Does Your District's Curriculum Triangle Resemble the Bermuda Triangle

09/03/2009  |  CAROL ROACH

(This is part one of a two part series.)

For a positive impact on student learning, every district needs a triangle of local curriculum, instruction, and assessment, with complete alignment among the three (as illustrated below).

Most teachers understand this. However, as a consultant who works with districts in all parts of the country, I frequently encounter teachers who are not exactly enthusiastic about working on any part of this triangle. Why? Because they feel like “pawns in the system.” Everything about what they are to teach, and how and when they are to teach and assess, is framed in requirements — and all the requirements have been externally imposed.

Teachers have had little or no say in what constitutes the very essence of their chosen profession. No wonder they become jaded. No wonder, when they walk into the room where I’m prepared to work with them on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, they get those “here we go again” expressions on their faces!  They’re braced for the same old thing — it’s just being foisted upon them by a different person.  In fact, the culture in many of these districts is such that the teachers feel they’ve entered the curriculum version of the Bermuda Triangle — they’ve gotten into it, and they’ll never get out again.  

What’s missing in the triangle for these districts is a governance system for decision making and action taking – one that is collegial in makeup and practice, with teachers, administrators, and board members working together.  The Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI) has developed a model of step-by-step processes for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but in the CLI Model, the triangle looks like this:

What is the governance

The first thing that happens in the CLI Model is the appointment of a temporary Steering Committee. This group has only one function, and that is to create a policy document for how curriculum (and instruction/assessment) will be handled in the district. Most school districts have board policy for all kinds of things — attendance, extra-curricular activities, discipline, negotiations — but not for the one thing that is central to a district’s existence, which is student learning of a required curriculum. In the CLI Model, the Steering Committee drafts a document that not only establishes a decision-making body, but outlines its authority, duties, membership, relationships, and procedures. The Board of Education then approves this document so that it becomes district policy. This immediately solves one problem associated with the Curriculum Bermuda Triangle: it provides stability for the entire curriculum process. No longer must teachers be concerned about what will happen when a key administrator or teacher-leader leaves the district. Instead of worrying that all their hard work will be thrown out, to be replaced by the new person’s personal agenda, teachers know that board policy must be followed. A “new hire” must be willing to buy into the way this district operates; procedures will continue as before, and progress will not be interrupted. 

Once the policy is approved, the next thing to happen is the creation of the governing (decision-making) body, according to the provisions of the policy. CLI refers to this body as the Curriculum Coordinating Council (CCC). It is comprised of:

  • One or two district-level administrators
  • A building administrator from each level (elementary, middle, high school)
  • Teacher representatives
  • Primary classroom
  • Intermediate classroom
  • Middle school classroom
  • High school core classroom
  • Special area (i.e. media, fine arts, physical education)
  • Board/community representatives. 

All CCC members represent their specific groups, much like legislators represent their constituents. Therefore, all district stakeholders now have a voice in important decisions related to the teaching/learning processes. The CCC is charged with making all professional decisions pertaining to curriculum, instruction, and student learning.  Included are such things as:

  • Creating a long-range plan to outline which subject areas will be doing which tasks over at least a five-year time period;
  • Appointing Subject Area Committees to implement the long-range plan;
  • Relating instructional design to implementation requirements;
  • Reaching consensus about what constitutes mastery;
  • Planning for students who need extended learning opportunities (enrichment and corrective);
  • Making decisions about grading issues and grade reporting;
  • Making decisions about common assessments and how they will be used;
  • Eliminating “this year’s new thing” by integrating staff
    Development according to needs identified as each step of the model is implemented;
  • Assuring that new mandates and accreditation issues are systematically merged with the total improvement plan; and
  • Monitoring progress to assure success and avoid teacher burnout.

Administrators embrace this governance system because it helps free them from the full weight of critical decisions, and allows them more time to serve as instructional leaders. Issues that previously landed on their desks – for their decisions only — are now directed to the CCC.  And because these decisions are now made collegially, there is teacher buy-in.  The result? Teachers no longer feel like pawns in the system; their professionalism is recognized and valued. In fact, with administrators, teachers, board members and community members all working together — not only to make critical decisions, but to take action on them — the entire culture of the district changes. Everyone is now on the same plane, with a map in front of them. They know where they’re headed and how they’re going to get there; they’re no longer stuck in the Curriculum Bermuda Triangle.

For more information, contact CLI at [email protected] Check the next issue of SEEN for how the CLI Model approaches the three sides of the triangle: curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Carol Roach is President of Curriculum Leadership Institute.
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