Deepening Common Core State Standard Understanding Through Professional Learning Communities

As schools across the nation make the transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many educators find that it is difficult for a school staff to develop shared understandings of the new standards and their instructional implications. The lack of shared understanding can impede instructional coherence and lead to unfocused professional development. At Lighthouse Community Charter School, I found that teachers and administrators did not yet have a shared understanding of the instructional demands of the CCSS for writing. Research has shown that people need to feel psychologically safe to make the kinds of transformational instructional changes recommended by the CCSS. Many of the key indicators of a psychologically safe community are present in effective professional learning communities (PLCs). I facilitated a PLC, consisting of teachers and administrators, that explored the CCSS for writing. We learned about the standards through experiences like using exemplar pieces, analyzing student work, and doing the writing ourselves that the CCSS demands of our students. Through surveys, PLC meeting minutes and classroom observations, I studied increases in shared language, vision, and instructional practices consistent with the CCSS. Through the work of the PLC, the participants used increased shared language, and also had more aligned visions of the instructional implications of the CCSS. Teachers began or continued to align their writing lessons to the CCSS. Lastly, implementing varied participation structures within meetings and shorter lesson observations proved effective.

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