would share the questions that so far have been driving our work.  It is a work in progress and new questions get added as needed (in fact one was added yesterday based on a great dialogue I had with some of my colleagues from other districts).  I also tried to put them in somewhat of an order that made sense based on where we have been and where we are going on this journey.

  • How do we increase awareness of the Common Core Standards for all of our stakeholders?
  • How do we build the Common Core into our work over time?
  • How will we make connections between the Common Core and work we are already doing?
  • What might get in our way of a successful implementation, and how can we plan for these things?
  • How will we build capacity of our Educational Leadership Team (district and site leaders) to lead the Common Core initiative?  What do they need to know and be able to do to be successful?
  • How will we collaborate with our teachers’ union as we move this initiative forward?
  • How will we build shared leadership and ownership of the Common Core initiative?
  • By the time we begin full implementation of the Common Core standards, how will we ensure all administrators and teachers see a piece of themselves in the work?
  • How will we plan for and deliver professional learning opportunities?
  • How do we sort and sift through all of the resources available to find the best ones that will support our transition to the Common Core?
  • How will we include what may seem as separate initiatives (i.e. technology, English learners, Response to Intervention) into a single Common Core initiative?
  • How will we modify our District assessment system and what are the anticipated obstacles?

While not “How questions”… here are two that I have asked of principals recently that have sparked good reflection and dialogue…

  • What will schools and classrooms look like, sound like, and feel like when the Common Core is fully implemented?
  • What will we no longer see in our schools and classrooms when the Common Core is fully implemented?

If  you are grappling with other  questions that are assisting you in moving the Common Core forward in your school or district, I would love to hear what they are.  While the work is all-encompassing, I believe it is good and impactful work.  It is also work that is allowing us to reach across state lines and collaborate with colleagues across the country.  Powerful stuff!

8 thoughts on “Common Core Implementation- Reflecting on the “How”

    • Where do we START? Define the objectives. Here’s a description of what needs to be done and how this step supports implementation –

      The how questions of CCSS implementation becomes much easier to answer when the objectives are clearly defined. The CCSS do not directly specify content, only goals. The problem is, these goals can be interpreted in many ways. Without breaking the standards down first, implementation confusion is inevitable.

  1. Shelley,

    Well written!! I expressed my appreciation on Twitter, but felt strongly that a comment was also warranted.

    You have addressed the focus of your schools and your district, and the focus of all schools and districts across our nation. As we grow closer to the 2014-2015 school year, and the new Smarter Balanced Assessments, we work with a great sense of urgency to ensure teachers within our schools understand how we must alter our instructional behaviors to meet the demands of the CCSS. The questions you have asked are some of the very same questions many of us ask ourselves and our leadership teams everyday. In your post, you describe how you are leading your district to ensure you do this work the right way. As a colleague, I commend the work that you and your district are completing. It is clearly evident that you undertstand the importance of doing this work the right way, and that will benefit every member of your school community.

  2. Wow, Mark! Thank you for your kind words about our work. I agree with you wholeheartedly that we have to lead this effort the “right way”. It is extremely complex but rewarding in so many ways. I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and to comment on the post. I would love to hear about some of the things you are doing in your district as well – we are all in this together!

  3. The how questions of CCSS implementation become much easier to answer when the objectives are clearly defined. The CCSS were indeed difficult to produce because they required political acceptance and could not directly specify content, only goals. The problem is, these goals can be interpreted in many ways. Further, the process of unpacking the standards is complex and time consuming.

    One of the comments asked, where do we START? We say, define the objectives. Here’s a description of what needs to be done and how this step supports implementation –

    Tom Sundstrom

  4. Shelley,
    I love your last two questions. I think we can do all the planning, visioning, and learning on our pathway to the Core but still be lost if we don’t have a picture in our minds about how a classroom will look and sound differently. When I walk into a classroom where the teacher is “implementing the Core” (his/her words) and I see desks in a row and students with worksheets, I know that there is still more work to be done on the “how.” Requiring more books to be read or research papers to be written is not at the heart of the Common Core. Instead it is a mindset that we can all do better, and we must in order for our students to achieve the promise of “gold” in Lucy Calkin’s book Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement.

    • Agreed. I think having the picture in our minds of what it will and will not look like is powerful. I also love your comment about the shift in mindset… Thank you for your thoughts!

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