Making an Impossible Challenge More Manageable

We’ve never experienced a school reopening like this one. (Understatements.)

When our ‘squad’ connected this season, the refrain was the same: “We would be LOST if we did not have high-quality curriculum in place in our districts.”

We’ve been hearing this message a lot. This Spring, teacher Kyair Butts explained why Curriculum Matters More in a Crisis. Given the importance of cross-district collaboration in these unprecedented times, we thought it would help to share our experience across districts. Some districts are considering ‘emergency adoptions’ due to the pandemic; perhaps our ‘Why’ will be helpful for the field. 

Here’s why curriculum mattered during our ’20-21 Back to School experience. 

High-quality curriculum eased our pivot to remote or blended learning:

Beth Gonzalez, Detroit, MI

Because we had high-quality curriculum in place, we have, at a systems level, been able to deliver the supports teachers needed to pivot to a digital environment.  I think this is a lesson for the field.  Because we had a curriculum, individual teachers weren’t running around trying to curate online materials; they had a solid foundation upon which to build. That foundation provided them the space they needed to learn the new things the pandemic called for – things like how to use online platforms and digital engagement strategies.  So, we’ve been able to build on our existing curriculum with curated resources that have enabled us to adapt to the new environment in ways that are both supportive of teachers and aligned to the professional learning we’ve been pursuing for the past three years.  

Robin McClellan, Sullivan County, TN

High-quality instructional materials have helped us lay the track for professional collaboration around instruction.  If we had not begun that work already, I’m not sure we could have done it.  But because we had common goals and expectations, we can focus on some of the more critical pedagogical moves – like how teachers can best engage with students.  Our biggest challenge right now is in determining what parts of the lesson can be done asynchronously and what has to happen synchronously; what requires explicit teaching, what needs modeling, how we provide opportunities for conversation, etc.  Such decisions are vital to how the lesson unfolds and we are also keenly aware that we have the luxury of thinking about these nuances of lesson delivery because we have a shared curriculum, around which we have experience planning, which makes thinking about these questions infinitely easier.    

Colleen Stearns, IDEA Public Schools

Because we have a common, high-quality curriculum, we have been able to get laser focused in our training on how the lessons get moved to the virtual platform.  We didn’t have to spend energy on figuring out what we were going to teach – or how the curriculum worked.  As a professional learning community, we directed our collective efforts to identifying specific instructional tools that are best aligned to the delivery of our curriculum.  We even created a resource for teachers that outlines how they could transform each lesson component within the curriculum using the district-supported virtual tools.

Janise Lane, Baltimore City, MD

We receive  ongoing professional learning/implementation support from our curriculum provider (Great Minds) who was able to lift some of the burden from us by updating tools and resources, revising assessment plans, and helping us think through how to help students recover from potential lost learning and how to accelerate where we could in the curriculum.  This allowed us the time and space to plan implementation supports and think deeply about how to best support our learners, teachers, leaders, and families. We continue to work in partnership to now lean in, learn, and listen as we begin studying our implementation.

Diana Fedderman, Palm Beach County, FL

In a distance learning environment, all of our educators face challenges typical of first-year teachers.  The educative features built into high-quality instructional materials have been crucial to our successively pivoting online.  When they’re in a building, working side-by-side, it’s second nature for new teachers to seek out experienced teachers who might help them understand what a standard is saying or provide them with suggestions for some of the pedagogical challenge they’re experiencing.  Well, we can’t do that now – but, fortunately, the answers are there for all teachers in the curriculum.   

Our curriculum providers stepped up with new supports and resources for distance/blended learning:

Nakia Hardy, Durham, NC:

The high-quality curriculum providers serving our district (Eureka Math, ARC Core, StudySync) have been generous in making themselves available for virtual professional learning and office hours to support our teachers and leaders in making the transition.  They want us to succeed.  

Jana Beth Francis, Daviess County, KY:

Our high-quality curriculum provider (Wit & Wisdom) has been extremely helpful in providing digital resources and making suggestions for modifications, both in terms of how a lesson is delivered and in accelerating the curriculum where possible.

Robin McClellan, Sullivan County, TN 

Our provider (Amplify) has many onboarding webinars and reference videos that take teachers through the beginning steps, modeling lessons, etc.  

In the weeks to come, we’ll talk in more detail about how we’re making the distance and blended pivot, as well as the supports on which we’re relying. Please join our Facebook group and follow Curriculum Matters on Twitter to stay abreast of these conversations.