By the FariaPD Team: Featuring Dr. RJ Webber from Novi Community School District, MI and Dr. Matt Crowley and Team from Woburn Schools, MA
Dr. Webber and Dr. Crowley set the tone by sharing their hashtag #bettertogether, which they use to emphasize “these are ALL our kids”- regardless of where or what you teach, we have all chosen the field of education because “We believe in the absolute liberating power of knowledge and what it provides.” These beliefs are important to the work both educators are doing and were fundamental in shaping their curriculum processes.
Dr. Webber also set the stage by sharing his belief that you can’t make any moves without a visible and viable curriculum. Creating your curriculum is hard work that takes years, but it will pay off. Here, find information about each school’s unique journey towards creating strategic plans for their curriculum process.
Developing a Curriculum Process | Dr. RJ Webber, Novi Community School District
Who is Involved
Dr. Webber opened this section with Jim Collins’ quote, “The (best organizations) made a habit of putting their best people on their best opportunities, not their biggest problems.” Dr. Webber explains that there is a tendency to want our best teachers, students, etc. to tackle the biggest challenges, but he viewed their curriculum creation as the biggest opportunity for the district, and thus wanted the best people working on it.
When Novi began this work, they completely restructured their teams. They eliminated the role of department heads and instead created a new position called Content Area Leaders (CALs). Because of this shift, they were able to change the responsibilities of the team and begin a competitive application process to find the best teachers to lead the work. Once they built a team of CALs, they tasked them with recruiting additional teachers to do the writing. As Dr. Webber put it, they left 100% of the fate of their curriculum writing with the teachers. This led to a higher level of teacher engagement and ownership.
How They Structured the Work
In addition to outlining who would do the work, the team at Novi created a plan to prioritize what content areas would be developed and when. As you can see in their plan, they have a 3-phase process: Review/Plan/Revise, Curriculum Implementation & Assessment Development, and Full Curriculum & Assessment Implementation. Groups of content areas entered each phase in a different year so that they would have the time and budget to support the various phases.
They also made a point of ensuring that the curriculum is a hub for everything that they believe in and prioritize, such as social justice, writing, and alignment (instruction, observation, assessment, and curriculum).
Ensure the Curriculum is Used
A question was asked about how to ensure that teachers are following the curriculum. One important factor is that the process is teacher-driven, so the curriculum should be good enough that teachers will want to use it. Additionally, the creation of common benchmark assessments was key. Because these assessments were created by the district, they closely align to the curriculum, making it apparent who is following the planned curriculum. Additionally, Novi made their curriculum public to the parents and community, which is an exciting way for parents to discuss what their kids are learning at home.
Results of this Work
In 2010 when they started this work, NCSD was in the top third of Oakland County (30 school districts) on science, social studies, and ELA assessments, and in the top 2 on math assessments. Now in 2017, NCSD is the top in Oakland County in science, social studies, and math, and in the top 3 for ELA – for the third year in a row on both state and national assessments. As Dr. Webber put it, “While our kids are far more than performance on standardized assessment, it is gratifying knowing they are doing well not due to test prep, but due to their teachers’ diligent efforts.”
Learning from Others | Dr. Matt Crowley and Team, Woburn Schools
Dr. Matt Crowley also started with a quote from Jim Collins, “Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools.” Matt went on to explain his school district has always been a good school district, with good test scores, and a satisfied community. However, he wanted to begin a curriculum process to embrace the full potential of the district and make it great.
To do this, they confronted their “brutal facts”:
Brutal Fact #1: Teachers/Schools operated in “silos”- teachers didn’t view working on curriculum as their job. There was no transparency of when, or how frequently, content was being addressed.
Brutal Fact #2: Little to no culture of professional collaboration- primarily because there was no time set aside for collaboration
Modeled after the plan created by the team at Novi, the team at Woburn also embraced a plan in which three stages are addressed over three years. The team had a few notes about their experience that they wanted to share:
- The process is not entirely linear. It was up to each departmental team to decide on the exact process used by their group.
- They did not map the textbook. They had many conversations at the beginning about how they wanted to prioritize standards-based instruction. Each team began by examining and grouping standards without looking at their textbooks. This was a shift in thinking for many, but it was crucial to get the results they wanted.
- Keep units reasonable for the time frame: Some of the best (and most heated) conversations took place around what to take out. Because you can only cover so much in one unit, you need to be thoughtful about how to prioritize the information.
- Use time intentionally!
- It is okay to go back and fix things, even if it puts you behind schedule. It is better to do things right than rush.
- Set a plan for how you want to use the time you have before the meeting to maximize productivity.
- Build in time to review the curriculum.
- Provide structure for curriculum and assessments.
Strategic Plan Resources For YOU!
Dr. Webber and Dr. Crowley connected after Dr. Crowley watched a previous Rubicon Spark webinar featuring Dr. Webber. The two have since supported each other and built successful strategic plans based on their shared desire to improve teaching and learning for all.
We would love to learn more about the strategic plans that you are working on at your schools and districts, as well as any successes or struggles you are experiencing. Connect with us and share! Do you want to view the full webinar? Access it here!