The Center’s CA Insights – 2017-18:
Instructional Shifts

Shifting instructional practice is central to improving teaching and learning. When given structured opportunities to reflect upon what the standards mean for their own practice, teachers are better equipped to shift instruction and affect standards implementation. In the Instructional Shifts domain, district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders observe how their teachers navigate this process at the classroom level. As one principal put it, “It’s making teachers go from being presenters to teachers again.”

Finding 1:

We asked district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders about the experience of shifting instructional practice in their schools. The key takeaway: standards implementation is a deeply iterative process that takes time for true changes in practice to flourish.

TEACHERS NEED A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS COMPONENTS OF THE STANDARDS BEFORE THEY CAN ACCURATELY SHIFT INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE.

“Right now our priority is really the rigor of the standards. We have found that our teachers are not completely aligned across all of our sites on what the standards mean.”

- District Leader

“[My] goal is to assess what the teachers’ understanding of the standards are, so they can unpack them, unravel them, unwrap them, whatever the term is, and really focus on the tier two vocabulary so they can use that as a gauge to check for understanding in the classrooms.”

- Teacher Leader

“[Our district focus is] providing professional development that really digs into what is the rigor of each of the standards in their grade level and how does that, in turn, affect the instruction they’re providing for their learners.”

- District Leader

INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE AND MATERIALS ARE UNLIKELY TO ALIGN UNLESS TEACHERS HAVE STRUCTURED OPPORTUNITIES TO GRAPPLE WITH WHAT THE STANDARDS MEAN FOR THEIR OWN APPROACH TO TEACHING.

[It’s important] to involve teachers in the initial going and looking at the curriculum at the county office. Have a longer lead time with both piloting the [instructional] materials and with developing the understanding in the rubrics for how we’re going to assess them.”

- District Leader

I see teachers who have only taught using a teacher’s manual, following word-by-word. Almost zero differentiation in their classrooms… [My job is] trying to teach them how to teach so that they’re differentiating [for diverse learners].”

- Teacher Leader

CHANGES IN KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICE ARE ONLY THE BEGINNING; THE STANDARDS REQUIRE SHIFTS IN MINDSET THAT MANY TEACHERS ARE LEARNING TO EMBRACE AS THEY GO.

“Their [teachers’] human nature [is to] gravitate towards certain components they may feel the most comfortable with, [which] is something that we want to guard against.”

- District Leader

“[It’s about helping] teachers to go deeper with the standards and have a comfort level with one another to really discuss, plan, collaborate, and learn so that as they’re doing this work, [they feel that] it’s not just work [for them].”

“It is hard for a lot of these teachers. I know there [were] a lot of mixed feelings on the [change to the new standards] when it came out. A lot of people hated it, [a lot of people] loved it. I do like…the fact that it’s making teachers go from being presenters to teachers again. It’s changed the way they educate kids probably with these questions you’re looking at. [Still, the standards change] came out so broad and gray. I don’t think anybody knows, ‘This is the correct way to implement things.’”

- Principal

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Finding 2:

When asked to rate their teachers’ mastery of the California State Standards, district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders paint a picture of steady progress, and note that teacher mastery will continue to develop over time.

  • In both ELA and math, the overwhelming majority of district leaders believe their teachers know general instructional strategies to implement the standards.
  • Some district leaders go further, with two thirds indicating their teachers can fluently differentiate instruction to meet student needs in math. Nearly half of respondents share this belief about their ELA teachers.

Principals, Teacher Leaders, and District Leaders Share Their Perceptions of Teacher Mastery

“[We’re doing well], because we really spent the time over the last year talking about the instructional shifts as well as the [curriculum] frameworks, and using [those] tools to know and understand the standards before you teach them. We just have spent a lot of time analyzing the standards and looking for them in our instructional materials over the last two years.”

- District Leader

“Knowing the instructional strategies and implementing them is different.”

- District Leader on math mastery

“Math, I think we’re a lot of twos and threes. There are some who have spent a lot of time with the program and reworking curriculum to meet the needs [of students] and looking at lesson designs that are more collaborative.”

- Teacher Leader on math mastery

“The elementary teachers know the pedagogy but not the content in math. Then with math teachers at secondary level they know the content but they don’t know the pedagogy.”

- Principal on math mastery

My teachers are probably all over the place… There are some vets [veteran teachers] that could do a number four, but there are very few of them.”

- Teacher Leader on ELA mastery

“I don’t think they even know the examples of other [standards-aligned] instructional strategies, to be honest with you. The [strategies] that they know, they use and they stick to what they got.

- Principal on ELA mastery

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Finding 3:

For three years, the Center has taken representative snapshots of district leaders’ confidence in their teachers’ standards mastery, which we use to gauge how districts feel about standards implementation progress. Here’s a look at how each sample felt in that year.

Principals and District Leaders Reflect on Teacher Mastery

“ELA is the first area where we put in ELA specialists, or reading specialists, at each of the sites. So, they’ve had more time to really dig in and get that support on the ELA standards.”

- District Leader

I think we’re getting to a tipping point too maybe, and maybe in a couple of years, that majority [of teachers] will be further along [in implementation].”

- Principal

“[Teachers] all build on each other, but the instruction is a lot different [and] in different pieces. That has been harder. We’re finding this year is a good year to start tackling [how to piece it all together] … we do have math specialists now that are at the sites.”

- District Leader

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