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Focusing on the How to Help Student Learning

Over the last two years, the school I’m thrilled to be a part of has been able to create a laser-like focus that enables student achievement while protecting teacher autonomy in the classroom. In a time where high-stakes testing and accountability overwhelm new and veteran teachers alike, I want to empower teachers to feel confident in their abilities.

Even with the shift to Common Core standards, our school has been able to increase student growth and proficiency by providing teacher training and programs that allow them to answer DuFour’s 4 Essential Questions:

  1. What do we want each student to learn?
  2. How will we know when each student has learned it?
  3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
  4. How will we respond when a student demonstrates proficiency?

I firmly believe our success of increasing School Performance (i.e. State Letter Grade from a D to a B) is the result of embracing the “controversial” Common Core Standards along implementing programs and training that answers the following questions: “What do we want each student to learn?” and “How will we know when each student has learned it?” prior to the teacher stepping into the classroom.

This has been done through a partnership with a program created by teachers for teachers. By using this program, teachers are given a time frame for a standard, the order to teach standards and fundamental materials teachers can use for their instruction. However, simply implementing this program was not enough for success.

I had to begin to shift the mindset of the instructional staff at Heritage Elementary School through training that allowed them to see the “Big Picture” of the Common Core Standards. This helped everyone understand the benefits of rigorous standards and all the details in between.  In a school where providing a quality education is the goal, it is my responsibility to make sure my instructional staff has enough information to have the same confidence I have in their abilities.

By providing programs that embrace a teacher’s perspective and allowing teachers to view the long-term benefits of Common Core Standards, I was able to eliminate the tedious and time-consuming tasks.

As a result, a shift in the mindset of my staff occurred when they began to view Common Core Standards in a “Big Picture” framework. This allowed our teachers to focus more time on student learning and “how” to respond if they are learning or not.

Mrs. Cox, a Jr. High Reading teacher, explained this “Big Picture” framework perfectly when she said, “The idea that each standard builds upon what they should have learned in the previous year allows me to really push my students to think more critically.  It is also much easier to add the appropriate level of rigor to my lesson since I know exactly what is expected in the next grade.”

As a result of their mindset shifting, teachers like Mrs. Cox are able to focus on their true passion, which is helping students learn by planning the “how” instead of the what, when, or why. Nonetheless, this helped eliminate the overwhelming feeling that teachers often associate with planning, and it helped build confidence within themselves.  

Our current goal is not only to become an "A" school/district but to be the highest academic scoring school in Phoenix within the next two years. With our amazing staff and teachers I know this will be made a reality!


By Justin Dye

Dye is the principal of Heritage Elementary School in Glendale, Arizona.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Education World.