Written by Josh Ruland, Minooka CCSD 201

Educators have the knowledge, experience, and talents to make a huge impact on students, which is why it’s essential to invite them to the table when discussing changes that will impact their craft. No single person is an expert; it is the power of the collective discussion and discourse that leads to moving the needle for students. One of the most powerful tools that help equip teachers to teach students is a clear and understandable curriculum and resources.

Before beginning to develop, review or revise curriculum, it is important to develop and articulate the process – or the “how we do things here”. Through my experience in education, no matter the size of the district, I strongly believe that you need to get the right people at the right table having the right conversations. When you can facilitate that gathering, great things can happen. So, what does this look like when starting a curriculum process?  In Minooka 201, we were starting from the very beginning.  We needed to develop and articulate our vision and philosophy together. First, we needed to gather the right people.

The Team

Our first step was to gather the team. We invited educators and administrators to join a team we called our Curriculum Vision Team. As the name implies, this team would have a short-lived but vitally important role to play. Educators from various grade levels, subjects and services, along with administrators, were represented. This team was charged with developing our common vision and philosophy for curriculum and ultimately our process to guide curriculum work for our teams of teachers. 

Create the Big Picture

We had the right team around the right table and that sparked the right conversations. This team began to develop a curriculum development process. They began by defining what our district meant when we used terms like curriculum, assessment and instruction. It was important to begin with a common understanding. From there we began to discuss what we believed our vision for teaching and learning is and should be. What purpose does curriculum serve in that vision?  What aspects of teaching and learning can be tight and loose – in other words, what is common and must be included and what was flexible and encouraged individual teacher innovation?  

Define the Process

After working through the high level, it was time for the team to begin articulating what we referred to as our development process. They began to create the steps teams of teachers (also known as developers) would use to review, revise, and develop curriculum. The team began to create our curriculum map format and what would be included to guide teachers and support teaching and learning. They were setting the table for new work to begin.

Transparency (AKA No Surprises)

This approach was very different than the previous approach used in the district. With such a different process, a natural suspicion and a reluctance to change developed. The team was quick to acknowledge this threat and decided early to make the process, and work, transparent to all. The work on the Curriculum Development Protocol was never kept secret. Teachers were encouraged to get feedback and include their colleagues in the design.  

In addition, a belief statement was added to the protocol to keep the curriculum development process transparent. Even though a smaller team would be working on curriculum together in person, the working draft of all curriculum would be open for all teachers to view and provide comments, questions, and feedback.  

It was up to the designated developers to consider and discuss the feedback they would receive from their fellow teachers and administrators. Utilizing a curriculum development system like Atlas was incredibly helpful to achieve the level of consistency and transparency that the team desired.

Publishing the Protocol

The result of the CVT was a document titled Minooka CCSD 201 Curriculum Development Protocol. It was important to commit this work to a published guiding document that would define our process. This would help ensure the process would continue and not be dependent on any one person. In other words, this was not Dr. Ruland’s plan, this was our district’s plan, created, revised, and owned by everyone in our district. The goal was for the process to become the norm for how we work on curriculum at 201. 

Collaborative Work

With the work of the CVT complete, it was now time to begin working on the plan. The CVT was clear that those who were most closely involved in the teaching and learning of those subjects would also be included in the work of curriculum development. From developing the vision and process to working through the process–it was, and will be, a team effort with the right people at the right table having the right conversations.  

In an attempt to simplify our vision, philosophy, and beliefs, we created a straight-to-the-point guiding statement:

Consistent and clear outcomes with common assessment evidence encourages teacher innovation and creativity while fostering teacher conversations about student learning.

LESSONS LEARNED

As with all experiences, the most important lessons come after. Below are some of the lessons learned through the implementation of our process.

1. Take the Courage to Go Slow
Don’t rush the process. It takes time to make systemic changes. The CVT spent almost a full year developing and articulating our curriculum vision and protocol. Our curriculum development teams take at least a year studying standards, shifts of instruction, current data, etc, before beginning to actually develop curriculum or courses.

2. Embrace the Disagreements  
During the process, each of our teams have reached some level of frustration and disagreement. This is normal and encouraged. Through productive “arguing” the teams arrive at a better understanding than they had at the beginning. I remind our teams frequently that by working through these points of frustration a better place can be reached for everyone.

3. Recognize the Effort and Work 
This is hard work. Don’t pretend that it is not. We frequently recognize and remind others that these teams are going well beyond their normal work. This work is on top of their full-time assignment of teaching. While we do compensate these teams for work and time completed during the summer, it does not come close to the value these teams add. I try to take every opportunity to highlight their work and the difference they are making for our district and our students.

4. Be Open to Different Viewpoints
When gathering any group or team of educators together there will be a variety of opinions and perspectives on the work. The team that developed the units of instruction will have a different understanding than the teachers who are learning and thinking through how to implement the units. Each educator, including those who are negative and resistant, bring value to the process. Take the time to listen, reflect, and revise or respond accordingly. Throughout the year, I spend time at each building in the mornings to simply listen to our educators–their successes, concerns, and frustrations. It would be easy to skip this step to avoid hearing any negative comments about change, but there is much to learn from spending time listening.

5. A New Curriculum Is Not a Fix 
It is important to remember that this is a process and not just the creation of a new “thing”. This becomes increasingly difficult for some traditional mindsets. The power of a district curriculum designed in this manner with consistent outcomes and common assessments is that it provides teachers with the tools and evidence to have productive conversations about improving teaching and learning for students. Following a scripted curriculum or even a new curriculum will not have the same impact on student learning as equipping teachers with tools and information to work together to improve practice, empower them to make improvements to instruction, and encourage them to continue.

6. Curriculum Is Not a Textbook  
It is not a textbook or program–those are tools used while teaching. Repeat, curriculum is not a textbook or program.  Many educators and non-educators may have difficulty grasping this idea; continue to help those to understand.

7. Not Everything Will Work the First Time 
Even though it looks great on paper and in discussions with fellow educators, be prepared for that to change the moment you have students in a class. It will take trial and error to continue to refine and improve.

8. Have Unwavering Confidence in Your Teams 
Educators are skilled professionals in teaching and learning. When supported they have the ability to review, revise, and develop curriculum to best address the students of a district, school, and classroom.  Trust and respect them and never waiver to do so in public.

9. Make Your Message Clear 
Consistent and clear outcomes with common assessment evidence encourages teacher innovation and creativity while fostering teacher conversations about student learning.

 

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Equip, Empower, and Encourage our Teachers!

Dr. Joshua Ruland

Dr. Joshua Ruland

Assistant Superintendent

Dr. Joshua Ruland earned a BA in Psychology and English, an MA in Teaching from the University of St. Francis, and his Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Loyola University Chicago. He is currently an assistant superintendent for the Minooka CCSD @201, a pre-k-8 district outside of Chicago. He has presented his experience and research about the power of formative assessment at numerous national conferences. As a district leader for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, Joshua has led a variety of k-12 organizations through the creation of their own curriculum development process.

Minooka CCSD 201 is a Pre-K-8 district of close to 5000 students and seven schools located in communities in and around Minooka, Illinois in the far southwest suburbs of Chicago.

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