New standards require new ways to train teachers

Teachers aren’t prepared to teach the new Common Core Standards, writes Stephanie Hirsch of Leaning Forward in Ed Week.

Because the common core focuses on the application of knowledge in authentic situations, teachers will need to employ instructional strategies that integrate critical and creative thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, research and inquiry, and presentation and demonstration skills. They will need subject-area expertise well beyond basic content knowledge and pedagogy to create dynamic, engaging, high-level learning experiences for students. They will need greater data literacy as we shift from current accountability systems to more granular ways of assessing student learning. And, their leaders will need to champion professional learning in their buildings and back the teachers who coach and support each other.

The traditional “spray and pray” method of professional development doesn’t work, Hirsch writes. What would?

Why not let teachers teach teachers?, asks Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land. “Professional Development assumes that someone knows better than a teacher” what teachers need to know.

. . .  teachers aren’t considered true professionals–and policy is leading us further away from a professional work model. We’re still talking about “training” teachers, rather than drawing on their wisdom.

Finally–probably the most significant reason–professional development is an education market. What would happen if teacher development happened internally, entirely site-based and tailored to particular schools and populations? It would require demonstrated, deep teacher expertise in instruction and curricular issues. Which could shift the balance of power. And it would cost very little.

The GE Foundation is giving $18 million to Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit which is working with teachers to develop an online library of resources for teaching the new standards at

About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Ugh. That article was painful. The scary part is that she had to be taught to write like that.

    That said, the sort of environment at which she is frantically, vaguely waving her hands seems like a reasonable way to go.

    More time for professional development seems like a good idea. Putting teachers in charge of it seems like a great idea.

    The standard litany of vague adjectives: cooperative, comprehensive, structured, dynamic, engaging, accessible, blah, blah, woof, woof (which Hirsch deploys with a vengeance)… they’re a standard litany for a reason. Generally better than their alternatives: fractious, fragmented, chaotic, plodding, soporific, remote… who wants a program that’s those things?

    If anyone *ever* attempts to stick an earbud in my ear while I’m teaching, though, there’s going to be blood. It’s hard enough to be 100% present in the classroom, to actually listen to the questions that are being asked, and to have your “stage” receptors out to continuously gauge audience reactions without adding another level of distraction to the mix.

    Finally, I’m not too terribly familiar with the Common Core — but the description given in the paragraph that Joanne quotes doesn’t quite seem to make sense, and I don’t really get what it has to do with Hirsch’s real point. What the heck is “the application of knowledge in authentic situations?” I know the CCC advocates assessments that aren’t lists of simple multiple choice questions, but rather things like writing magazine articles. But those situations aren’t authentic, they’re contrived in the extreme. (Authenticity in that case comes from the pressure of actual readership; have the student’s article be required reading for the course in later days and you’ll have something like authenticity.)

    I feel like there was a really great essay on teachers, professionalism, and teaching skill development that almost got written — but didn’t, not really, and that part of the reason that it didn’t get written was that it got caught up and muddled in a halfhearted, unnecessary discussion of the latest curricular voodoo.

    Is her point just that the new style of assessment is going to require us to re-train a lot of teachers, and we can’t do that with the traditional methods? (Which, by all accounts, are awful.) That seems like an unnecessary layer of argument. If traditional methods are awful, that seems like enough justification to argue for something good.

    So come on, Ms. Hirsch… do it. Argue for something good. And please don’t forget to tell us what it is next time.

  2. Lightly Seasoned says:

    My district already does PD internally. Saves a ton of money and doesn’t piss us all off. Typically they offer a range of sessions to meet the needs of the staff. So secretaries might learn new software, the custodians get a refresher in safety, the coaches get re-certified in CPR, etc. — I usually teach a class on Harkness or something of that nature. The Super of Curriculum decides the focus.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:


    In ed-speak, the fact that some people outside of school write magazine articles means that pretending to write one is authentic.

  4. Excellent reponse, Michael.

    Indeed, the overlay of jargon made me wonder what she thought she was talking about.

    I disagree, though, about the value of traditional methods. When the teacher has put thought into the material, a traditional lesson can work splendidly. I often hear students say that they want the teacher to actually teach them. While some educators dismiss this as laziness (“they don’t want to do the work on their own”), I see it differently. When the teacher presents something substantial, and when you are allowed to listen for a while, you have a chance to put it together, find corollaries, and form questions.

    I recently visited a geometry class that was, in my view, a “dynamic, engaging, high-level learning experience” (though I wouldn’t use those terms). The teacher presented the Exterior Angle Inequality Theorem and some proofs that followed from it. He challenged students to solve some of the proofs themselves. Students were listening intently, taking notes, asking questions, and volunteering answers. One student even offered a proof that differed from what the teacher had in mind (and was also correct).

    Would that “count” as a “dynamic, engaging, high-level learning experience”? It should, but my guess is that it wouldn’t. He would probably be told to add all sorts of “stuff” to his lesson to make sure it involved critical thinking, collaboration, etc.

    It’s this heaping on of “stuff” that we don’t need. Keep things as simple as possible so that the focus can be on the subject and the learning of it. Of course there’s room for well-planned projects and other activities, but there’s no need to clutter things up.