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Focus on Teachers: Colleague Circle Puts Common Core in Action K-3

April 14, 2014

Kindergarten teacher Margaret Box is not new to leadership.  She is a former president of the Memphis Education Association and an Association delegate.  She represented teachers at the state level and led colleagues on a variety of school and district initiatives.  Most recently, she has been serving as a member of her district’s teacher evaluation working group to design and refine an evaluation instrument.

At the ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) convening last year, Margaret took on another type of leadership role:  leader of a Colleague Circle.  Margaret was charged with guiding a team of teachers in identifying a problem they faced and designing a solution to it.

As Margaret describes her experience, “It was intense.  [Being a Colleague Circle leader] was about facilitating a small group of teachers from across the country whom I had never met before. And, from our first conversation, it was obvious that we were all in a different place in terms of training, understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards.” 

Recognizing these differences, Margaret and the Colleague Circle members focused on the most important thing they had in common:  students.

“We wanted to create something that centered on students and would be helpful to other elementary teachers,” explains Margaret.  “We continued to brainstorm and finally landed on what we all wanted to see— examples of kids who are engaged in the Common Core State Standards. What does that look like? How do we set up our classrooms to support this type of work?  How do we plan differently?”

Margaret and a subset of the Colleague Circle—Instructional Coach Heather Morel and 3rd grade teacher Michelle O’Neill of St. Bernard Parish, LA and kindergarten teacher Robbie Torney of Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA—committed to developing videos of their classrooms to highlight students working on typical, daily Common Core lessons.

Approximately 6 months after their first meeting, the team began to share their videos on YouTube, Facebook and the Shelby County Schools (TN) website.

You’ll notice from the videos that each teacher takes a slightly different approach to their lessons.  Margaret’s videos show how one literacy lesson in Kindergarten can incorporate a number of reading, writing, speaking and listening Common Core Standards.  Robbie’s tapes of students engaged in math instruction tend to focus on one key standard per lesson. Additionally, videos of Michelle O’Neill’s class show third-grade students engaged in a Socratic Seminar in which they share ideas about the characters of Charlotte’s Web, addressing Speaking and Listening Standards 3.1a, b and d.

“The Common Core State Standards are hard work.  It is not about just recycling the same old strategies we used,” asserts Margaret. “I wish I had videotaped my teaching earlier to watch and think about what is happening in my classroom. I had been reluctant but it is so informative.  When I watch myself, I think, ‘Wow, I did this but I could have done this and this or this…’”

Margaret concludes,  “At first, our Colleague Circle didn’t know where we were going with our work.  Our ideas evolved and resulted in a project that we hope is helpful for other teachers who are implementing the Common Core. The intent is to give them ideas about what teaching the Common Core looks like and what students are now doing differently.  We wanted to alleviate their concerns that they may not be  ‘doing it [Common Core teaching] right.’”

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