When policymakers and state leaders talk about implementing the Common Core State Standards, you often hear about the instructional shifts that will need to occur in classrooms to ensure that the standards have their intended impact: preparing all students for college and the workforce. The Common Core standards are drastically different from what we currently expect our students to learn and the way that we deliver that knowledge to them. The most significant difference is that instead of racing to get through a laundry list of standards, the Common Core will require teachers to go deeper in fewer areas to help students develop conceptual understanding and critical thinking skills. In order to get to this level of depth, the standards require us to transform the way we prepare teachers before they enter the classroom, provide support to current teachers, and engage students in their own learning.

Last week, I learned that in order to effectively implement the new standards, we also must be able to communicate about this work with different stakeholders.

Last Thursday, SCORE’s Rural Education Network held its first in-person meeting in Nashville to learn more about Common Core standards and the unique challenges and opportunities schools and districts will face as they continue to implement the standards in rural communities. The meeting was focused on answering three key questions: How do you build capacity for on-going professional development support in rural communities to effectively implement Common Core? How and through whom can you communicate about why the standards are important? What supports—professional development, human capital, or otherwise – do school leaders need to help their teachers effectively implement Common Core standards? More than 70 teachers, principals, superintendents, higher education faculty, state department officials, and community leaders worked to answer these questions. During the meeting, resource experts highlighted their promising practices and the challenges they face as they implement the Common Core standards. Throughout the day, participants worked in breakout sessions to answer the day’s three questions. They came up with innovative approaches to professional development, ways to collaborate within regions, and they shared resources that had been beneficial in their own communities.

Although one session of the day was solely focused on identifying communications strategies for advancing Common Core implementation, it became clear that there is a set of key messages that must be communicated in order for all aspects of implementation to be successful. The following are messages I heard communicated throughout the day:

  • Adopting the Common Core is not a binder replacement. It is a transformation not only in what students learn but also in how we deliver instruction.
  • Adopting the Common Core standards is more than a policy issue; it’s about providing students with the tools they need to be successful in life.
  • The education we have previously provided to our students is no longer enough to prepare them to be successful in the global economy.
  • Raising academic standards is a continual process. As the world continues to change, we will need to keep raising the bar.
  • Education is an investment that every community must make. All stakeholders –both inside and outside the school building– must play their part.
  • Students will need to become patient problem-solvers as they learn to go deeper in content areas. They will have to become comfortable with struggling with new material and persevering to find solutions.
  • Principals will need to be instructional leaders – as opposed to building managers or disciplinarians.

Figuring out how to communicate these messages – how to tailor them for a local context, finding the right messengers, and finding the right venue through which to communicate them – will be extremely important as Tennessee continues its work to raise academic standards in all of its communities – rural, urban, and suburban.