Teachers are so locked into existing textbooks and curriculum practices that frequently this most important function that schools perform—the actual curriculum, instruction, and assessments that students are expected to know and be able to do, falls through the cracks and fails to make the desired impact—aligning the curriculum that is taught to the curriculum that is tested, in both content and context. This initiative, like all initiatives must ensure that steps are taken and built into the deployment plan to ensure that teachers are supported, trained, and expected to do what the system has said it will do.
I recommend several critical steps to this phase of the project, and the first and most important is priority and time. Provide this project the priority it deserves and the teachers the time to work through the expected changes in a collegial manner. By priority I mean, everyone must understand that THIS curriculum alignment initiative is THE most important, most critical initiative going on in the district and will be given first consideration in planning all professional development for this and ensuing years until it is up and running as designed and intended. That is the kind of commitment and prioritizing the district must practice and defend. It is unfair and counterproductive to begin a project of this scope and magnitude and then introduce a new initiative, which will draw resources, time, and talent from the curriculum alignment work already in progress.
By time it is meant that time is planned into the school calendar/day, NOT on teachers’ own time in some kind of “catch as catch can” manner, but using time provided within the contractual day (or outside the contractual day with compensation), with clearly outlined expectations, and specific plans for next steps in the curriculum implementation process. I can almost hear the reader saying, “Time! Where do I find time?” There are staff development days, faculty meetings, department meetings, and other activities built in to almost all district calendars, so let’s look at ways to use that time differently—send a faculty bulletin on the Halloween party, dress code, or whatever, and use that meeting time for your most important, critical issues—defining what children will learn and when they will learn it. No school in America, no matter how high or low performing, has significantly that much more time than the rest of us. Use your creativity and imagination to provide time for the most important, most critical issue you face—defining student learner outcomes and ensuring they are implemented, reviewed and improved.
Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)
While providing the support suggested above, it is also essential to deploy the continuous improvement cycle, also known as the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle so essential to success of any initiative. The learner expectations that have absorbed so much time and effort in their development and common understanding are now being implemented. The most important question to ask is “How is that implementation going?”And an equally important question is “How can we address any issues we may be having?” The “Plan” segment was done in the development, design and articulation of the documents. The section above discusses some of the steps in the “Do” process—building support, expertise, and knowledge in these new documents and their use. Now the system must “Check” to see how it is going.
I am a great fan of formal, organized written feedback to guide this part of the process. The district has provided for the design, development, and articulation of these documents. Now it is time to gather feedback from those people who are using the documents on how well the materials are working. Formal means that the feedback is formalized, planned for at regular intervals, and formally and officially processed by some group with sharing of the results and recommendations back to those who provided the feedback. Teachers using the documents were good enough to provide feedback, it is certainly expected that feedback be formally processed, reacted to, and needed changes be made to improve the work.
This process usually begins with the distribution of a feedback form at regular intervals, usually at the end of an academic quarter or grade period. The regularity of the distribution and sharing of the results keeps the documents alive in everyone’s mind, and encourages people to participate in a continuous improvement loop. The questions asked should avoid terminology such as “like, enjoy,” or other value-laden terms. The questions should get to the heart of the intent — do these documents work to define, pace, and guide instruction to ensure mastery by all students? Do your teachers understand those expectations? Are they appropriately sequenced? Are they rigorous enough or too rigorous?
Some of the questions I have used on previous feedback forms are included below.
- The Priority Standards and Instructional Objectives for this quarter for my grade level are realistic and reflect what students should know and be able to do.
- I understand the Priority Standards and Instructional Objectives and am able to build assessments and use those assessments and results accordingly.
- My students are making acceptable progress toward these Priority Standards.
- I understand the Instructional Objectives and am able to tie my instruction to them.
- My instruction is guided by the Priority Standards and Instructional Objectives.
- I understand the Priority Standards and Instructional Objectives and need no further clarification of them.
- Please list below (feel free to use additional sheets) any SPECIFIC changes in wording of the Priority Standards or Instructional Objectives that you would suggest.
Please remember, the issue involved is whether or not these documents are working as designed, NOT whether or not people like them. Do they work?
Once these feedback forms are completed, I always recommend they be collated at the building level and shared back by the principal with his/her staff. It is important that the principal get a firsthand view of how the initiative is proceeding in his/her building. She/he is the instructional leader and it is imperative she/he reads and knows what teachers are saying and feeling, so any needed planning or change can be done. The feedback is then sent to the district office for the same collating; again, with the idea that leadership needs to know, act on, and share all feedback for future work.
Also, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as bad feedback, unless it is poorly gathered or processed. If there are concerns out there with the people who are to be implementing the new initiative, leadership needs to know that and respond as necessary. If one respondent is unhappy with the new initiative and 25 are happy, that is certainly a different issue than 24 being unhappy and one being happy. If an issue exists at a particular building, the principal needs to know that and address that appropriately. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Learn about any problems, fix them, and move on, but do not ignore problems and let them fester—fix them.
The sharing of the feedback with all involved parties also lends a transparency and credibility to the project that not only shares feedback, but also gives a sense of importance and professionalism to the entire group. We have tried something, so we are gathering feedback to make it better, and we are professional enough to share that feedback with everyone. Again, if I am the only one of 28 teachers who thinks the new Priority Standards are too difficult, that is a hugely different problem than if I am one of the 25 of 28 teachers who are saying the same thing. If that many teachers believe something, let’s address that, fix that and move on. Everyone, including the leadership will benefit from this kind of work.
Save the feedback forms until the end of the year, so the task force or faculty, or whoever, can use the feedback from the entire year to make changes and/or improvements in the documents. This gives the district the ability to continuously improve documents while using feedback from those who actually use those documents.
With such specific curriculum expectations, it is relatively easy to develop common, formative aligned assessments — assessments aligned to the learner expectations, designed, used, and continuously improved by your own district staff. Since all teachers are teaching the same skills at about the same time, the use of common, formative assessments now makes sense and the staff is prepared to develop those assessments, and put those assessments through the same continuous improvement loop.
Next issue we will discuss:
- Building a system to ensure success
- Real-time data and reporting as a requisite of the new system
- A system of support, not retribution