Spotlight: Common Core Implementation

Communicator June 2015, Volume 38, Issue 10

June 2015, Volume 38, Issue 10

NAESP National Distinguished Principal Jessica Johnson is well known for her work with technology. She has expanded its use among students (she transitioned Dodgeland Elementary—a rural Wisconsin pre-K-5 school—into a one-to-one learning environment), models its use for staff, and uses it herself regularly. In fact, she considers Twitter to be her greatest source of professional learning (there, she’s known as @PrincipalJ).

And like most principals, during the past few years Johnson has been working against a changing backdrop. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, educators at all levels are re-evaluating teaching and learning in their schools to help students gain the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the global community.

The Learning First Alliance talked with Johnson about her experience with the standards and the advice she’d offer to others about their implementation as a part of its Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core podcast series. The series explores what it will take to get Common Core right and highlights best practices in implementation across the country. Here’s some of what Johnson had to say.

Where college- and career-ready standards stand:

Wisconsin has Agenda 2017, “Every Child a Graduate, College- and Career-Ready.” And at the elementary level, there are things that we’ve put in place (just like every other school) in terms of higher expectations for our students, aligning our standards and assessments with what we know students need to be able to do, and working together with our middle school and high school staff to align our curriculum.

We’ve also been working on making sure that we have academic and career planning starting early for our students. … [W]e even take our fifth graders on a college tour every year, and then in eighth grade the counselor follows up and they take a visit to a different college.

Results so far:

Since implementing the Common Core State Standards—and we started implementing them in our own school three years ago—there’s a huge change in the expectation level of students. And I guess I could just say, for lack of a better word, my teachers were freaking out about the change in level of expectations. But they did things to change their instruction, and we were surprised by how many of our students did achieve that higher expectation in reading.

You have to change behaviors before you can change the beliefs. … And it’s not perfect. And we have a lot of work to do still. By changing the expectations and what we’re doing with students, we’re getting better results than we did before.

Challenges of a small, rural district:

In a small district, one of our challenges is that administrators wear many hats, so when the Common Core information was coming out, we didn’t have a whole lot of guidance on how to share that information with staff, what to do with it. I’m not only the principal, but I’m in charge of curriculum for my school, in charge of the testing for my school and for the district, and in charge of our professional development.

So we, as administrators, had to become as knowledgeable as we could about the Common Core standards so that we could share all of that information with our staff and lead them through the process. Whereas in a bigger district, you have a director or an assistant superintendent who would be in charge of that.

Engaging parents in the transition:

For my community of parents, there wasn’t really any resistance. … But where they did get concerned is, “How do I help my child at home, because we didn’t learn math like this?” So we’ve continued to work with parents in the matter of, “Here is what we’re working on in math right now,” and sending home letters that show examples of what that particular math skill looks like. We also let parents know that if they don’t know how to help [their student at home], that’s OK—just send a note to the teacher so that we can help [the student] at school again. We’re letting parents know that, yes, we know that it is different, and we’ll work together with you.

Advice for other principals:

My first tip for principals is to think of themselves as the lead learner of their building because obviously when we were teachers, we weren’t teaching the Common Core standards. This is all new to our teachers, and they have to learn a lot. … It’s important that I’m learning along with them and that I help support them in any way that I can, whether it’s giving them additional time to plan together as a team [or] whether it’s giving time for cross-grade levels to meet so they can see what student performance looks like in the grade below them and the grade above them. If a teacher says we need more resources for meeting the standards, then I’m going to do what I can to help find those resources for them.

Learn with your teachers and support them however you can. This is a process that isn’t going to happen overnight. For some districts or states, it’s a big change in teaching and learning. And it’s not going to just happen all of a sudden. It takes time.

What else to keep in mind:

Just remember that we’re teaching children, and even though we have these higher standards and higher expectations for our students, we still have students that aren’t going to be there, and we have to respond to their needs. They might not be at the level where we can teach the standards that are for third grade. We might have to look to the standards in second grade to help them move up to where they need to be. … Again, just respond to students’ needs to try and get them where they should be.

Listen to the complete interview at

Copyright © 2015. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.