Materials Prepared by Pamela Penna, The Park School, MA

This blog is adapted from a webinar. 

Strong leaders are able to create a shared vision, which is no small task. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of being a school leader is to successfully communicate a vision in order to inspire teachers to invest their time and energy into turning an idea into reality. Pamela Penna, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at The Park School in Massachusetts, found a way to bring her school’s vision to life through a clearly articulated purpose and action plan for their curriculum development initiative. Staff enthusiasm and buy-in allowed for the school to fully capitalize on the capabilities of their curriculum mapping platform, Atlas, to create integrated and collaborative curriculum.

1. Planning

Designing a plan included collaboratively creating a “Why Map” vision. Their “Why Map” message included:

  • Streamlining the onboarding of new hires by putting the curriculum in one easy to access location
  • Using curriculum maps as a venue to create more opportunities for collaboration
  • Analyzing curriculum maps to find more opportunities to create cross curricular learning opportunities for students

2. Developing

Pamela set out to develop clear goals and a detailed action plan. Pamela and her team charted the course of their curriculum mapping process out over three years.

Year 1: Laying the foundation for curriculum mapping. This included introducing the concept of mapping to the school community and piloting Atlas with three groups of teachers in order to establish “expert” templates and identify potential areas of need.

Year 2: They will expand mapping to two more subject areas. To facilitate this, they will use teachers who piloted Atlas in the 1st year to train and guide teachers in mapping.

Year 3: As momentum builds, the goal for year 3  is to begin documenting all of the school’s courses in Atlas.

 3. Sharing

Pamela and her team made sure that their goals and action plan were shared with all stakeholders. This included creating and sending out monthly reminders, and using time in full division meetings, department meetings and grade level team meetings to review the goals, communicate expectation, and answer any clarifying questions.

In addition, planning included thinking through what would be needed to carry out the mapping initiative. This included: 1) Making sure that staff feels informed and comfortable; 2) Providing professional development for teachers to learn how to use and develop essential questions and to understand the differences between skills and activities; and 3) Reminding staff as often as possible and in a variety of ways of the importance of their mapping work.

By clearly sharing their vision and goals, Pamela’s team was able to the collect teacher input to make sure the unit template in Atlas reflected the specific needs of both the school and teachers. Pamela referred to this as the 55:45 ratio.

55% of the unit template was designed to target the teacher’s practice in the classroom (as a place to document collaborative planning, and a place to house resources and activities). This was designed as teachers shared what information would be meaningful to their work in the classroom.

45% of the map was created to capture information for the larger school. This is the key information that helps administrators follow how the curriculum progresses in each course and grade level.

4. Revisiting

Pamela and her team made sure to support the process by revisiting the goals and action plan throughout the year to answer clarifying questions and support teachers in their process. This included:

  • Making sure time was available for professional development and support throughout the year
  • Offering additional support outside of PD
  • Creating multiple options for types of training based on the individual needs of teachers

Pamela understood that it was essential to provide her staff with the time required to equitably map their curriculum. By providing time and resources, she showed her team that the administration was in full support of their mapping efforts.

As a result, her team was eager to to begin using the curriculum data in the Atlas system to inform professional development and guide collaboration. To facilitate this, The Park School relied heavily on the reporting capabilities of Atlas to drive their curriculum review.

Search Report for Collaborative Unit Design

The search report was useful to give teachers context as they worked together to design curriculum. As teachers design new units of instruction, it’s helpful to know the previous exposure students have had to specific topics. With the search reports, for example, an 11th  grade history teacher can easily look to see when and where students first learned about “primary documents”.

Comparative Unit Calendar Report for Teacher Collaboration

As teachers sit down to collaborate, the conversation quickly turns to what each teaches and when. The comparative unit calendar is a great report that allows teachers to overlap two courses in order clearly see the units taught over the course of a year. This alone can prove invaluable in identifying areas for cross curriculum collaboration. And when the conversation shifts to looking at a unit in more detail, this report allows one click access to see the unit template.

Scope and Sequence Reports for Professional Learning

In preparation for professional development, Pamela’s team decided to give the consultants the requisite course information in advance by sharing Atlas reports. With the course knowledge at their fingertips, the consultants were able to easily gather context about their curriculum and  immediately dive into the conversations around improving student performance.

Once Pamela and her team saw how helpful the reports were with supporting their professional development work with a consultant, they decided use those same reports as teachers worked collaboratively to apply what they learned during their professional development sessions to create and revise essential questions. This really brought the curriculum to life, as teachers were able to refer to each other’s work, get ideas and support each other. Equally important, it demonstrates that the time they had spend mapping their curriculum had real value.

Next Steps

As The Park School continues to refine their mapping process, they have identified areas in which they need continued growth. After all, Pamela reminded us that curriculum mapping is a “never ending” process. With this in mind, they developed a “mock review” which involves the collecting and sharing of units for evaluation. This review process allows for another individual in the school to interpret your unit and provide feedback. This collaborative approach fosters consistency, conversation, and coaching opportunities.

The scaffolding used to introduce Atlas to their staff got them off to a strong start! As they move forward they are now seeking to help their staff develop more independence in the mapping process. Just as The Park School encourages their students to be life-long learners, they realize that they are going to need to continue familiarizing themselves with all of Atlas’ capabilities. With this in mind, they will continue to provide time and opportunity for their staff to refine their skills and transfer knowledge to new users. The Park School wants to do more than just document curriculum, they want to “use maps for continuous improvement”.

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