• Carin Contreras

Clarity: The Key to Common Core

Morning Fog

In my office I had a sign above my desk that read, “Clarity Precedes Competence”.

During the three years I occupied that office, in my role as Director in the Educational Services Department, the sign helped me to make many decisions. Mostly, it guided me to check my perceptions before moving ahead on decisions to implement next steps in educational improvement. The call for clarity drives the evaluation of the effectiveness of efforts already attempted. The question to myself always went something like this, “Have we been clear enough with the expectations so that competency can be expected?”

While that answer may seem simple enough, it often times wasn’t. Clarity isn’t simple. It is not merely a directive to follow a proven practice or a policy to dictate a standard of professional methods. Absolute clarity is developed over time through action and continuous reflection to make meaning of complex concepts. Being “clear enough” allows us to begin the journey to “absolute clarity” that passes through “more and more clarity.”

As I think about our efforts to implement the Common Core Standards, I think about the many aspects of implementation that requires clarity and I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Common Core Standards: What is our clarity about the standards themselves? Have we examined them by pulling them apart, examining how they are organized, discussing them, ordering them in a sequence, and relating them to lessons to truly understand what they are saying?

  2. Instruction: What is our clarity about how to instruct to provide the best opportunities for students to reach the expectations outlined in the standards? What is our clarity about what support we need in order to make necessary changes in our methods to meet the new demands?

  3. Assessment: What is our clarity about how our students will be assessed to determine if they are meeting these standards? What are the demands that students will face when expected to show their understanding?

  4. Resources: What is our clarity about the criteria that we will use to make decisions about materials we access to support our instruction of the Common Core Standards?

The answers to these questions are complex and often times not obvious. When entering into unchartered territory, we are often called to act before we have the benefit of complete clarity. Teachers are teaching students everyday without all of these answers. However, I argue that with every consideration and decision made in the classroom educators will gain increased clarity through action.

In my role as a consultant and coach, I am grateful for the role I play in supporting teachers and administrators at the ground level as they navigate through the ambiguities and interpretations that color their pursuit for clarity. In working side by side with teachers and administrators to

  • design lessons aligned with Common Core Standards and sound instructional practices,

  • using resources to support student understanding,

  • and with an eye toward the demand of rigorous assessment,

educators are making sense of the Common Core day by day.


The pursuit of clarity and competence is a marathon, not a sprint. So, maybe the question is actually, “Are we committed to the continuous and focused pursuit of clarity resulting in competence?

My answer is, “Yes, we are!”

#clarity #CCSSproficiencies

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