Craig Mertler

Common Core, Whole Child, Teacher Leadership, and Action Research: A Perfect Storm?

My sense is that most educators view the Common Core State Standards as another inconvenience, yet another requirement to meet in our classrooms. However, I would argue that the standards present us with an incredibly unique set of opportunities if we choose to embrace them as a collective opportunity. Knowing that we may have to restructure what we do and how we do it, we have the opportunity to truly reexamine our practice and adjust it accordingly to better meet the academic needs of our students. Additionally, and perhaps more crucially, we don't necessarily need to limit our focus on our students' academic needs.

Because the standards are not simply an upgrade to what we've been doing, but rather a whole new approach, we have an opportunity to also address more comprehensively the needs of the whole child. In a sense, we're developing new unit plans, new ideas for instructional reinforcement, and new plans for formative assessments. This will offer us the chance to critically reexamine—in an extremely reflective manner—our own practice and, therefore, our own effectiveness as professional educators. ASCD's Whole Child Initiative states that all students should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. A reorganization of our approaches to instruction provides us with the opportunity to integrate these five aspects into our instruction. Further, as professional educators, these are things that we should not do occasionally but should strive to integrate them every day and for every child.

But how can we do this?

  • Data-driven educational decision making. Adding the science of teaching to the art of teaching; this is the systematization of a decision making process that incorporates action research as a cyclical process of planning, acting, developing, and reflecting.

  • Data, data, and more data. Using a wide variety of data to help inform this systematic decision-making process; nothing should be off the table. Vary the types of data you use to inform decisions about your students, your teaching, and your curriculum.

  • Thinking differently. Consciously choosing to do things differently; not just thinking outside the box, but actually living outside of it. This needs to become a regular, daily part of the way we do our job of educating the entire child.

  • Professional collaboration. We need to abandon the "egg-crate" mentality of teaching our students. We are capable of accomplishing so much more through collaborative teamwork, where we share common problems, goals, and vision. Incorporating collaborative action research and professional learning communities can be an excellent means of fostering this type of collaborative work.

  • Professional reflection. Constant and critical examination of your own practice fosters ongoing professional learning that is meaningful; doing so also provides you with a mechanism for customizing your own professional development.

The Whole Child Initiative stresses that sustainability is a key in focusing on the needs of children and families. I am a firm believer that collaboration, especially in terms of creating professional learning communities or teams infused with action research can not only enable teams of professional educators to lead and sustain vitally important efforts that meet the needs of the total child, but will also actually foster and promote these kinds of professional activities and endeavors. To me, this is the true example of teacher leadership.

I implore you to use the Common Core State Standards as an opportunity to integrate the aspects of the Whole Child Initiative into your daily classroom instruction. Teacher leaders using an action research approach to meet the standards as well as the needs of the whole child may be the perfect storm (for school improvement, that is!) that we've all been waiting for.

Craig Mertler is a professor and dean of the Ross College of Education at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. His interests lie in teacher-led action research, teacher leadership, classroom assessment, data-driven instructional decision making, and school improvement. Read Mertler's blog, Transformational Innovation in Education: Empowering Educators and Improving Schools and contact him by e-mail at

Comments (2)


January 14, 2013

As our district in Michigan tackled both a new teacher leadership structure AND the CCSS implementation this year, your post hits a chord with me.  While many of our grade-level teams are learning to employ formative assessment, our K-6 teams have really dug into a backward design of our curriculum starting with assessment that will provide data, which will then inform the instruction and materials we gather.  It is quite a challenge for teachers to step back from the pressure of tomorrow’s lesson plans to really think pragmatically about the overall scheme they are trying to develop.  I couldn’t be more proud and impressed by the work they are doing. 

Your post is eerily familiar and I will be sharing it with my peers for ongoing inspiration!


January 15, 2013


Thanks for your comments.  I’m glad that you could relate to what I had to say, and to what I have so much passion for.  Kudos to your teachers, as this is not easy work.  But, then, nothing that has so much potential to have a positive impact is ever easy.

I’m cheering them, and you, on!!  Keep up the good work!!

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