I recently had the privilege and pleasure of traveling to two beautiful towns — Harrah, Oklahoma and Lebanon, Missouri — and speaking to two beautiful groups of teachers about the non-freaked out approach to the Common Core that we in the Teaching the Core movement have been working on over the past year.
On my way home, I read through over 300 feedback forms. As I was doing so, I saw plenty that I need to work on as a presenter and facilitator — which is awesome. I put the feedback forms aside and kept driving, processing what I had read. (I know, I know — reading feedback forms is not an ideal thing to multitask while driving. I was excited, okay?)
But then a dude on a podcast I was listening to started saying something like, “Serving the people around us is about figuring out who the bad guys are and taking them on. In your niche, who are the bad guys? Who are the dragons?” He went on to say that, if we are to serve the people in our niches, we need simply to create swords for killing those dragons; we need to wage war on those bad guys.
At this point, my mind exploded.
Defining the bad guys
Part of the NFO Approach sessions I led involved participants close reading two complex texts and then creating text-based arguments to both affirm and negate a debatable statement drawn from one of the texts. One of the complex texts was by a dude named Michael McShane, and in the text he basically argues that, while the Common Core State Standards may not be inherently bad, their positive or negative impact will be determined in how well they are implemented.
And implementation, McShane argues, faces some gargantuan obstacles.
So that was swirling around in my brain, along with this whole question of bad guys and swords, along with these PD feedback forms.
And before I share who the bad guys are in my opinion, let me just state that I love focusing on problems I can tackle, and I despise focusing on problems I can't touch.
That's why I love focusing on problems in my classroom because I am the single greatest influencer on what happens in my classroom. At the same time, I hate focusing on problems like “the public has a low opinion of teachers.” It's one of those problems where, the more you whine about it the worse it's actually going to get.
So who are the bad guys in education right now, the ones we can actually take on — particularly pertaining to the Common Core?
Bad Guy #1: An abundance of mediocre (or worse) “Common Core aligned” resources
I don't blame teachers for looking for lesson plans online. I've done it. And sometimes you find gold.
The problem is, you often don't find gold. Fool's gold is more common.
Or radioactive, brain-melting sludge.
Fool's gold in today's mountain of edu-resources is simple: anything with “Common Core aligned” slapped onto it that isn't actually Common Core aligned.
As McShane points out, anyone can put a Common Core sticker on a textbook or a Teachers Pay Teachers lesson. The resulting over-abundance of non-Common-Core-aligned “Common Core aligned” stuff is a veritable nightmare. Well-meaning teachers (and their students) get pwned by the subterfuge — heck, even well-meaning administrators get pwned. Entire districts can think they're aligning to the CCSS when, in fact, they are only aligning to someone's goals of lining their pockets with Common Core booty.
The solution, in my book, is simple: rather than seeking to buy our way out of CCSS implementation through “Common Core aligned” lesson plans, let's pick the biggest-bang-for-your-buck standards, learn and internalize them, and make resources that work in our specific settings. You know what I'm talking about:
- Go big on argument
- Read complex texts purposefully and often
- Write purposefully and often
- Speak purposefully and often
- Teach grit and self-control (not in the Common Core, but critical for college and career readiness)
Boom. The non-freaked out approach.
It's simple. It's proven. It empowers teachers with a working knowledge of the Core. It creates a common language and vision across content areas. It's something we teachers can own and adapt to our unique settings.
But how do we get there, to where teachers own the gist of the CCSS and work together to get better and better at nailing the biggies? This brings us to Dragon #2.
Bad Guy #2: Mediocre PD
I'm not pointing fingers in any direction; I'm simply putting my finger on the pulse of just about every teacher I've ever met: useful PD is way too rare.
And let's be honest: part of this is our fault as teachers. I swear that, for some of my friends, if Jesus himself walked in and led a professional development session, the second he was done they'd be like, “Well, that's easy for him to say — he's retired.”
Let's just admit that we are lucky our students tend to have more grace toward us than we tend to have toward those who lead our PD.
But even with that being said, let's also establish that, too often, PD decisions aren't made by empowered teachers.
Both sides — PD providers and PD recipients — need to up their game.
There needs to be less talking at the audience and more time for interaction and processing.
There needs to be less passive receiving of information and more active listening and practicing.
There needs to be more collaboration between teachers and administrators about what PD we need and how we can reasonably get it.
I'm not saying any of this is easy; I'm just saying it's something we have the power to influence. It's a dragon we can make swords for.
Let's get after it.
Who are your bad guys?
If you appreciated this post, would you do me two favors?
First, share it with someone who has the power to influence PD in your school. A department chair, an administrator, a central office person — send it along. Also, if you haven't seen it yet, I do offer PD — you can learn more about it here and here. I'd love to visit your school or area.
Second, leave a comment below telling me the bad guys you see in education — remember, I like to focus on things we can solve.
At the end of the day, I want Teaching the Core to be a place you can come to get good swords.