By Eric Hewitt, High School Principal Riverview School District

Change. In my school it is known as the “C” word. If you are smart, you will avoid using that word at all costs. Just mentioning change could doom any initiative or plan to failure before you utter the next word, before you can set the stage. You could have the best plan in the world and it could positively impact every student in the school, but the fear of change will freeze your teachers, and nothing gets done. Ok, so that may be a little exaggerated, but none of us like to change, and I really have seen the fear of change stop teachers from even giving a new idea a shot.

Understanding the Need for Curriculum Change

I have been at Riverview for almost 10 years as a social studies teacher and as an administrator. When I first started, ‘curriculum’ was a collection of standards listed by that arcane numbering system, the chapters in the book, references to materials and resources that may or may not still be available and lists of assessments. It was not completely useless, but it came close.

Over the years, I would have conversations with other teachers in different subjects, and every 4 years or so, we would ‘write’ curriculum. By that I mean we would take out that document, change the date, and save it. This always bothered me.

As I moved into administration and dug a little deeper into the state of curriculum district-wide, it became apparent that we needed to take a serious look at what we were doing K-12. The way we were producing and maintaining curriculum was sporadic, staff saw curriculum work as pointless, the elementary schools were not on the same page, secondary teachers pointed fingers at elementary teachers claiming kids were not being taught needed skills, and alignment to PA Common Core was questionable.

Over the past 2 years it became a priority for the administrative team and a group of teachers that we change the way we thought about and interacted with curriculum. I was familiar with Atlas from an internship that I did at North Hills School District and was impressed with what I saw. Here was a tool that would bring the district together, help us develop a common process, train staff (teachers and admin), and allow us to create a K-12 curriculum that was aligned, consistent, and accessible.

Setting the Foundation for Shared Leadership

At our opening day of professional development, we set the stage for the entire district staff—why curriculum is important, how it helps teachers and students, and how it will be a teacher-driven process with full administrative support, and that we will take our time, train everyone, etc. Still, lots of nervous people.

The next step was to break the staff into smaller groups (each group was asked to identify a leader who would become a part of the core team for the Atlas implementation)—departments for secondary, grade level bands for elementary folks—and let them think about what they are worried about AND what they are hoping for.

Identifying – and Addressing – Teachers’ Concerns

The fear/concern that came up the most was time—When are we going to do this? How long is this going to take? How many class days will I miss? The second—support—We have done this before what makes this time different? What happens when administration changes? Who is leading this?

When we asked for hopes and motivation, we were pleasantly surprised, it seemed as if fears were starting to ebb away just a little—Time was the number one hope and identified motivator—the message was “give us the time to do this, and we are on it!” Administrative support and the ability to collaborate were a close second hope/motivation.

The good news is that the fears and hopes are all things we can do easily.

Time—professional development is for the core team this year, and professional development designed around the whole staff will roll out next year. We will use PD days, summer paid workshops, and (minimal) ½ days out of the classroom.

Support—the entire administrative team was behind this initiative BEFORE we introduced it to the staff. The idea is to train the core team to the point where they become the leaders and drivers of curriculum development.

Collaboration—are you kidding me? Our administrative team wants everyone to collaborate! This one is very important, knowing what other educators are doing in different grade levels, buildings, and subjects helps us all understand the bigger picture.

Continuing the Momentum

Train the core team and turn them into an instrument of momentum.

We wanted the core team to be a microcosm of the entire staff. We asked that they choose leaders based on a couple factors—interest in the process, experience, and their ability to best represent the hopes and fears of their group. The core team are going to be the teacher leaders, the ones who will shape the process, choose the direction we are going, make the timeline, and most importantly—lead and support the staff. (done)

Our plan for this year:

  • Vision: RSD will utilize Atlas as a user friendly, beneficial tool that is known and accessible to all stakeholders (teachers, administrators, parents and students).  It will house living documents created as a part of a grass root, collaborative, teacher led effort designed to present teaching goals, activities and outcomes that are able to be vertically and horizontally aligned, mined for data to assist in instructional decisions and responsive to changes in policy, priorities, and resources.
  • Timeline (Work in progress)
  • Action Plan (Work in progress)
  • Identify Professional Development (Some done, we found that we don’t always know what we don’t know)
  • Identify curriculum we want to start with
  • Write curriculum, one per represented group

The core team experience will be the template for the entire staff roll-out for next year. As we go through this experience together, the hope is for the core team to gain the confidence and experience to become the drivers of the curriculum process and to put the power into the hands of the staff.

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