Susan Huff

Susan Huff, EdD, has retired as principal of Spanish Oaks Elementary School in Utah after 34 years in public education. Previously, she was principal of Santaquin Elementary and Westside Elementary.

Common Core Implementation in a PLC - Part 3 of 3

Part 3: Principals Lead Common Core Implementation

Change can be a challenge for schools—for the individuals within the school, as well as for the school as a whole. Common Core (CC) implementation presents the opportunity and challenge of change. The fatal attribution error, as described in Influencer (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, & Switzler, 2008), is to assume the lack of change as a motivation issue, when in reality it is often an ability issue. To help principals lead CC implementation, new skills—new abilities—are required, so I developed a process for principals to weave curriculum mapping with unwrapping CC standards within a PLC at Work™ framework (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008):

Principals Guiding Teams in Curriculum Mapping
The Process

I. Provide teams with copies of the curriculum.

II. Teach teams how to determine an essential learning outcome (ELO) or power standard. Teams evaluate if a standard meets one of Douglas B. Reeves’s (2005) three criteria for determining ELOs:

  1. Endurance: Knowledge and skills students must know that are recurring
  2. Leverage: Success in this standard is likely to be associated with success in other standards.
  3. Essential for the next level: If your team was asked to give advice to the teachers in the next lower grade level, these are the skills students would need to advance with success and confidence.

If teams get stuck, the principal can use probing questions to help teams clarify ELOs:

  • Are students going to need to know this for life?
  • Will students be at a serious disadvantage when they move to the next grade level if they don’t know this?
  • After providing more time and support to students who didn’t learn a particular skill, would you consider referring these students to special education because they still struggle with this skill?

III. Help teams unwrap the ELOs using the steps in Common Formative Assessments (Bailey & Jakicic, 2012).

IV. Teams plug each ELO into a template to dig deeper into its meaning.
Probing questions:

  • Would the appendices in the Common Core documents help you find an example of rigor?
  • Are there resources in your textbook teacher edition that could help you complete the template?
  • What assessments do you currently have that might be adapted or revised to align with this standard?
  • How much time do you anticipate your team will need to teach this ELO well?
  • How will your team respond when students don’t learn this ELO the first time?

V. Teams map out the entire core for language arts and math (or their secondary content area) by determining as a team what to teach when. Principals decide if they are going to use a schoolwide template or let teams select a format of their choice (a calendar, a table, Excel template, etc.) for their curriculum map.


Bailey, K., & Jakicic, C. (2012). Common formative assessment: A toolkit for professional learning communities at work™. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work™: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mattos, M. (2008). Presentation at CITES Principals’ Academy at Brigham Young University.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2008). Influencer: The power to change anything. New York: McGraw-Hill.



My school has started our second year with the common core standards. We are beginning to really understand the depth and rigor required. It is very encouraging to see a clear and concise path mapped out. I look forward to sharing this information with my PLC.

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My district is currently "rolling out" CCGPS for English/Language Arts and Math. I teach 7th grade reading and social studies. The issue with this within our system is we had no training over the Common Core Standards as other systems around us did. It has really hurt us. The Language Arts and Reading teachers are currently going through a training from our RESA representative each month. It is very overwhelming, and it feels like we are just going to throw everything we have done in the past away. Another issue we have is that my school separated Reading and Language Arts basically to not have to cut jobs. The lady teaching us says that was a big mistake because they should never be taken apart. We are developing units together with the Reading and Language Arts teachers. We want to be able to jump into it whether we will be teaching it or not. We are beginning to feel better about it, but we are still a little worried. I know the math teacher on my team is worried because they told her to teach the math CCGPS, but we are still giving the CRCT, so the content is going to be slightly different. Overall, we want to develop a complete understanding so we can see the students master the skills and become high achievers. It is not an easy task, but we know that if we work together it can be done.

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My district has adapted Common Core in all grades in both Langauge Arts and Math this year. I am struggling to keep up with the changes as a literacy coach. I have enjoyed reading the principal perspective and I hope to begin the true model of the PLC in January. Thank you for your honest insight and the probing questions will help guide our PLC groups in the spring semester.

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My district implemented common core standards for math this school year for K-1. The transition was difficult even though I attended a workshop this summer. I have English language learners that are not mastering the skills so I am frustrated. I am going to start doing small math groups at least a few times per week to differentiate instruction. Thanks for sharing the template and probing questions for ELO. I will share it within my PLC.

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My district is working on implementing ccss 2015 and we have been overhelmed. We like the way ccss appears to be so kid friendly and relevant to the students, but we are concerned with the pacing guide. According to the pacing guide our students are way behind. We are suppose to be teaching ccss but testing on MCT for the next 2 years. Anyway, I have heard some of the veteran teachers say this will last about a decade and change again. Which I think makes logical sense, because society is at a constant change and so is education. I spent 3 days this summer in Jackson, MS for ccss training and it was very informitive. However, 3 days was not long enough.

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anthony grazzini

Attending the Annual Common Core and Assessment Conference this past spring validated our approach to common core implementation. Course alike teams participated in a 3 day training to unpack the standards, develop appropriate "I Can" statements as learning targets, and appropriate performance tasks, assessment and other evidence meeting the standards. Initial curriculum maps were created to align our courses, their content, the ACT CRS and the Common Core Standards Unit by Unit and Course by Course. Next, our teams utilized Understanding by Design to design aligned unit plans for each course that would be used during the 2012-13 academic year by our PLC Teams. As this year progress we are using our PLC meetings and institute day time to refine and revise our curriculum, look at student work, analyzed commons assessments and performance tasks, and provide support for teacher teams in order to accurately equip our teachers and prepare our students to be successful in the "common core era."

The loose/tight leadership of the PLC structure has allowed us to set parameters from the ‘top down’ but build our curriculum, instruction, and assessment from the "bottom up". The knowledge shared by practitioners like Lisa Carter and Cassie Erkens at PLC Institutes and the support of local consultants like Dr. Bobb Darnell have accelerated the process of common core implementation, but true understanding of how to ensure students learn at high levels is a result of the PLC Process.

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CC is being implemented in small stages of the district I was employed with last year, and I fully understand what aa was saying and feeling about the clarity of what is expected and how to accurately reach those expectations. I think that CC can be inmplemented successfully after teachers have been properly trained and continue to gain knowledge to make them more effective at teaching the standareds. This post was helpful in providing some clear guidelines to use and share with my PLC to help gain an understanding of CC. Although teachers are perplexed with reaching the overwhelming demands of standarized tests achievement, the transition to CC can be smooth and successful with adequate training and implementation in the classroom.

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I am a high school math teacher and we are implementing comon core in Alg 1 this year. I have found it to be difficult with the pacing and the amount of material that our school district has chosen to implement with the new common core standards. I am going to read the last few posts that you were talking about and see if the mind set that you were talking about will help me with this change.

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My district is just beginning the process of unwrapping the standards and beginning curriculum mapping. So far, it seems the teachers are being dragged into it kicking and screaming. With political agendas at an all time high in our area, teachers are beginning to question each new thing that is thrown at us.
Right now our superintendent leading the process is requesting that we go through the CC standards and select only a few that are of utmost importance. ELO is a new term for me, but I assume it is what he has in mind. Your explanation of ELO was extremely helpful. Thank you for that!
Anyway, he would like to see us go more in depth in these power standards and in doing so, remove from the curriculum other standards deemed less important. Understandably, he feels that students will gain a better understanding if they are given ample time and opportunity to really delve into these key concepts.
The question we are grappling with as teachers in our district is how to spend more time on these power standards and less or no time on others in a time where standardized testing seems to run our lives. With new paid for performance statutes we are evaluated as teachers based on how well our students perform on standardized tests. As teachers we feel we must cover all concepts or fear we will be sending students in blind to take the test. Sometimes in order to cover all concepts that may be on the test, we introduce it to them, barely scratching the surface hoping that some of the students will pick up enough to pass that portion of the test. How do you suggest districts like ours find the happy medium in a world where we have been forced to teach to the test, yet want our students to have a deeper understanding of these key concepts?

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My district has started unwrapping the common core standards beginning with K-2 grades. Grades 3-6 will follow next year. However, our PLCs have been taking a closer look at questioning strategies to assist with the implementation process, mainly essential questioning and higher level thinking strategies, such as Bloom's taxonomy. The term Essential Learning Outcome or ELO is a new one for me, so I greatly appreciated the three criteria areas and template provided in this blog. I can see how these area will help to inform instruction.

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My school district has been working on implementing Common Core however the training has been a bit challenging. The obstacle has been for trainers to effectively explain the curriculum mapping process especially with reference to the depth of knowledge component. However, I was able to gain some understanding on ELOs using Reeve's three criteria, as demonstrated in the post. Thanks for this post it has provided much needed clarity.

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Rick Hedden

We have been working hard and fast to get up to speed on the common core standards. Our implementation is across grade levels with 2014 being the goal for full implementation. In grade-level PLC teams, we are taking the right steps to revisit ELOs, and I am hopeful that we will keep everything on track, but I am concerned that it feels a little too much like a 'top down' approach. I hope my colleagues will embrace and own the process, but I have not seen the type of enthusiasm I had hoped for. Thanks for the support. I will return often to for support, so keep the great resources coming.

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My school has implemented common core only k and 1 so far. Being that I teach 3rd grade I still have some time to get accustomed to these new standards that I will be using. Reading the past 3 blogs about implementing Common Core has really made the thought process of switching over make sense. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time and breaking it down for some of us who are not familiar with it.

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