Collaboration and the Common Core: Tips from Teacher Leaders

Teachers collaborating to bring the Common Core to life—sounds simple and sensible. But what does it look like in practice? Members of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory are already knee-deep in implementation. I asked them to share some starting points for collaborating around the Common Core. Here’s their advice:

  1. Bring focus to initial discussions. Marsha urges math teachers to look closely at the mathematical practices, then ask: “How can we develop engaging lessons that put students in the position of discovering the underlying concepts?” For ELA standards, Nancy advises beginning with discussion of the six instructional shifts.
  2. Select themes and readiness descriptors with your grade-level team. After discussing the readiness descriptors for ELA and literacy standards, Sarah’s team identified cross-disciplinary themes that could “reinforce and extend content in authentic ways.” Then they explored literacy strategies and selected readiness descriptors to focus on in evaluations. “These guided us as we created rubrics and checklists, and helped us communicate consistently with parents,” Sarah reports.
  3. In cross-grade ELA teams, select a focus area for each grade. Lauren compares the ELA standards to a spiral staircase: “Reading and writing skills circle back onto themselves, growing in complexity as a student climbs. This could result in a ninth grade class looking a lot like a twelfth grade class. “Our department collectively determined a focus for each grade. Yes, we need to take all those stairs each year, but we linger on the poetry rung freshman year, critical analysis in tenth grade, and so on. We worked through the CCSS, looked at students’ developmental levels, considered each grade-level team’s strengths, and made manageable choices.”
  4. When sharing a new mathematics approach or lesson with colleagues, demonstrate the approach before explaining it.  Marie says it can be helpful to "do the collaborative activities before we discuss how to teach the concept."
  5. Make the most of technological tools. Several teachers recommend wikis, Google docs, email, Twitter,, and Diigo as ways to find resources and collaborators, or to work more effectively with colleagues. In Wendi’s district, teachers used wikispaces, creating a countywide implementation guide over an intensive (and paid) four-day period.
  6. Try using a lesson study protocol. Narrow your team’s focus to a small group of related objectives, suggests another teacher: “You can deconstruct each objective by considering the skills and knowledge needed to achieve mastery, then compare these needs to your pre-existing lesson banks. Consider the shifts in light of your current approaches and resources.”
  7. One skill at a time.  An English teacher’s colleagues were hesitant to teach more complex texts: “They look at their students who struggle to read well the materials in front of them now and cannot imagine how students will find success with harder works.  I try to help my colleagues break readings into smaller pieces and focus on one skill at a time."
  8. Remember the power of one-on-one collaboration. “Groups can get caught up with power struggles, egos, and the old ‘closed door’ philosophy, but one-on-one collaboration flows naturally from the need of the moment,” observes a Kentucky teacher.

Through collaboration, teachers can lead Common Core changes that deepen student learning. I invite you to join the CTQ Collaboratory to connect with educators across the country for support as you face this challenge (and others!).


July 09, 2013