Paula Mirk

Use the Common Core to Focus on Integrity

The Common Core State Standards aren't an enemy. They're a smart way of saying to the public, "This is where education is going. This is what your child needs to know and be able to do as a future worker, citizen, and leader." To that end, the Common Core standards are helping to advance what we already know to be solid, holistic learning for our schools. This includes providing teachers the breathing room to get creative about focusing on integrity at every turn.

Many teachers involved in the Institute for Global Ethics Ethical Literacy process are changing their understanding about the purpose of school. Instead of thinking about how to prepare students for college or the world of work, they're thinking about how to prepare future leaders who will think about the common good and the importance of ethical decision making in the context of increasingly sophisticated technology and even bigger, more impactful systems. And instead of compartmentalizing subjects, the focus on ethics helps teachers more naturally make connections across disciplines. To get started, any school faculty can take a step back and consider their entire scope and sequence through the following simple filters:

  • What are we currently teaching and how are we currently teaching to provide our students with an understanding about the many ways we rely on personal responsibility and self-regulation in order to operate together?
  • What are we currently teaching and how are we currently teaching to provide our students with an understanding about the personal values they use to prioritize and make choices and to expand the scope or perimeter in which or to whom they apply these values?
  • What are we currently teaching and how are we currently teaching to provide a K–12 scaffold around decision making and choices as part of our problem-solving outcomes?
  • What are we currently teaching and how are we currently teaching to connect content areas to future fields or professions for middle and high school students? Where are the opportunities, perhaps within exploration of fields or professions, to prepare students with Ethical Fitness practice in the content areas?

Each of these question sets can provide a rich and inspiring faculty meeting, or portion therein. Follow these steps to reach depth and helpful applications in each case:

  1. Review the question set as a whole faculty and clarify.
  2. Break into grade-level groups and generate lists for "what" and for "how" in each group.
  3. Scatter. Change groups so that no one in your grade-level group is in your new group. Share and compare lists of "what" and "how" in your new group. Generate new ideas for these lists.
  4. Post butcher-block paper across one wall of your meeting space. Post or depict with pictures your "scope and sequence toward integrity" by lining up groups sequentially (kindergarten, then 1st grade, then 2nd grade, etc.).
  5. Finish by presenting plans by grade level. Leave the paper posted for a while, so faculty can look at the whole scope at their leisure. Transcribe and publish your plans.

Integrating questions centered around "what's right?" or "what kind of person do you want to be?" often helps bring alive content areas for young people. And processes that integrate concepts of ethics into the Common Core will also bring relevant and lively discussions to your faculty work. This is likely to help teachers reconnect with why they love their subject matter and why they love to teach. And who knows? It could result in a much more positive attitude toward these state standards!

Paula Mirk worked at whole child partner the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE) for 17 years. For the majority of her tenure, she oversaw IGE's education department. IGE collaborates with national and international organizations and with school districts large and small to integrate ethical literacy into classroom practice, school culture, and systemic reform. Connect with IGE at education@globalethics.org.

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