Right now, many secondary school principals are navigating their schools through the murky waters that are the Common Core State Standards. While some are already fully immersed, others are barely getting their feet wet with the idea of requiring teachers to re-engineer how they approach classroom instruction.
Some states have opted out of the process entirely, and many more are realizing how the new standards have created a towering level of frustration for teachers. Common Core has highlighted a never-before-requested need for electronic resources that supplement textbooks and other traditional materials. The web is full of such resources (see sidebar, below), but narrowing down the most useful tools and content proved to be a challenge for my school.
Two years ago, my teachers frantically came to me with the new standards and a long list of new materials they weren’t sure we could get. A simple Web search further overwhelmed them with an even longer list of online results with no indication of where to start. I’m sure this was a common occurrence for many librarians whose schools made the change to Common Core. My fellow librarians and I spent day after day meeting with teachers and trying to help, but the process between accepting Common Core standards and implementing them could be defined in one word: disjointed.
When I realized teachers’ calls for guidance weren’t going to taper off anytime soon, I started reviewing Common Core resources from articles in School Library Journal and the American Association of School Librarians. I also turned to whatever publishers were offering at the time. The standards were so new, publishers were playing catch-up as they churned out Common Core publications with links to websites and apps. Common Core became a buzzword, but with all this new information thrown at them, teachers couldn’t keep up.
To try and mitigate the chaos, some schools had trained staff as “Common Core coaches.” The idea was to help provide peer support for teachers through the transition. Across the nation, administrators were also directed to the Literacy Design Collaborative and Inside Mathematics. Both are national professional communities of educators providing curriculum resources, content-specific professional development, model lesson plans, and instructional materials aligned with the Common Core. However, teachers weren’t being tapped at the local level to help translate the standards into classroom instruction.
Administrators were urged to allow teachers to collaborate and plan together. However, last year 60 percent of RAND Corporation’s American Teacher Panel reported spending less than one hour per week to collaborate with other teachers on lesson planning and instruction after the Common Core State Standards were implemented. I was witnessing the chaos firsthand.
Making a Difference
After reaching out, members at ILEAD USA—a continuing education library immersion program also known as Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply, and Discover—directed me to an education program grant that aims to cultivate technology skills and leadership training, and provide opportunities for collaborating on innovative projects. That spurred the effort to rally the troops and contact other librarians dealing with the same Common Core growing pains. Our team of Illinois school representatives included Katie Hauser from Elgin High School, Mindy Perry of Greenbrook Elementary School, Rachele Esola from St. Patrick High School, and Marcia Brandt of Bonfield Grade School and Herscher Intermediate School. In total, we had 84 years of educational experience between us.
Our common goal was to enable teachers to shift their focus from adapting to Common Core and instead get back to teaching. We knew we wanted to focus on developing an online tool that would offer easy access to top-notch online resources that supported new curriculum requirements, and one that would be a long-term solution. We also figured that our schools probably weren’t the only ones in the same situation.
We got started by evaluating what was available at the time, choosing to include only the best resources that met certain standards and won teachers’ approval when it came to lesson plan integration. We evaluated it all—electronic resources, websites, and apps. That’s when we realized we needed a place to host what we had found.
ILEAD USA Invests in a S.U.P.E.R. Team
Based on extensive feedback from ILEAD USA members, we opted to name our project S.U.P.E.R.—Sharing Useful Professional Electronic Resources. We also decided to host it all on www.livebinders.com.
From a conceptual standpoint, the site makes it easy to organize a diverse collection of content into a streamlined package for sharing file uploads, Google docs, Web links, videos, surveys, and presentations. Plus, by basing the organizational scheme on something that has been used in classrooms for centuries—binders and tabs—we found that users were able to intuitively navigate the platform. We knew that it would translate well for our fellow teachers, tech-savvy or not.
From our experience, we realized it was possible to essentially replicate the organization and structure of the Common Core set of standards itself. This made it easy to target areas where there was a dearth of resources. For example, we quickly identified that there are fewer resources available for high school teachers, so we placed special emphasis on gathering tools for that age group.
Our S.U.P.E.R team hails from a very diverse group of schools that represents a microcosm of U.S. schools—including affluent, rural, and lower-income public districts, as well as a private school. What we’ve created, therefore, is a tool that is fit for use not only in Illinois, but in every school district across the country.
Education professionals may be years away from fully assessing Common Core’s full impact on our schools, but one thing is clear: Principals need to offer teachers enough resources and support. Having a wide variety of readily available, fully vetted resources that support Common Core objectives not only makes teachers’ jobs easier, it frees them to bring their full creativity to bear in the classroom.
Looking back two years later, fellow librarians and teachers agree that things are much more manageable and, consequently, the S.U.P.E.R. binder has been extremely well-received by ILEAD USA members. It’s empowering to know that librarians with the simple goal of creating a better lesson planning community are now reaching numerous states, and the education community in general, where S.U.P.E.R. is spreading quickly.
Mary Jo Matousek is a school librarian in the Aptakisic-Tripp School District 102 in Buffalo Grove, IL.
Sidebar: Common Core Curriculum Resources
S.U.P.E.R. is a free collection of digital resources organized to reflect the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. This collection provides a list of educational digital resources and functions as a beginning template that teachers can easily duplicate, personalize, and maintain themselves.
Graphite is a free service designed to help preK-12 educators discover and share websites and digital Common Core curricula for their students by providing ratings and practical insights from a community of teachers.
Literacy Design Collaborative
Literacy Design Collaborative offers teachers an instructional design system for developing students’ skills. LDC helps teachers accomplish this through meaningful reading and writing assignments that are aligned to College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) and Common Core State Standards.
Inside Mathematics provides a resource for educators to provide tested Common Core mathematics lesson plans, learning tools, and support with a professional learning community.