Teaching Your Parents: The Underlining Message in the Common Core Check Story

Vol. 13 No. 2

divhead eletter Vol14 No2 commoncore

Have you heard about the “Common Core check”? If you missed it, here’s the summary: A father became frustrated by some new methods of teaching math that rendered him unable to help his second-grader with assigned homework. To mock the new teaching system, he wrote a personal check using the new teaching methods to protest what he saw as “change for the sake of change.” His photo of the check went viral, being shared across social media and news outlets, as a symbol of the new curriculum that many other parents found mysterious and confusing.

Your school may or may not use the “ten-frame” method of teaching addition, which is the instructional point at the butt of the father’s satire. But the incident illustrates the uphill battle that all schools—private and public—face when introducing new ways of teaching old concepts.

Parents, as a rule, often wish to replicate the good points of their own childhood with their children. For example, if parents enjoyed and benefited from playing on the school’s soccer team, they’ll promote extracurricular sport participation for their own children, hoping to replicate the positive outcomes.

What happens when a school changes curriculum that—from the parents’ perspective— wasn’t broken? In this case, the change must be immediately positive, or else it will suffer from what one of our consultants calls the “attribution of negative outcomes.”

To demonstrate this concept, let’s go back to our original Common Core math example. The furious father’s second-grader was learning basic addition, something the father finds easy. If the school had used methods that the father was familiar with (and could help his child to figure out), blame for the child’s lack of comprehension would be placed on the child for not learning well enough or on the teacher for not clearly illustrating the concept. (Most will blame the teacher.)

Conversely, if—as in our Common Core example—neither the student nor the parent can figure out a concept, the parent is driven to believe it’s the difficulty of the curriculum and the methods presented. After all, the parent has already “passed” this subject, so it can’t be his/her understanding of the subject that’s now called into question—it must be the way that it’s taught now that’s confusing all involved.

Should the attribution of negative outcomes by some communities convince schools to never change their curriculum, despite evidence that change will be in the students’ best interest? No, of course not! It simply means that change should be properly communicated to the community at large and not sprung as a newfangled idea in the classroom on day one.

In some ways, this means that you’ll have to educate your parents just as much as your students.

When curriculum changes encompass entirely new ways of educating students—from using technology in the classroom to the “ten-frame” addition logic (and similarly foreign-looking techniques)—make sure your parents know what the change entails and why you’re making the change.

Send home pamphlets describing the new techniques, so parents can help support the teachers’ lessons at home, and host evening sessions walking families through the new curriculum. Make sure new and prospective families understand what’s being taught in the classrooms (and how it’s being taught). Provide tutors trained in the new style for those who struggle. But most of all, be available for (and patient with) nervous parents who are unsure about this change from “how they were taught.”

At the risk of sounding cliche, change is hard to accept. Ultimately, your school must do whatever it sees as best for its students, even if that means breaking with long-held traditions and teaching methods.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 11 No. 4 Don't Be Afraid to Jump on the Bandwagon
The Source for Division Heads Vol. 7 No. 8 Just a Cool New Gadget? Some Thoughts on the iPad

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 30 No. 11 Change and the Implementation Dip
I&P Vol. 30 No. 4 Managing Complex Change in Private-Independent Schools
I&P Vol. 29 No. 8 Mission and Leadership: A Primer in Mission-Oriented Change Problems

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