Shelly Larochelle grew up just a few yards from what is now Manchester’s Northwest Elementary school, has been an educator there for 17 years and is now the principal. Her teachers are committed to the State’s new College and Career Ready standards and are reflecting the new standards in their lesson plans. Here’s how Shelly described the process to me:
Introducing the new standards at Northwest
Implementing the new standards is not a matter of telling teachers, “This is what you have to do. Now have at it.” It’s, “Ok, this is what we need to learn about. Let’s not do anything yet but learn what this is. Then you’ll be able to make informed decisions in your classroom. And let’s do it together. But I also know you don’t have a lot of time. So let me do some of the legwork first. And know that there’s always more to uncover.”
We just have those conversations. It’s hard, because we just don’t have the time in the year to really get together and roll this out. But we chip away at it and make a decision that we’re not going to make these big changes until we know what this really is.
Some of our teachers are very well informed about the Common Core. They’ve gone to the great 10-day program we had here in Manchester last summer. Or they go to a national conference. What I’m trying to do is get everybody else in the building to where they are – build that capacity. We look for a balance between, “Let’s do this together,” versus, “This is your responsibility. Now do it and do it well.”
Is there buy-in?
The excitement is there. Last Thursday, I talked with one of my most challenging teachers when it comes to buy-in on the new standards. She wants to do what we did thirty years ago. She just pulled me over last week after a meeting and she was really excited about this.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
The good news is that by building capacity, some teachers jumped on board not because they wanted to but because others were. And then there were all those PLC’s [“Professional Learning Community,” where teachers share insights and best practices, including about the new standards] with that team collaborative spirit. I don’t make PLCs mandatory. I ask you to come and, if you do, I’ll guarantee it will be worth your time. But it’s entirely up to you. Every single person chooses to go. So, we’ve got a hundred percent buy-in.
Of course, the levels of knowledge are different among the teachers because we’re still at the beginning. But when that summer Common Core workshop for Manchester teachers came up with its “frameworks” to help think about how to structure lesson plans, that was a big help. It was particularly valuable because there was so much new material for our teachers. They’re trying to wrap their brain around that.
So some are over-whelmed. But they’re in. In the end, we all see it the same way: how does it affect the kids?
The district decision
I’d like the standards question to be put to rest because it comes up at every meeting I go to with the teachers. They say, “What do you think the district will do? Are we doing this all for nothing?”
I say, “Well, maybe. But it’s highly unlikely if you’re asking my personal opinion. I can’t imagine where we go from here if we don’t do this.”
If we don’t, we’re really in trouble because we’re going to have to do something! That’s why I said, “Why wait? Let’s not waste time. The kids need this.”