Building an Army of Teacher Leaders: The Jefferson Parish Curriculum Journey

This blog series shares the curriculum implementation journeys of districts across the country, through interviews with each of our squad members.

In your district, what problem or data prompted you to adopt new literacy curricula? How did you hope the curricula you chose would help you address it?

Our District Performance Scores had not grown in five years before we started on this journey. We needed to address that along with the vast array of curricula being used across the district. We only looked at tier one curricula. CKLA made sense for us in the early grades because our teachers had already been using the Skills Strand and it was familiar. What we added was the Listening and Learning Strand, which is the knowledge piece. For 3-8, we chose Guidebooks because it’s a Louisiana, Tier 1 product. We believe in the way it was built, and we also believe in the way it’s continuing to evolve and grow in order to better support and prepare students to meet grade level expectations.

What shifts in mindset were necessary for a successful implementation? 

Initially, it may have felt to some of our teachers that we were taking away autonomy. The shift for them was in realizing that what might seem like a scripted curriculum is really a resource, and you have to have the best resource in front of students. The “scripted” model can be a great support and access point for new teachers.

Secondly, we have come to realize that teachers are yearning for more support in content and pedagogy to be effective with the curriculum. We focus hard on deconstructing the standards and learning content, planning quality assessments to meet them, building teachers’ pedagogical moves, and building teachers’ knowledge base so that they can build students’ knowledge base. Content drives curriculum, and they work together.

Finally, our district has seen great change in leadership and materials over the last few decades. We have really underscored shared leadership: We invested in our leaders learning right alongside our teacher leaders, getting everyone on board with content, pedagogy, and curriculum that actually impacts student achievement and the structures to support schools. In SY 18-19, we had 78 teachers wanting to become teacher leaders, and now we have over 500! 

How is this curriculum work driving greater equity in your district? What are teachers, leaders, and students doing differently to achieve a better outcome?

We have a highly diverse student population—38% Hispanic, 31% African American, and 25% White. Even in the wake of COVID, we are seeing proficiency gains in our ELL and SPED populations. I think the reason is the increased level of engagement inspired by the curricula we’re using. Our kids enjoy working with these texts, even though they’re challenging. Even our students with disabilities can access them, receive appropriate support that still retains rigor, and communicate about the topic. Recently, I visited a class where the teacher does Flashlight Fridays with tents set up in her classroom and students have their own flashlights. They just find a place and read from novels they love.They don’t check out and they are able to grow and get results.The entire class is still rooted in Tier 1, with activities and centers to support growth for all students.

What missteps did you make along the way that others can learn from? 

The initial implementation was really hard because it was just an overload. We weren’t prepared for such a learning curve. We could have been better in letting teachers know it was okay to struggle and that, with time, they would grow and ultimately achieve life-altering instruction. We didn’t yet have the capacity at the district level to support 300+ teachers! But now, through our shared leadership model, we’ve built an army of leaders who are systematically building expertise in content and curriculum, and the skills to coach and support the work. It’s a powerful force that can build shared efficacy and has helped to implement our curricula with fidelity and integrity, not just compliance.

What is one exemplary aspect of your implementation that other districts would be wise to follow?

Adaptability. Adaptability. Adaptability. Our teacher leaders embody what it means to be a change agent. They have mastered the curriculum and implemented it successfully in their classrooms. The secret to our shared leadership and a 95%+ retention in teacher leader roles is that we have so many levels and types of leaders all working toward the same goal. We have about 170 Teacher Leader Fellows (TLF) who go through coaching cycles, monitor, evaluate, adjust, and consistently support teachers through the implementation process. Then we have Content Leader Fellows (CLF) who lead PD for the district and for new teachers, differentiating for varying levels of content and curriculum knowledge. They are also part of the school’s instructional leadership team. In addition we have ELL coaches in a majority of our schools and also mentor teachers with more defined responsibilities. Finally, we have master teachers who are not full-time classroom teachers but are in classrooms 80% of the day engaged in field testing, coaching, modeling, co-teaching, and analyzing data but are not full-time classroom teachers. They also plan cluster meetings, centered around content and curriculum using student work to drive decision-making. So, we’ve built a pipeline that takes you from mentoring instruction to mentoring content and to coaching and to data analysis. What we’ve seen is that people who invest in the options available to them are now becoming our assistant principals and principals. That’s something I’m really proud of!