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Creating a Culture Where Rigor is the Norm


Tips and protocols to support rigorous instruction across your building

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“Rigor” is a word that educators hear frequently. From the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to faculty meetings to professional development workshops; it’s a hot topic these days.

Almost everyone has heard of rigor, and most teachers and administrators will probably tell you they know it when they see it, but more often than not, people have a hard time defining it. That’s because there isn’t one standard definition for rigor. In fact, its meaning and implementation can vary by district, school, or even classroom.

Although some may think rigorous instruction means giving more homework or making things harder, that shouldn’t be the case. According to Barbara Blackburn, author of the book Rigor Is NOT a Four-Letter Word, “Rigor is more than what you teach and what standards you cover; it's how you teach and how students show you they understand.” She also notes that true rigor involves creating and supporting environments where students are expected to learn at high levels.

If you want teachers to support rigor in their classrooms, it’s important to make sure you are facilitating a culture of rigor within your building. Take a look at these tips and protocols as you plan your strategy. 

Define rigor and how you want it to look in your building

Understanding what rigor looks like is fundamental to approaching rigorous instruction and measuring it in the classroom. To get all of your team on the same page, sit down together and define what you want rigor to look like in your school. Turning this into a group activity builds community between teachers and administrators and ensures that everyone understands what they will be held accountable for throughout the year.

If you already have an understanding of what you want rigor to look like, you can use this time to discuss where your instruction demonstrates these defined qualities.

Identify protocols you can use to define rigor in your building

Now that you’re ready to define what rigor looks like, how are you going to bring everyone together and do it? If routine group discussion isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other brainstorming protocols you can use to define rigor in your building.

Chalk talk is a way to for groups or individuals to reflect, brainstorm, generate ideas, or problem solve in silence. Because there is no speaking during chalk talk, it encourages more thoughtful contemplation and slows down the pace of group discussion.

Another idea would be to have everyone read articles about rigor and then engage in a jigsaw to identify commonalities and major takeaways for their practice.

Establish an observational guide to your school's rigor

The last step in planning your strategy for implementing rigorous instruction is to determine how you and your staff can identify rigor across your practices. Once you have spent time identifying what rigor means to your school community, you want a consistent structure in place to determine if students are getting opportunities/exposure to rigorous instruction.

  • Students synthesize themes across historical and current events to see the cyclical nature of human behavior.
  • Students connect material to real-life examples and situations.
  • Students have opportunities to synthesize data or themes throughout multiple sources or perspectives.
  • Students reflect on their progress and efforts.
  • Students build on their classmate’s comments and understand their perspectives
  • Teachers present students with evidence and see where it takes them. The teachers don’t draw conclusions for their students.
  • The classroom environment advocates a high-degree of achievement from each student.
  • Instruction and assignments are designed to lead students to expected outcomes.

 Want to learn more about rigor in the classroom? Watch our webinar to learn strategies that will save classroom and prep time while still providing rigorous instruction and activities.

Watch Recording >>


Alexandra Pratt
Alexandra Pratt

Alex is an experienced content strategist, digital marketer, and storyteller. Prior to joining ThinkCERCA, she worked at Yik Yak, a mobile app startup. As Yik Yak’s Content Marketing Manager, she developed the company’s content strategy, launched campaigns that amassed hundreds of thousands of new users, and grew Yik Yak’s social media communities to over 2 million followers worldwide. In addition to working as ThinkCERCA’s Inbound Marketing Manager, Alex is also a freelance content strategist and writer. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time outdoors with her family, and volunteering with Autism Speaks and the Special Olympics of Georgia. Alex earned her Bachelors of Science from Kennesaw State University in 2011 and hopes to further her formal education in the years to come.