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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Curriculum Development: A Model for Elementary School Distributive Leadership

I believe that curriculum development profits from an organic process that continually develops and grows curricula efforts by maximizing the best of our efforts/experiences, retiring outdated work, and integrating new learning and teaching. For example over the years the fifth grade has grown a biography project to become richer, deeper, and more modern--it's an incredible learning project that engages and empowers the learning community. 

Research, ESSA legislation, and efforts on dynamic teams such as DESE's Teacher Advisory Council point me to this direction for curriculum growth and leadership. 
  • Distributed Leadership: Give Every Teacher the Opportunity to Lead: Give every teacher a leadership role on one or more curriculum teams. Create STEAM/science, math, writing, and reading teams. Each grade-level/specialist area would determine who would represent their team on these curriculum teams and use professional time including some release time for these teams to champion, develop, and grow the efforts in the curriculum areas. At this point in the learning/teaching world, it's important to differentiate because there is so much to know--it's almost impossible for any teacher to bring the depth possible and positive to grade levels today given the potential that exists.
  • Teamwork: Work with those teams to grow the efforts in the main curriculum areas. This kind of effort translates to better communication, depth, and reach with regard to teaching well. These efforts also empower autonomy, teacher leadership, collaboration, and an overall greater sense of team. The teacher leaders in each area bring back the knowledge to their grade-level/specialist teams who would then work to grow the ideas/efforts further and embed that work into the daily efforts. 
  • Knowledge Age Blended Learning: Rather than focus on solely buying kits or text books which are often created by people who do not work in classrooms, I think it's important to identify what rich brain-friendly science teaching looks like and includes. This kind of teaching benefits from a blended approach that includes online/real time models, rich text, hands-on activities, field studies, visiting experts, professional learning events, partnerships with local related organizations and more. Teacher-driven, creative efforts in this regard grow the kind of work that was recently featured at a local school committee meeting, work that included a school-wide rocket launch and the Global Read Aloud work. This work began with standards-based goals, but grew out of educators deep commitment to engaging, empowering, creative and modern student-centered teaching/learning
I am influenced, in this post, by many factors including the following:
  • Research related to energy management--using our personal and collective energy well matters with regard to rich curriculum development and implementation.
  • The strength in  building strong teams over time that are empowered to do good work with and for others. 
  • Research from HBS related to elevating the "collective genius" of an organization. To do this well, the curriculum process needs to be an ongoing effort that includes the consistent work of dedicated, collaborative teams. The frequency, depth, and process of meetings and effort matter here.
  • Hattie's research related to the learning pathways or process that starts with identifying success criteria, collectively creating the learning/research path, reflecting, reviewing, and revising as the path takes shape, and then assessing at specific points and making decisions about future growth.
  • Teacher leadership, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When teachers lead, the teaching is more effective and successful, plus teachers who are empowered translate that empowerment to their students. Distributive leadership "teams within teams" grows this kind of empowered, autonomous, teacher leader teams which are great models for student teamwork too.
  • The book, Intentional Interruption, reminds us that we often don't make the time for good problem analysis in schools. This kind of multi-year curriculum development/teamwork approach would provide the time, staff, and process to problem solve, critically think, and create well. 
  • Further Willingham's work in Why Don't Students Like School point us in the direction of explicitly looking at the latest research to make our teaching/learning programs brain-friendly and aligned with the latest cognitive research. 
  • Lehmann and Chase in their book, Building School 2.0, also affirm the notion of building greater team to do better work with these quotes, "Teaching is not an individual affair. . .Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality." "We need to figure out how to build systems and structures that allow good people of honest intent to do great things together." "People work best in service of something that they can believe in, when there is a pathway toward excellence and they can collaborate."
Too often schools create small committees that meet once in a while to complete a task. Often the tasks and work are not met with successful depth, impact, or communication because the process was not deep enough and did not go full circle or even better, spiral, over several years.  By developing invested teams with time-on-task for effective, knowledge age work we will grow more confident, contributing, and successful teaching/learning organizations at the elementary level. High schools and middle schools already have these kinds of teams and the effect is often demonstrated in their sense of pride, ownership, and effect. I believe we can do the same for the elementary school in ways that truly impact our ability to teach in more modern, targeted, and successful ways. Elementary schools today differ substantially from the factory models of old as there is so much we can do to empower young children at this fertile time in their social-emotional/academic lives. 

If a school was to embrace a model like this, I believe that school would need a timeline similar to this one:
  1. Introduce Model: Expectation that each grade-level and specialist teacher sign on to one or two committees as representatives for their grade level teams.
  2. Focus on Team Building and Protocols: New age strategic processes would be used to develop a strong sense of team, a team that will be dedicated to doing good work to impact teaching with depth and success.
  3. Set Goals: Time spent on developing overarching goals, focus. Then time spent on more specfic goals.
  4. Identify Success Criteria: Identify the success criteria--what will be the result of our work in, say, a year's time.
  5. Design the Learning Path: Who will do what, when, and why. 
  6. The Project Path: Team members do the work.
  7. Reflection/Review: Team members share updates in effective, strategic online/offline ways.
  8. Conversation/Revision: Team members share the effect of the efforts.
  9. Assessment: Team members assess efforts to date and create next steps. 
To successfully do this work requires consistency of staffing and teams as well as the use of strategic process that invites teacher voice and choice in order to maximize that "collective genius." This model also profits from good leaders who embrace the belief that when teachers lead their work, their work is better. 

Do you embed distributive leadership models for curriculum development in your system at the elementary level? If you do, what is the benefit of these models and how are they structured? Where do you see room for revision, enrichment, or greater detail in this post? I believe that work like this holds potential for more successful, valuable teaching/learning communities at the elementary level. Do you agree?