Building anything solid and long lasting requires planning. Lisa Olenski, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Center Line Public Schools in Michigan, understands that concept and has built the curriculum process for her team with a strong foundation from the bottom-up.

In our discussion with her in our recent Spark! Webinar, “Slow Down to Speed Up,” she reminded us that curriculum starts with a conversation. In fact, she said that her very first meeting with teachers often involved a simple question: What does the word curriculum mean to you? Acknowledging that teachers and administrators are instrumental in building a joint definition of curriculum builds a strong foundation of teamwork and planning.

Lisa emphasizes that you have to articulate your expectations before you break ground.  By uncovering what your team already thinks about curriculum, you open a discussion for expectations.  Allowing the team to refine their definition of the word curriculum brings about an organic and honest conversation about goals:  What do we want our curriculum to look like? What is it composed of vs. what should it be composed of?

How Would We Reach Our Goals?

These answers led Lisa’s team to their curriculum philosophy:

Taking the time to have discussions, and not jumping headfirst into construction, was the key to success.  This way, not only is everyone on the same page, but everyone holds a stake in designing it.  Once the true vision has been established, it’s time to build.

Building takes time – hence, “slowing down.” Lisa and her team targeted a specific content area to focus their work. Over the course of 18 months, Lisa has worked through the unit planner template and components of curriculum writing with her teams for slow, yet steady, progress. Guided academic readings and continued conversations have allowed professional development and curriculum development to become interwoven. Lisa relates it back to her experience in the classroom: “›In any well-designed unit, opportunities for student discovery must be intentionally planned.” ›For staff to have both a deep understanding of their content standards, as well as a shared understanding of what students needed to know, understand and do, intentional learning needed to take place.

Lisa first worked at the elementary and then at the secondary levels to tackle the critical work of:

  1. Unpacking standards and highlighting skills
  2. Organizing standards into big ideas with overarching questions

What Did I Learn?

  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Work closely with administrators to create a common philosophy
  • Include building principles in the process as much as possible
  • Remember, the process involves people’s belief’s
  • Take time to reflect and celebrate

These days you can find Lisa and her teacher teams continuing their construction in other subject areas, keeping their steady pace, and building momentum. The district’s philosophy serves as a solid foundation for their continued work, thanks to their involvement of teachers and administrators from the beginning. A culture of honesty, risk-taking and celebration are now apparent throughout. As Lisa puts it, “Curriculum development and the mapping process takes time, but it is a journey definitely worth taking together.

Resources mentioned [ pdf ]

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