Contributed by Kim E.
Advice: Give a lot of support–training, time, and tools. Teachers, like students, need to know why they are doing something, how to do it, and be given time to do it. Go slowly, but have a plan, diffuse leadership, and accountability.
(1) We spent the first year training in Understanding by Design (a voluntary small group met in a book study, and training in less depth was given in professional development time) and engaging instructional strategies and selecting standards. All teachers were required to actually do in Curriculum Trak was have time periods and unit titles entered.
(2) The next year I created a spreadsheet listing all courses with the number of units in each indicated as grayed fields extending to the right. Teachers selected a goal for themselves as to a number of courses they would map that year, and the number of years it would take them to complete mapping (1 or 2, with a few being allowed up to 3, for those teaching 6 different courses or doing a curriculum/textbook review in year #2). I then set regular goals for each regarding number of units to be mapped by a certain time. I turned gray boxes representing units green as units were mapped. How did we determine whether units were sufficiently mapped? We created a curriculum unit map guide. When a teacher had a map completed, s/he brought a printout of the unit map and of the unit map guide to someone who had been in the Understanding by Design book discussion the previous year. The 2 colleagues reviewed the documents together, and revisions were made until the map was considered aligned to the guide. Once a teacher had 2 maps checked in this way, s/he was able to serve as a checker him/herself. Nearly all divisional meeting time and professional development time for 2 years was given over to a short chunk of training in some area of the map, and then time to work on the maps. Those who fell behind goals were asked to attend a curriculum work session each Friday during 2nd or 7th periods. The few teachers who fell behind and did not have a free period one of those 2 times, I checked in with weekly. In addition to all this, we held optional book discussions: Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding in the fall and Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility in the spring.
(3) The third year was a continuation of the second. A few teachers were finished. These spent a lot of time meeting with the others. Some of our professional development time was taken by accreditation work. Supporting optional book discussions were How to Differentiate Instruction in the Academically Diverse Classroom in the fall and Making Thinking Visible in the spring.
(4) We are now in our 4th year. Curriculum mapping is nearly finished. (The process was slightly different for elementary—they are mapping their final area this year: science.) We spent 3 professional development sessions in the fall choosing a unit map to revise, following a discussion protocol with a partner about results in each of the mapping fields when the unit was taught, and then giving time to revise the maps given their discussion. We will need to continue doing this to embed the idea that maps are not products to be filed, but living documents to capture teacher learning each year of what works best for student learning in that unit. All the faculty are also involved in book discussions during divisional meeting times of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Academically Diverse Classroom. Now that most of the unit maps are complete, and teachers have a working understanding of standards, big ideas, and backward design, it is possible to begin working on this important area. This is one result of our efforts. Another is standards based grading. The elementary has already made the shift this year.
The training, time, and tools are really important. If teachers are just told to “do it,” and given maybe technical training in using the platform, but not deep level buy-in as to why this type of curriculum planning is important—the ways in which it will make their teaching and the kids’ learning more effective and rewarding—then it will just provoke cynicism. I did this, and the self-selected goals and diffused leadership. But half-way through year 2, little progress had been made. At that point, we cancelled everything but curriculum development in professional development and divisional meeting time and implemented all the other accountability structures. I discovered adults need them as much as kids do. It’s just a tool for helping us accomplish our own goals. I think it helped.