The Common Core: Is Your Change Real?

“Can’t we just make all of our decisions based on our experiences?”

This was the question of an educational leader during a professional learning session on transformation. She was a huge advocate for data-driven decision making in her school system; however, I observed that the conflict between the leader’s espoused theory and theory in use was unconsciously demonstrated by the school leaders she supervised. While all of the school leaders I observed posted signs in the offices about data-driven decision making and their conversations were laden with the term, when they shared their decisions, they made statements such as “I think,” “I feel,” “I saw” or “I heard.”

To be clear,

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However the theory that actually governs his actions is his theory-in-use, which may or may not be compatible with his espoused theory; furthermore, the individual may or may not be aware of incompatibility of the two theories (Argyris and Schön, 1974, pp. 6-7.)

With the Common Core upon us, it is critical that we maintain a reflective stance on a daily basis to ensure that our communicated theory is the actual one in use. We want to ensure that authentic transformation for student achievement occurs because of our data-based actions.

Last week I shared a tool that school leaders could use to self-assess their leadership team’s actual practices as they relate to authentic transformation. As you progress throughout the school year, you’ll want to ensure regular reflective practice, and so, today I present a new tool with a new challenge.

Consider this 7-day challenge:

  1. Document the percentage of your student-achievement related decisions that you believe are data-driven
  2. Reflect daily for 7 days on 3 decisions per day that had an impact on student achievement
  3. Write if the decisions were based on actual and tangible data, an idea you had, your feeling, something you saw elsewhere, or something you heard
  4. If the decision was driven by data, note the specific data
  5. If the decision was based on any of the other factors, note which factor
  6. Determine the percentage of decisions that were made in each category in #3 at the close of the week
  7. Document the percentage of your student-achievemnt related decisions that were actually driven by tangible data

After completing the 7 steps, answer this: are you at, above or below your predicted percentage? If at, perfect! Keep moving forward. If above, even better! Keep challenging yourself. But if you were below, then it may be time to adjust your practices to move toward authentic transformation.

Transformation toward the 21st century school requires that we do what we say and we accomplish this by challenging our own thinking. So consider this: challenge your own thinking.



Argyris, C. & Schön, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Transform versus Reform: Splitting Hairs

[Education] 1.0 is when we managed access. 2.0 is when we thought about school improvement and got pretty good at it. 3.0 is when we start to move toward a different, and we hope, transformed paradigm.

These were the words of Valerie Hannon, a director at the Global Education Leaders’ Program on the topic of redesigning education. Her statement caused me to reflect on two previous posts: one on resting on your laurels of high performance using NCLB expectations in a Common Core world and the other on authentic transformation.

Since the turn of the millennium, I have argued that instead of focusing on educational reform we should focus on authentic educational transformation, and particularly now to address the Common Core. Here’s why. At their core reform means,

to make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it

and transform means,

to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

Today I began purging my bookshelf and I noted several papers and books produced by high profile educational institutions with the similar theme of closing the achievement gap. I would argue that if we continue attempting to “close the gap” by simply making changes to an existing system, there is a high likelihood that the gap may never close.

Perhaps it is to time embrace authentic educational transformation, that is, making a thorough changes to the way we do education. Should you as  a leader decide to accept this challenge, allow me to be upfront: it won’t be easy.

Transformation occurs when leaders create a vision for transformation and a system to continually question and challenge beliefs, assumptions, patterns, habits and paradigms with an aim of continually developing and applying management theory, through the lens of the system of profound knowledge. Transformation happens when people managing a system  focus on creating a new future that has never existed before, and based on continual learning and a new mindset, take different actions than they would have taken in the past (Dasko and Sheinberg, 2005, pg. 1).

Last school year I coached a school leadership team through the process of embracing authentic transformation through the lens of a system of profound knowledge (SoPK). As a result, they experienced their highest gains in the history of the school. (Contact me if you would like to know their story.)

Therefore I advocate that if your goal as a leader is to facilitate equity in educational excellence through authentic transformation, you can do two things:

  1. Begin exploring your team’s position as it relates to SoPK by processing your thoughts using the resource below, and
  2. Expand your exploration with a progressive partnership.

Distinguishing between transform versus reform may appear to be an exercise in splitting hairs, but it is clear that reforming (improving) a system that was not designed to be functional in the 21st century may not be the answer. It’s time for Education 3.0. It’s time to transform.



Daszko, M. & Sheinberg, S. (2005). Survival is optional: Only leaders with new knowledge can lead the transformation. Retrieved from

Common Core Strategy Alignment: Professional Learning Action Steps

Two things happened on the way to writing this post.

First, I was conversing with a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) who shared that her principals needed to become better at instructional leadership. She then followed her statement by saying they did not require coaching or professional development, but they needed to be managed more instead. She has been the second CAO to share this sentiment in two years. I am bewildered.

Second, yesterday a colleague engaged in a chat on Twitter where teachers shared that they had yet to see the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am bewildered and concerned.


Strategy is defined as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.


A few months ago I stated, “accountability on its face is very simple–you do what you say you will do.”

Strategy and Accountability

Strategic plans designed to manage for accountability should function on three tiers: (1) the district level; (2) the school level and (3) the classroom level. If all three levels are not tightly aligned, then the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement will be spotty, if not illusive.

The strategic objective of improving instructional leadership with the misaligned action step of increasing how much school leaders are managed will scarcely allow for the goal of increasing student achievement.The strategic objective of increasing teacher capacity with the CCSS while teachers are still unfamiliar with the standards will simply land you in a ditch.

Most school districts have strategic plans. The system-wide plan should undoubtedly cascade to the individual level for schools’ staff if teachers and leaders are going to be held accountable for student growth on CCSS assessments.

A Missing Ingredient

A conversation I do not hear on the school level as it relates to accountability is one about strategy. I hope you are aware of you district’s strategy, but even if you are not, here are 7 discussion points for leaders and teachers to employ during instructional support sessions. They are sure to align classroom activities with district strategy.

  1. Determine the purpose of the lesson–not the content, but the purpose.
  2. Determine the level of thinking you want students to engage in. The level of thinking should align with the purpose.
  3. Determine the appropriate instructional process that best aligns with the level of thinking–process not activities.
  4. Determine the appropriate appropriate learning activities that best align with the instructional process.
  5. Determine how you will differentiate to meet the various representation and expression needs of your diverse learners.
  6. Determine the appropriate student work product. This is what’s used to assess the level of learning and thinking that occurred.
  7. Determine how you will differentiate work products to meet the various engagement needs of your diverse learners.

The visual below can support the discussion.

Dr. B's LD Decision Tree

If we simply talk about alignment without ensuring it occurs, then that’s all it is–talk. Talk alone will not lead to increased student achievement. Strategy, alignment and intelligent support will. The Core Deconstructed will also.

Close Reading the Common Core: Professional Learning Action Steps

I tend to keep my voice out of the “to be or not to be a Common Core proponent” debate. I have made this choice because, in my opinion, that is not the critical argument. Regardless of whether the standards are embraced, we–educators–still need to get clear. We must get clear on topics such as how do we define critical thinking; how do we decide on the appropriate learning process in relation to the purpose for learning; how do we interpret the language of the standards; how do we coach for performance excellence and my list can go on.

Earlier today I read an article written against the CCSS that gave me pause. I won’t cite the source because it is not my intention to incite a negative disposition. On the contrary, my desire is to encourage insightful dialogue. In the article the author stated,

According to the […] Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice,” first-graders are expected to “decontextualize — to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents — and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved.” I’m sorry, but that is further out there than Pluto, and I have no idea what that means. Neither will 7-year-olds and their hapless teachers.

This gave me pause because of the suggestion that  a 7-year-old nor their unlucky teacher would be able to interpret the supporting language of the standards. My immediate thinking-outloud thought was, “I do not believe the CCSS’ authors intended for 7-year-olds to read that; however, they most likely intended for professionals who should be knowledgeable about pedagogy and their discipline to be able to interpret the language–even if it required several attempts.”

My response reminded me of a professional learning session I delivered to school leaders two years ago. In the session they were required to engage in close reading in order to understand and reflect on it so that they could improve their ability to lead literacy.

Let me be clear: close reading can be challenging.

That being said, the majority of school leaders (instructional leaders) balked at the process indicating that there was no need for them to learn the “how” or “why” of close reading in order to evaluate and support teachers. (Please note that there was a silent minority who disagreed with this position.) The questions I asked and continue to ask are these: If you’ve never done it before and aren’t familiar with close reading, how can you evaluate and support others in their delivery of the process? Furthermore, how much value do you believe your teachers will ascribe to your feedback and how might their attitudes contribute to your culture of adult learning in the short and long run? Finally, how might the impact on your adult learning culture influence student learning?

Now as I remove myself from the “to be or not to be” debate, I leave you with a practical recommendation: Close Reading the Common Core – Professional Learning Action Steps.

  • Step 1: Select the language of focus from the CCSS (not an actual standard, but the language about the intentions of the standards)
  • Step 2: Apply Level 1 of close reading to the language
  • Step 3: Share the results of Level 1 with peers
  • Step 4: Apply Level 2 of close reading to the language
  • Step 5: Share the results of Level 2 with peers
  • Step 6: Apply Level 3 of close reading to the language
  • Step 7: Share the results of Level 3 and arrive at a consensus


Note: To push further, apply Levels 4 and 5. If you embrace any portion of this challenge, please share your results with me as I would love to hear about your learning. Or if you’d like me to do it, drop me a line.

If we are going to move forward with the standards, whether in agreement or disagreement, we must first get in the minds of the CCSS’ authors (Level 5 of close reading.) We must get clear.

The Core Deconstructed can help you with that and will be available for all mobile devices later this month. If you’d like more information, simply drop me a line.

Planning with Thinking in Mind

“Why do I have to do it that way?”

“Because I said so.”

Do  you recall that conversation as a child with your parents (or maybe even now with your own children?) Well, I was reminded of that conversation last week as I chatted with a Chief Academic Officer. Our topic was accountability–holding principals accountable so that they’d hold teachers accountable. On the subject of teacher effectiveness, she asked, “What more can principals do to help teachers beyond showing (telling) them how to improve their lessons?”

Given that coaching for performance improvement is a passion of mine, my immediate response was, “Help them improve as professionals by challenging their thinking, not telling them what to do.” After all, we grow when we learn, and we learn as our thoughts are expanded through challenges.

I have observed leaders who expected teachers to do what they said because they said it, but did not do what their supervisor said because their supervisor said it.

Have you ever noticed this in yourself? Do you know why you don’t always carry out what was told to you as a directive? It is possible that you don’t carry some out directives because you don’t understand them or because they don’t make sense to you. And can you say why that is? It is possible that you weren’t given the opportunity to travel down the road of thought that would have allowed you to arrive at the same place as your supervisor. So with that being said, what does this mean for the teachers you supervise? I think you get my point.

As you rest, reflect and prepare for the Common Core and next school year, consider how you support the growth of teachers through your coaching conversations. Since you’re reading this alone, you only need to admit it to yourself, but do you simply tell teachers what to do to improve, or do you use a coaching model to help them improve their thinking? (This question can also be modified for supervisors of principals.)

If you can admit that you mostly tell and if you can admit that telling isn’t teaching, then consider challenging your own thinking. Consider thinking about what you can ask teachers to improve their own thinking.

Designing for Thinking.001

Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. What level of thinking do you want your students to engage in?
  2. What physical evidence will demonstrate that they have engaged in that level of thought?
  3. What learning activity would yield the level of thinking you want students to engage in?

For more ideas on questions you can ask, The Core Deconstructed can help with that. The second version of the ebook is being released soon. Sign up to find out when.

In the meantime, keep thinking of questions to help teachers plan with thinking in mind.

Do You Know What You’re Doing?

Explicit evidence. Inferential evidence. Written responses to Common Core items will require that students are able to provide both. Take a look at the difference between the two types of evidence then consider the reflection questions below.


  1. How are students currently being taught to elicit explicit and inferential evidence in your school?
  2. How do you get students to explicate inferential evidence that is meaningful and accurate?
  3. How are you teaching students to close read for inferential evidence?

Last week I expressed my concern for those who have become comfortable with the idea of being a high performing school when their measurement of high performance is based on NCLB policies in a Common Core world.

This week I challenge us to consider the “how” of our work. What were our processes during the NCLB era? What are our processes now? Are they the same or different and how? Furthermore, are we even able to clearly define our processes for instructional delivery?

Recently, I encountered a quote that resonates with our current state: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing” (W. E. Deming).

For authentic change to occur, we must be clear about what we did, in order to be clear about what we need to do differently.

Your thoughts?

But There is Hope (for the Common Core)

‘Innovation’ can be dangerous when we do not understand the subject.

Sheron, I suspect your deconstructing process is a valuable process for helping educators make decisions about their own professional learning needs regarding understanding one’s subjects. What are you noticing?

Susan stated this in response to a post a few weeks back. I answered with a short list of what I’ve noticed. I’m answering again now, but more in depth. Here’s some of what I’ve seen:

  1. Eagerness to deliver on the Common Core without deep knowledge of the standards
  2. Evaluation of instruction without a clear understanding of what the standards demand
  3. Resistance to change and contentious school environments
  4. Misaligned curriculum–standards, lessons and assessments
  5. Well intentioned urgency with unintentional thoughtlessness
  6. Overemphasis on informational texts while unnecessarily discarding literature
  7. More telling than teaching, more demanding than coaching

Some of what I’ve seen so far, will quickly result in despair and panic.

But there is hope. I’ve seen leaders like Fred Sitkins in Michigan lead the charge in his district. I’ve seen teachers like Heather Simpson in Washington, DC improve the effectiveness of her practice by using The Core Deconstructed process. I’ve seen professors like Anitra Butler in Maryland use the process in her teacher preparation courses to cultivate the next and current generation of teachers.


Innovation is only innovation if something new or different is introduced. The Core Deconstructed promises different for all (and new for some) in this era when we say new and different are required.

If you want to know more about The Core Deconstructed, you can…

  1. Get your grade-level appropriate copy in iTunes
  2. Download a complimentary preview on SlideShare
  3. See some results of deconstructed standards on Pinterest
  4. “Direct Message” me on Twitter
  5. Connect with me on Linkedin
  6. Leave a comment on this page
  7. Send an email