As I think of curriculum priorities, I believe that educational systems have to think with greater depth and breadth. I think that too often educational systems are satisfied with less and easy rather than deep and meaningful. These are curriculum considerations I believe that every system should make and deepen.
Anti-racist and Culturally Competent Teaching Program
Every child in every school should be apart of a developmentally appropriate anti-racist and culturally competent teaching program. What does this mean? This means that in every school no matter what the cultural or racial make-up of that school is, the materials, programs, and efforts should reflect all cultures, races, religions, gender, and people that make up our country and world. That means students should be reading stories about the diverse people that make up the world's population, and they should understand deeply the roots of racism and prejudice. Every child should understand the simple biology of skin shade, and be able to be proud of whatever shade they are. Further schools that reflect less diversity will have to work harder to help their students learn about and develop respect for our diverse population in positive ways. Too often the only images and stories students in more homogeneous school settings hear about people different than them are negative whereas there are countless opportunities through travel, the arts, student exchanges, reading, and research that help children understand each other and develop the needed respect to live and learn with people from all walks of life. A deep study of Razia's Ray of Hope is one way that we have used to develop greater respect for the world's people. Other ways include explicit teaching about culture and skin shade, focus on labels and racism, and the deep study of global change makers.
Beginning from a child's first days of school, all study should be tightly integrated with the environment. Children should learn to grow food, understand their natural environment, and work to be positive stewards of that environment. Too many teaching/learning programs do not integrate with the surrounding environment and there is substantial opportunity to grow our learning programs so that students understand the need to protect and preserve the environment around them. In the past we have forwarded programs like this, but we still find that it's difficult to get the support, funding, and leadership we need to keep these programs going. That's something I'm thinking a lot about.
Project- and Problem-Based Learning
Our school system has embraced STEAM teaching and learning in positive ways. We have a number of great hands-on problem/project-based learning events that occur throughout the grades. This has been a positive direction, one that's evidenced in students' pride, engagement, and education. We need to continually notice and develop how we foster worthy project- and problem-based learning to master the art of teaching and learning in this way.
Deep Use of Technology
Schools everywhere have to develop their technology learning to a place that's greater than "workbook on a page" technology. In our system, we have good examples of this at all levels, but I believe we can do more to deepen our use of technology in ways that better mirror the multiple ways that technology is being used outside of schools to develop students' capacity to successfully problem solve and lead in their world. Virtual reality technology, robotics, coding, gaming, and more should be a mainstay of technology throughout the grades. It is important to develop our work in this area.
Social-Emotional Learning and Curriculum Design
Last year I spent a considerable amount of time co-authoring a book that demonstrates how teachers in grades three to five can embed social-emotional learning into the academic curriculum. To co-author the book meant that I learned as much from my fellow authors as I contributed. We need to look carefully at the way we design and teach the curriculum so that we are teaching in deep, meaningful, and life-enriching ways. Teams of teachers should continually revisit learning design to make sure that they are teaching with up-to-date pedagogy, resources, and experiences in order to develop students' capacity to learn in modern day engaging and empowering ways.
Modern Indoor/Outdoor Learning Environments
Too many schools still mirror the old time school house. We need to seriously consider the way we use our buildings and schedules to teach well. Stand-up desks, hoki stools, comfy chairs, movie-making spaces, quiet learning modules, STEAM spaces, gardens, math playgrounds, and more should be considered as we develop our learning environments. Too often no one pays attention to the environments where students learn, and that is lost potential.
It's amazing to see the growth of empathy, teamwork, and contribution that grows from a positive emphasis on service learning. The key is to grow this work in ways that matter and ways that include all students in meaningful, curriculum-related ways while still including the student-driven creativity, heart, and effort this kind of work benefits from and further develops.
I am a fan of a good list of standards to use as a framework for student study. I am a fan of this because knowledge begets knowledge and when students have a solid knowledge, concept, and skill foundation, they are prepared to learn more better, and use that knowledge in ways that matter. Of course standards needs to be accompanied by student-centered, interest/passion-based, and well designed learning experiences. Standards don't stand alone.
Our schools hold tremendous potential for teaching well, but we can't become complacent. We have to continually look at what we do to teach well and how we can improve our practice and efforts with learning design, content, and environments so that we are teaching as well as we can. To teach well is to give our students the capacity to successfully live in, engage with, and lead the future and this is a worthy aim.