If you are like me, the thing that stands between hearing about good practices and implementing them is a step-by-step approach. As long as it’s fuzzy, I am going to devote my energy to the many tasks at hand that are clear. My friend Barbara Blackburn is well known for her work on rigor. In this guest post, she provides concrete steps for how a school can begin the journey.

Dr. Blackburn writes:

The question I’m asked most often is, “How can I get teachers to understand what rigor is? How do we move past ‘rigor is giving students more work’?”

There are a variety of ways to address this question, but I recommend a five-step approach. You can use this process with your entire faculty, or your site-based leadership committee, or any stakeholder group:

  • Begin by asking your teachers or stakeholders their views on rigor. This can be done through a discussion, but it may be more helpful (and honest) to ask them to answer these questions anonymously.

1. What is rigor?
2. What are teachers doing in a rigorous classroom?
3. What are students doing in a rigorous classroom?

  • Compile all the answers and distribute them to your group. Be sure to keep the answers anonymous. Go ahead and do this now, so there will be time to reflect on and discuss the responses.
  • Work with faculty/stakeholders to review the relevant research on rigor. You can do this by asking small groups to read differing perspectives of rigor, then sharing what they learned with the group.
  • Either in small groups, or as a whole group, compare the research to the teachers’ answers. Discuss which elements are most important, and which are validated by research.

At this point, introduce a comprehensive view of rigor. Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008). Facilitate a discussion of how the differing elements fit within this definition. Then, come to a consensus as to an appropriate definition of rigor. Feel free to use mine, or adapt it as needed!

The process will take time, but it will also foster a deeper understanding of the true meaning of rigor. After all, just because “rigor” comes between “rigmarole” and “rigor mortis” in the dictionary (a quote from James Beane) doesn’t mean we can’t use it to help students learn at higher levels.

For more information on Dr. Barbara Blackburn and her work, visit her¬†website. For further reading on the subject of rigor, visit Barbara’s blog.