Saturday, October 12, 2013

One Size Does Not Fit All

Most people are now entering the "meat" of the school year.  I have been very pleased with what I've seen at Warner Elementary.  Our students are working hard, they're creating, they've been positive and they are learning to be proactive.  Our staff has been terrific!  The teachers have handled the technology integration with professionalism and they are working hard to meet all student needs.  I've been pleased. My biggest issues this year have been the building budget, standardized test materials, getting the technology to do what we need and learning about our new students.  In a nutshell things have been very positive...not easy...but definitely positive.

As I say all that something smacked me in the face a short time ago.  It's called the Common Core.  I have never been against the Common Core.  I was the guy that believed that anything that wasn't a GLCE was a good thing.

As a 5th grade teacher some time ago, I was under the "delusion" that I HAD to cover ALL of the GLCE's.  This was frustrating.  I've written about this in a previous posts... Mile Wide and An Inch Deep .  When I first came to Western over four years ago I sat down with @susankhaney and that's when she shared the philosophy about "Power Standards or Power Objectives".  She went on to tell me that each grade level and subject had 8 Power Objectives.  It made so much sense!  I literally said, "Why didn't I think of that?"

When word first came out that Michigan was strongly looking at the Common Core, I was excited.  I was excited for a National Vision.  I was excited for fewer Standards. I was excited to get rid of GLCE's.  When I went to conferences I heard people discussing the ability to "dig deeper" and "master content".  I loved all of this talk.  I believed this was exactly what we needed.  Now I'll admit, it is a change and I didn't think this would be all roses from day one.  But I did support the Common Core movement.

Now that I'm watching it in action and I've been able to look closer I see something that frightens me.  I see that while it is more narrowed than what the GLCE's may have been, it is still too broad.  There is a lack of spiraling...which makes me wonder about the validity, but I see it as still very broad.  If teachers try to "master" or "dig deeper" on every standard they will move too slow.  In some ways it feels like a rat race!

So what do we do?  Well, this week we began to take positive steps forward.

First, in the area of Math CCSS, there are approximately six standards that are the "power standards". These six make up 75% of what Smarter Balanced believes to be most critical.  By focusing on these "Big" six we are lessening the load a bit.

Second, we are pumping the brakes on our common assessments and standard based grading initiatives. These are still very important topics that we want to have accomplished, but until we have a better handle on curriculum we must pump the brakes.

Third, we are having vital discussions.  This is critical.  Without open communication, people become angry and disgruntled and then morale suffers.  This is not a matter of winning and losing.  This is a matter of working together, compromising and moving forward the best we can.

So now what?  I'm going to share why I believe the shift to the Common Core is very difficult.  (I've already said it is too broad, but there is another reason...)

The Common Core is a set of standards.  It is not a curriculum.  Our government is struggling with this concept.  As a district we have adopted the MAISA units which is essentially our curriculum. Here is the catch.  During the time of GLCE's, districts would purchase curriculum(s).  It could be EveryDay Math or Reading Street, Pearson, Houghton name it.  This curriculum matched the GLCE's...or at least came close.  It wasn't rocket science as a teacher.  You had your basal or text book and you had to begin in the front of the text and end near the rear of the text.  Of course you still had to be a teacher, you still had to adjust and modify.  

The Common Core in all of its broadness has allowed for greater flexibility.  (Of course text book companies will tell you they align with Common Core-- what else would they say?)  This flexibility can be viewed in multiple ways.  I believe this has created three specific viewpoints:

1) The Educator that is feeling scattered, discombobulated or frustrated.  This is the person that craves crystal clear direction, structure and the base of a text.  This educator does a very good job when he/she is confident in materials, resources, pace and a common message.

2) The Educator that is feeling a bit scattered, but mainly enthused by the new found freedom.  This person enjoys finding materials and resources and creating lessons to meet educational targets.  At times this person may feel self conscious about pacing and rigor, but for the most part they enjoy the professional freedom to meet student needs in the way they believe is best.

3) The blended Educator.  This person is a blend of the above two.  This person enjoys freedom, but only to a degree.  This person works best with a base to fall back on.  Ultimately the blended educator has strengths and weaknesses.  When they feel most comfortable they enjoy the freedom to create and pull from other areas.  Yet, when they are not as confident they want to lean on a consistent structure or resource of a textbook.

From a personal standpoint I like the freedom and individuality that the Common Core allows.  The last thing I want is for teachers to feel "handcuffed" and forced to do lessons a certain way.  I do know in some countries every teacher is supposed to be on a specific page, on a specific day.  I realize this is extreme, but the point is that Educators are professionals. As a professional, I want to be trusted to teach my students the way I believe is best.

From an administrative standpoint I want teachers to have the tools to be their best.  Some will want autonomy and freedom, others will need a text or basal.  I need to support teachers and help them be their best.  This is why I left Friday disappointed.  I reflected about our staff meeting and I heard the voices echoing in my head.  I wish I could have been the leader that made a profound statement that eased everyone's frustration.  I wish I could have provided that "silver bullet" approach that people would have left the meeting feeling as though Ben was going to make this okay.  I didn't, and because of this I felt a feeling of disappointment.  

I have confidence in our district.  We will find a balance.  I do believe the Common Core is a game changer.  We won't find the perfect fix overnight, but with collaboration, problem solving and a positive attitude I'm confident we can do this together.

This Week's Big Question(s):  How do we move forward?  Are you part of the problem solving effort?

Next Week At A Glance:

Monday, October 14th:  1:1 Leadership meeting 1pm
Monday, October 14th:  MEAP make-ups grades 3-5 in the AM
Tuesday, October 15th: Flu shot clinic at Administration Building
Tuesday, October 15th:  1st Grade to Safetyville
Tuesday, October 15th:  MEAP testing (math)
Wednesday, October 16th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45
Wednesday, October 16th:  String Team at 3pm
Wednesday, October 16th:  MEAP testing (writing/science)
Wednesday, October 16th:  MacAirs will be used by 5th grade to complete online Science MEAP tests. Thursday, October 17th: 1st Grade to Safetyville
Thursday, October 17th:  Crisis Response Meeting
Friday, October 18th: 4th Grade to IndianBrook Farms
Friday, October 18th:  Lockdown Drill in the AM

*  Fall Festival is coming:  Three Questions that I need you to let me know about.
1 - Do you need prizes for your game?
2 - Do you need times filled to relieve you or someone else?
3 - Do you need assistance with a game or idea for a game?

Articles Worth Reading:

And Then I Met A Teacher +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

The Art of Managing Middle School Students by Ben Johnson

Feeling defeated or tired already? +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

The most creative hour of our day +Erin Klein @KleinErin

Choose Your Own Adventure +Joe Sanfelippo @Joesanfelippofc

12 Conversation Starters: What Parents want (teachers) to know +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

Being Connected Saved My Career +Tony Sinanis @Cantiague_Lead

Invitation to a Dialogue: Don't Teach to the Test shared by +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

Maybe She'll Put It On Twitter +Shannon Degan @shannondegan - @studiobree

Embracing the Unknown @DCulberhouse

60 Ways To Make Life Simple Again +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Northern Hills School Song +Curt Rees @CurtRees

Videos Worth Watching:

Malala on the Daily Show! (5 Min)

"When You Say Nothing At All" (3 min)

"Perfect" the story of a Father's transformation... (14 min)


  1. Great post, Ben! And that video "Perfect" is amazing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Malala's strength inspires me and that last video was powerful, too! Thanks for supporting us as we wade through Common Core this year!