Focusing on the “How” to Aid Student Learning with Common Core ~ Justin Dye


Justin Dye is an Arizona native who began his career with La Paloma Academy in Tucson as a second-grade teacher. From there, he moved into administration as a Title I coordinator, after-school director, vice principal, and principal. Mr. Dye’s goal is to educate every student in his school while stressing the importance of teaching character values on a daily basis.

Over the last two years, Heritage Elementary School has been able to create a laser-like focus that enables student achievement while protecting teacher autonomy in the classroom. In a time where high-stakes testing and accountability overwhelm new and veteran teachers alike, I want to empower teachers to feel confident in their abilities.

Alongside the shift to Common Core standards, our school has been able to increase student growth and proficiency by providing teacher training and programs that allow them to more effectively answer DuFour’s 4 Essential Questions:

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What do we want each student to learn?

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How will we know when each student has learned it?

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How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?

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How will we respond when a student demonstrates proficiency?<span “font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” color:black”=””>
I firmly believe our success of increasing School Performance (i.e. State Letter Grade from a D to a B) is the result of embracing the “controversial” Common Core Standards while implementing programs and training that seek to address the following questions: “What do we want each student to learn?” and “How will we know when each student has learned it?” prior to the teacher stepping into the classroom.

Developed by teachers for teachers, our school’s academic program gives educators the order in which to teach standards, a time frame for each standard and materials they can use for instruction. Our program became a tool for our teachers and helped them grasp the “big picture” when looking at student learning and student achievement.

However, simply implementing a program is not enough for success. More importantly, we need to embrace teacher perspective to allow them to see the long-term benefits of Common Core Standards from a broader perspective. By shifting teachers’ mindsets in this way, we have been able to eliminate tedious and time-consuming tasks while focusing more time on student learning and “how” to respond if they are learning or not.

Mrs. Cox, a Jr. High Reading teacher, recently explained this “Big Picture” framework perfectly when she said, “The idea that each standard builds upon what they should have learned in the previous year allows me to really push my students to think more critically.  It is also much easier to add the appropriate level of rigor to my lesson since I know exactly what is expected in the next grade.”

As a result of shifting their mindset with new implementation programs aligned with Common Core, teachers like Mrs. Cox are able to focus on their true passion, which is helping students believe they can learn by planning the “how” instead of focusing too heavily on the what, when, or why. Our school’s efforts have helped eliminate the overwhelming feeling teachers often associate with planning by instilling them with self-confidence.

<span “font-family:”times=”” roman”,”serif”;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” arial”=””>A good analogy for the successful implementation of Common Core Standards and increasing student achievement is the purchasing a state-of-the-art treadmill. It is undisputed that running on a treadmill is an effective tool to lose weight or get into shape, but if you focus on how hard it is to run every day, you will never be able to achieve your ultimate goal. You must stay focused on the ultimate goal. Due to its increased rigor, Common Core has gained a negative reputation instead of being viewed in light of its true purpose. It is a tool for strengthening the minds and achievements of students across state lines to ensure they are college and career ready. 


Heritage Elementary students deeply engaged in learning.