As a young girl growing up in the Big Sky of Montana, Melissa Romano dreamed of someday becoming a photographer. However, her perspective changed dramatically after working as a nanny and seeing the picture of her future through a different lens. Today, as a fourth grade math teacher and a National Education Association (NEA) Master Teacher, the only camera Romano uses professionally is a video recorder to shine a spotlight on Common Core State Standards (CCSS)-aligned lessons.
Romano of Helena, Montana, is one of 90 Math and Language Arts Master Teachers the NEA selected to share their Common Core-related lessons online with other teachers. The NEA facilitates this sharing through a joint effort with BetterLesson.com, the premier provider of online teacher-generated resources. Together, NEA and BetterLesson aim to use teachers’ expertise from across the country to aid in the effective implementation of the CCSS. These lessons can be found at cc.betterlesson.com.
The use of video recorded lessons is just one of the ways that the NEA- BetterLesson lessons set themselves apart from what is available on other online lesson-sharing sites. The lessons available from NEA and BetterLesson are designed to enable teachers to see, hear, and fully understand the ‘how’s and why’s’ of Common Core lessons. In addition to videotaping Master Teachers presenting lessons to their students, the NEA Master Teacher/BetterLessons site includes:
- A step-by-step lesson guide;
- A list of resources for teachers seeking further information on a lesson;
- And a personal reflection from the Master Teacher, explaining what went right, what he or she would do differently, and other insights from the Master Teacher about lessons learned.
The need for such a comprehensive effort is great. Across the country, many teachers are frustrated with being left out of the CCSS implementation process and with the lack of resources available to help them with that process. The NEA/BetterLesson initiative is just one of several efforts the NEA launched to provide concrete solutions to the challenges that teachers and students face with the new CCSS requirements.
The Great Public Schools (GPS) Fund, a $60 million fund, was introduced, last year, to invest in state and local initiatives that improve student success and strengthen the teaching profession. Over the next decade, the GPS Fund will support innovative projects and ideas proposed by educators, such as peer assistance and review programs, teacher mentoring, school safety, technology, and, of course, Common Core implementation. In addition, the Raise Your Hand campaign promises to provide an avenue for educators to access resources to help them as they make the transition to a CCSS-aligned curriculum.
The goal of NEA’s Master Teacher Program, specifically, is to ensure the success of Common Core by recognizing teachers as frontline leaders, which would allow the initiative to move forward, despite teachers’ current concerns.
“If I didn’t believe that Common Core was good for teachers and their students, I wouldn’t support it as strongly as I do. I believe that it gives teachers flexibility to provide students with lessons that are richer, more in depth, and more meaningful,” said Romano, who was involved at the ground level of CCSS-implementation in her school district.
NEA’s partnership with BetterLesson makes top quality instruction come alive and be put in a form that can be easily replicated and/or adapted, thus helping all teachers feel as prepared as Romano.
The teacher’s reflections, according to Romano, are particularly powerful. “Anybody can say ‘here’s a Common Core lesson,’ but it is impactful to not only see a lesson in action, but to also see and hear how the lessons went from the teacher’s perspective.” Romano went on to explain, “Believe me, the lessons don’t always go as easily as planned. I have said, ‘This lesson made me tear my hair out!’ That’s okay, I’m not perfect and neither are the students. The thing is, we can learn a lot from out mistakes!”
And when the “Record” button is hit on the video camera, the kids shine. “They love being part of the process. They don’t worry if they make mistakes. They know that is important work that we’re doing together,” said Romano
The work of the Master Teacher/BetterLesson project is critical, as well as time- consuming for the 90 teachers who were selected to be Master Teachers. Long workdays lengthen; vital free time becomes more precious; and the regular demands of the classroom increase. Yet, Romano and the other Master Teachers are committed to working with their coaches to provide new comprehensive, quality lessons on a weekly basis. In fact, by year’s end, more than 16,000 lessons will be available at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen on the BetterLesson website.
Like photography, life is about composition – choosing what is included and what is left omitted—of daily snapshots. These days, Romano’s days are filled with morning runs, parenting, teaching, planning a wedding, and building a house. Thankfully, for teachers and students across the country, Romano makes ample time for her work as a Master Teacher. Her dedication to teacher empowerment, specifically in the face of CCSS implementation, helps to make the NEA-BetterLesson project “picture perfect.”