Tips for School & District Administrators

Strategies for School Leaders Who are Adapting to Common Core Standards

By Brian Gatens

As a teen, I read a short story where Leonardo Da Vinci tried to convince his patrons to let him build a massive water filtering system to help clean local rivers. His project would require layers and layers of rocks and stones, and it would take 20 years to have any discernible effect. Leonardo was laughed out of court, so he had to settle for a smaller job painting a friend’s wife – Mona Lisa.

Now why would I begin an article about the Common Core State Standards with a tale about one of the world’s most famous artists? Because this fictional story illustrates an essential truth: Long-term projects that can benefit generations of people can get shelved if leaders decline to take the long view.

Common Core is all about what happens a generation from now. It challenges us to see how much good can we do for all of America’s children by aligning our educational expectations and content across most of our states.

That philosophy is easy enough to understand. But putting Common Core into practice – with all its requirements on language, math and teacher accountability – is anything but easy. Here’s a quick look at tactics school leaders can use to ease the transition to Common Core:

Build your knowledge base

The Common Core initiative has created an excellent webpage that highlights the national standards and how individual states are integrating them. Check it out at and pass it along to your staff.

Make time

Among the myriad responsibilities your staff members may have with creating lesson plans, maintaining parent contact and meeting administrative expectations, you should definitely set aside time for your teachers to develop their understanding of the individual standards.

Widen your lens

A common error among administrators is to limit their staff development on the Common Core to only their English/language arts and math teachers. If you look at the standards closely, it’s easy to see that while the curriculum might focus specifically on English/language arts and math, there are ways to apply the Common Core across an entire curriculum.

Set a schoolwide goal

We spend time on what matters to us, so I recommend taking your professional development on the Common Core into the wider community by setting and publishing schoolwide goals that relate to the Common Core. Doing this reinforces to the community that you’re working with your state department of education to implement the Common Core, and it sends the message to your teachers that the Common Core should filter into their classroom practice.

Put it all together

It’s a maxim that quality schools should share a clearly written, aligned and effectively delivered academic curriculum. For the first time, we as a nation have been able to come together and establish what is important to the development of our children. This coordinated effort will enable us not only to “filter the river,” but to allow our children to paint their own version of the Mona Lisa.

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