August 1, 2012
The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) knows that change is always hard. And in most cases, the bigger the size and scope of the change, the harder it is to communicate a vision for success. Officials at the USOE knew that the shifts required to bring the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into the classroom would require educators in Utah to make massive, systemic changes to the way they educate students. New standards mean shifts in how teachers teach, how districts choose texts, how they test what students should know and how they evaluate and support teachers. With so much at stake, informing stakeholders and communicating effectively about the work ahead was a statewide imperative. Equally important was the need to build support and secure “buy-in” at all levels.
“We tried to reach out to key stakeholders early on—the governor, legislative leaders and the business community,” says Sydnee Dickson, director of teaching and learning for the Utah State Office of Education. “We showed the governor the economic impact of making students college- and career-ready and he went to the legislature and got the support we needed for the Common Core Academies.”
The Utah Common Core Academies brought together more than 5,000 school leaders—including teachers and administrators—to work with facilitators in developing curriculum and resources aligned to the state’s new standards. In addition to getting a head start on developing the tools and resources needed to bring the standards into the classroom, the Common Core Academies also helped to engage education practitioners early in the process and ensure that changes to instruction happened because of educators and not to them.
“The failure in the past to get teachers on board and on the front line has destroyed confidence. We are building confidence through the academy,” says Larry Shumway, Utah’s superintendent of public instruction. The 15 statewide sessions have not only built the confidence and support of teachers and other school leaders, they have also enabled a “community of learners” across districts to come together and share resources on an ongoing basis. This learning community will continue their work together both online and in-person by attending Saturday seminars, hosting book studies, sharing lesson designs and much more. As teachers begin to use new tools and refine instruction to help students meet the new standards, this sustainable system will be in place to support them as they share effective practices, learn from mistakes and build on success.
While the USOE worked hard to engage education practitioners, legislators and members of the business community, it was also necessary to engage parents and the broader community about the new standards and the state’s integrated approach to implementing them. To do this, the USOE worked aggressively to get the message out. “We met with the PTA, school board associations across the state, and the media. We tried to get on as many conference panels across the state as we could,” says Dickson. The USOE has also developed customizable communications materials, such as PowerPoint presentations and brochures, for districts to use in explaining to parents the tenants of the CCSS, why they are being implemented and what both students and parents can expect as implementation progresses.
Communicating about changes to state education policy can often be as challenging as making the changes themselves. But with an aggressive rollout strategy and systems in place to allow practitioners and parents to communicate with each other, states like Utah are leading the way in building the public will necessary to successfully implement their new standards over time.