Given National Learning and Development month is coming to a close, it is important to remember that students are not the only ones who need to focus on continuous learning in and beyond the classroom.
“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” Alvin Toffler, former American writer and futurist
21st century skills for teachers demand mental agility in assessing a constant stream of new information in relation to decision-making and communication within their classrooms. That means staff development and teacher training efforts must allow for a certain amount of teaching and learning flexibility for teachers when using a systemic curriculum framework.
Designing systemic (across grade levels) curriculum, as I addressed in a previous post, requires four critical leadership characteristics: knowledge, judgment, integrity, and teamwork.
- Knowledge acquisition for prekindergarten to grade 12+ educators must be viewed as an active, ongoing process in order for teachers to be effective curriculum leaders.
- Judgment allows for flexibility for teacher leadership in different types of curriculum designs.
- Integrity builds trust and honesty through open communication.
- Teamwork is essential for incorporating various factors as they relate to instructional design, education standards, and curriculum development.
“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.” Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut
So, how can those responsible for educational leadership keep teaching and learning teams focused?
One way is by using leadership-development maps. These maps, known as a Professional Development Map or Professional Learning Map, are a type of administrative map focused on what teachers, staff members, or administrators focus on what the learner will and be able to do, which I explain in detail in my book, An Educational Leaders’ Guide to Curriculum Mapping. An professional-learning administrative map’s elements are slightly different than those most often found in curriculum maps:
Another consideration for keeping teaching and learning teams focused on continuous learning is through organizational development that supports curriculum and instruction innovation. Given the constant influx of new curriculum design models, instructional technology advancements, and standards-referenced educational resources from OERs, curriculum evaluation and innovation is being affected in at least two ways:
- The manner in which teachers are obtaining educational resources is becoming more organic.
- The rate of change in teaching and learning practices is accelerating due to technology and social networking.
Students’ learning journeys extend across multiple grade levels and multiple teachers. Diligence on behalf of teachers involved in your students’ learning experiences include:
- Ensuring the curriculum systemically flows with continuity, while aligning to education standards;
- Provides opportunities for differentiated instruction and integration of personalized learning;
- And embraces authentic tasks for authentic purposes and audiences.
This is best achieved through deliberate, intentional student-centered and teacher-centered professional development. Through the use of curriculum maps, administrative maps, and personalized professional-learning opportunities, a win-win-win takes place. Administrators are aware of what is required, teachers are afforded flexibility in meeting those requirements, and students benefit from learning and teaching environments that are engaging and purposefully preparing them to be successful personally and professionally.
I started teaching before there were education standards. Now districts, parochial schools, private schools, and charter schools use standards created, adopted, or adapted by states or private organizations.
Regardless of the types of curriculum design your educational system embraces (homegrown, OER, or vendor-purchased), empowering educators to become standards professionals is imperative. To ensure such empowerment, provide your teachers with:
- Training on how to properly read standards based on symbols and texts’ form and function.
- K-12 (or widest span possible) vertical meetings to make learning, teaching, and assessing decisions based on systemic standards perspectives.
- Collaboration opportunities to increase content-specific understanding and instructional practices based on their expertise and who share the vision and mission for the students in their collective care (e.g., school, district).
When I work with teachers and administrators on standards-based curriculum development or standards gap analyses, I consistently experience three realities that, when embraced, positively impact student learning and teaching.
1. Don’t be surprised by what you don’t know.
You can’t know what you don’t know.
You can’t know about things you have yet to discover.
Administrators and teachers assume they know how to read standards and interpret them accurately. While intentions are admirable, I find they do not know how. Regardless of the standards in focus, they are often shocked that they were “never trained how to really read the standards.” Why is it important to know how to accurately read standards? The Nation’s Report Card (2015) for Mathematics and Reading convey that students’ scores nationwide reflect a content proficiency that is still not conducive to achievement in high school and college or when entering the workplace. When teachers gain insight and understanding into how to accurately read standards based on form and function, it empowers them to make wiser curriculum decisions on behalf of the students placed in their care, whether designing curriculum or using purchased products or programs.
2. Kindergarten through Grade 12 teacher participation is necessary to address curriculum comprehensively.
You’ve got to embrace what you don’t know.
The reality is that teachers rarely know the comprehensive nature and scope of a discipline’s K-12 standards. I find administrators and teachers want to meet vertically, especially when I share how meeting systemically to interpret standards leverages vigorous curriculum development. The greatest challenge is schedule conflicts. When overcoming this challenge becomes a high priority and teachers get to meet across grade levels–beyond the typical span of one or two years–learning and teaching improves immediately. While teachers may know their content well, they often do not consider what students must know, do, and apply from the broader perspective of a full set of standards. For example: standards-based academic vocabulary needs to be examined systemically. When high school teachers sit alongside elementary and middle school teachers to discuss what will be essential vocabulary, accurate meanings, and authentic application of the terms, magic happens. I have seen it first-hand. Misunderstandings are cleared up; ideas for instruction shared; and parents, who are their in spirit, are cheering knowing their children’s teachers are not living in grade-level silos, but functioning as one.
3. Gaining standards insights and determining meaningful applications is a collaborative process.
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process,
you don’t know what you’re doing.
–W. Edwards Deming
While meeting virtually may be a solution to systemic standards conversations, nothing beats in-person meetings. These should last all day due to allow adequate time to dig deep and benefit from the collaboration process. Oftentimes, the process leads to focus points being born organically during a meeting.
For example: during a K-12 meeting focused on becoming literate in reading and interpreting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the elementary education teachers became increasingly anxious about their students’ performance expectations (PEs). They commented that the Disciplinary Core Ideas were, on average, learned two years younger than in their previous state science standards. They transparently shared their lack of science expertise was concerning for them and the students in their care.
In the moment, we created jigsaw teams: each team consisting of elementary, middle, and high school teachers. Each team focused on a different science topic (e.g., engineering, physical science, life science, earth and space science) and the related PEs. In the jigsaw groups, the elementary teachers, as well some middle school teachers, gained new science understanding from the high school teachers that aided them in considering how their students would be able to exhibit the PE requirements. After jigsawing, the teachers reconvened with their grade-level range and were instantly able to make stronger and more strategic decisions based on the gained K-12 perspectives.
How is your school or district embracing these three (or other) realities? If not, what do you wish would be happening?