Teaching is a unique career, and there are elements of the job that are very dissimilar to other work situations. One is autonomy. When a teacher closes the classroom door and begins the day, he/she is in charge. Routines, classroom management, assignments, discipline, and teaching are all the teacher’s responsibility. One challenge with having a hallway full of classroom bosses occurs in curriculum. Do you really know what every teacher is teaching, what materials are being used and videos are being shown? Hopefully your school is already conducting methodical curriculum reviews and providing your teachers with professional development for implementing the curriculum. What do you do next to make sure the curriculum is being used properly?
Two issues can and do occur. First, teachers may be picking and choosing what parts of the curriculum they want to use. This can result in lesser learning. Key elements may be missed, or there may be a gap in meeting the needs of different learning styles. A teacher “going rogue” is the second concern. This is my term for someone who decides to use other materials (outside the curriculum) without seeking administrative approval. For example, the teacher likes a particular contemporary novel and wants to use it for English or finds a packet on the internet that involves a lot of cutting and gluing and wants to substitute it for the grade level literacy kit.
No matter how well-intentioned the teacher may be, unapproved changes to the curriculum create a weak spot in your academic program. There are several reasons why teachers “doing what is right in their own eyes” can be detrimental to the integrity of your curriculum.
- It minimizes the value of methodical curriculum selection.
- It increases the likelihood of learning gaps in vertical alignment (from grade to grade).
- It derails the coverage and sequencing of the school-selected curriculum.
- It limits the opportunities for differentiating instruction.
- It presupposes that the teacher doing something off-curriculum has a deep knowledge of the content area as well as the theory and research for teaching it.
- It places students at risk of being exposed to content that, if not carefully vetted, may be contrary to the school’s mission and philosophy.
- It creates an awkward situation for administrators when communicating with parents if they are unaware of what is being taught.
The problem is not the teacher who gets an idea from the internet for a seasonal writing prompt or a fun art project. We are talking about the one who substitutes in an entire unit without administrative approval or who is neglecting a major component of the curriculum. One new teacher admitted, “I was just doing what I know [from a previous school].” This indicated that the teacher was not engaging with the teaching materials and devoting time to learning the curriculum.
Administrators and curriculum directors must take proactive steps to preserve the integrity of the school’s curriculum and safeguard the mission of the school. Requiring weekly lesson plans can help principals track curriculum and pacing, but the potential for “going rogue” still exists. One safeguard can be a systematic gathering of evidence for how the school is meeting its expected student outcomes and end statements. Principals can require teachers to report this information as an exit ticket before leaving staff meetings, but more action steps will be needed.
Teacher mentoring is an important ingredient in curriculum integrity. Lecturing is not the most effective teaching strategy in today’s world, and this holds true for teachers too. “Telling” is not better than “showing.” Ideally, an experienced teacher should be assigned to mentor every new teacher in your school. Mentors can model how to use and teach curriculum, answer questions, and encourage rigorous use of the manuals and kits that are provided for that grade or subject. Mentors can help teachers use Curriculum Trak to adhere to your school’s plan for each class. Michael Arnold, Curriculum Trak’s certification instructor, recommends that new teachers have limited to no access to editing maps. This builds in time for them to get familiar with the routines and expectations of your school before making any changes to your curriculum. When a teacher is permitted to make changes, it is important that he/she be reminded to update the corresponding curriculum map.
Our elementary principals also use PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) to monitor curriculum implementation in each elementary grade. This provides an opportunity to talk about pacing, use of teaching materials, and any new ideas that teachers have in mind. Recently, our third grade teachers developed an idea for reorganizing how they teach spelling. They had a solid rationale for their plan because it mimics the phonics instruction in grades K-2 and provides better vertical alignment. They shared their idea with the principal at the PLC meeting and then emailed me for permission. Hurray! This is the process that will ensure stability, reliability, and well-informed decisions in our curriculum department.
Finally, classroom observations help your school stay on track with curriculum. We use three types of observations: formal, curriculum-focused, and outside observers. Principals conduct formal evaluations twice a year; they are looking at all aspects of how the teacher is performing in the classroom. The curriculum director visits classrooms to specifically observe new curriculum in use. Finally, we retain the services of outside literacy coaches who evaluate how teachers are implementing our ELA curriculum. It is helpful to have outside experts reinforce our expectations. In each case a rubric is used to facilitate an objective evaluation.
Having a strong curriculum and an effective academic program in your school means the job is never done. In addition to analyzing test scores, conducting curriculum reviews, purchasing materials, and providing teacher training, there must be on-going accountability for correct and thorough implementation. In the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “We must inspect what we expect.”