Taking personal ownership of Atlas and unit planning as both a teacher and administrator has offered me empirical practice in curriculum writing, thus allowing me to prepare the best experiences possible for my students, while also understanding the struggles of my colleagues.

New Baby

Six years ago, my district decided the time had (finally) come to re-evaluate our curriculum and our lesson planning format and so we decided to migrate to Atlas. While the project implementing this platform was the baby of a colleague, he was on vacation when our training began and so Atlas, formerly referred to as Rubicon, became my adopted child.

How do you teach little kids to swim? You jump in with them!

At the time, I was both an administrator and a classroom teacher, so I was able to experience the process of implementing the unit plan first hand. I loved it! It required me to really think about the “big ideas” I wanted to address, while also being able to visually design my day-to-day activities. Perhaps the biggest effect Atlas had on my instruction was the reminder to always revisit my big ideas at the end of a unit, making me reflect on whether or not I had achieved my goals for my students.
Had we answered all of our phenomenon based questions? (Okay, okay, I know ELA isn’t quite like Science, but there are attention-grabbers that hook students into a novel.)

  • Did we address all of the unknowns with which we began the unit?
  • Did we reach the point of convergence where literature, informational text, and current events intersect?
  • Giving my classes ownership of this process also let them assess what they had gleaned from the literature and informational texts we had been dissecting, allowing them to evaluate their own learning.


While as a teacher, I knew my own process of planning, as an administrator, I had to recognize that everyone’s process is different. I know that some of my best teachers are the worst at paperwork, so I had to find a way to give them the time to do this work and then see the value in it.

Our administrative team decided to “trade” our second department meeting of the month for a working meeting where teachers could collaborate on the creation of units in Atlas, participate in vertical articulation allowing them to share ideas both longitudinally and cross-curricularly, and evaluate our individual departmental goals as a group. While this was a change for teachers, it ultimately fostered dialogue among group members who may never have sought out this conversation. I’m always thrilled when I walk around a room of students engaged in a piece of literature. I started to feel the same way about my teachers who were discussing best practices in their classrooms. Unit planning felt productive and academic rather than a chore to complete.

Curriculum Review and Evaluation

In my first efforts to evaluate teachers’ progress in unit planning in Atlas, I used a tool that allowed me to document unit-by-unit what existed and what was missing. However, that ultimately was not the most effective means of communicating needs with my teachers. It sometimes led to more questions than answers. This system was new to them and they needed more specific instruction to really help them develop units that both addressed and assessed standards while also truly engaging students in dynamic activities.

Though it took longer to gauge, the open ended method gave teachers exactly what they needed to modify. If they had concerns on anything in the “needs” column, I knew exactly what to address and they knew what to ask.

Course: College and Career Readiness Review date: 2/13/24
ELA SAT Skills and Writing
  • Add SEL competencies where appropriate
  • Delete 2016 standards
  • Include relevant NJ: 2023 SLS: Progress Indicators for Reading Informational Text 11-12
  • Include relevant NJ: 2023 SLS: Progress Indicators for Writing 11-12
  • Update NJ: 2020 SLS: Career Readiness, Life Literacies, and Key Skills
  • Be sure calendar matches Daily Learning Activities

While initially I was only progress checking the departments I supervised, ultimately, in preparation for state review, the list of courses I perused grew. Luckily, I was able to share the workload with our K-8 Curriculum Coordinator, and suddenly I was working with a lot of different departments, different teachers, and different personalities. Having this review format permitted me to handle each department equitably and also reminded me to ask questions about what I didn’t know (like NGSS standards or how tests are weighted differently in math classes). Again, quality conversations occurred, teachers felt heard, and planning was productive.

This process gave me a holistic view of my school, my teachers, and the work students do each and every day. It reminded me that we all learn, process, and prioritize differently, but we all still get the job done.

About The Author


Carol A. Fishbone

Carol A. Fishbone is an educator with thirty years of experience in a 7-12 high school in northwest New Jersey. She has been an English teacher, Supervisor of Instruction for English, Social Studies, and World Language Departments, District AP Coordinator, and Coordinator of Instructional Assessment and Accountability. Her Ph.D. in English has informed her academic knowledge and expectations, while her life experience has kept her grounded and in touch with student needs that are constantly changing.

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