As a member of the Curriculum Council, Barbara and her associates completed the district’s long-range plan. That document answered these questions: What subjects constitute the district’s curriculum? When are those subjects prepared as elements of a teachable and learnable curriculum? Where over time does each phase of curriculum development, implementation, validation, and assessment strategies occur?
The Council chose language arts as the first subject area committee and created a timeline. Because that subject had distinct but overlapping characteristics and was the first chosen, it was given two school years to complete. The plan was encapsulated in table form:
The Council chose Barbara to be the language arts committee’s chair. They also selected representatives from each grade level or cluster. In addition, one building principal, special educator and media specialist were added.
The Council considered organizational variables when completing the plan. Among those considerations was the availability of teachers to serve. For example, an elementary teacher of many subjects was not able to serve on a subject area committee every year. And some SACs could benefit from the presence of others, such as the media specialist for language arts.
Special educators and principals should be represented on every SAC. While the plan was conventional, the Council decided to combine some subjects into broader categories. Modifications to the plan might be necessary, so amendment provisions were established.
Barbara’s friend Mary was invited to Language Arts SAC meetings to learn how the process worked and serve as a resource.
A high school math teacher, Betty Wilson, was also invited to participate when possible, as were Don Baker (music teacher) and Jennifer Mitchell (district technology coordinator). Those teachers had already been chosen by the Curriculum Council to chair subsequent subject area committees.
Barbara and Mary’s Story – Part 2
Dr. Rebecca Johnson met both of us a few days after the curriculum council created the long-range plan. The purpose was to develop a system for launching the language arts subject area committee (SAC).
Rebecca said she wanted both of us present for two distinct reasons. As SAC chair, Barbara’s job was to establish a project agenda. Mary’s job, as an undergraduate prepared to write curriculum, was to serve as a resource person.
A consultant from the Curriculum Leadership Institute would assist onsite or virtually. But a few ground rules must first be established.
The school board authorized two important incentives: off-contract time for the SAC to meet monthly during the school year, and salary stipends set between 5 and 10% of a teacher’s annual salary. The variations in stipend size depended on levels of responsibility and involvement.
The board originally wished to pay hourly stipends to SAC members. But Rebecca strongly recommended the percentage stipend. SAC work involved more than attending meetings. Individuals would often be asked to prepare materials individually, so the salary approach underscored professional expertise over hours on the job.
The board was also convinced SAC meetings were excellent staff development activities. They should be scheduled within a work week. That meant finding and paying substitute teachers during the school year. Off-contract time in the summer was calculated differently.
We were pleased the board and curriculum council found ways to adequately budget the new initiative. Time and money allocations for this kind of initiative were never considered before. We were curious about what was going on.
Rebecca said, “Committing to this project involves a major attitude adjustment on many levels.”
The first revolutionary idea is that school improvement under the new learning infrastructure starts with teachers. That perspective alone requires trust, intense involvement, and recognition of the importance of teacher professionalism.
We were intrigued but still did not know what Rebecca was getting at in practical terms. She put a simple graphic on the large computer monitor on her desk to view the “Walls Analysis:”
The logistics of the “walls analysis” activity were less important than the reason a SAC used this interactive process.
It was showing teachers that what they ALREADY do is an important starting point. What they think the curriculum should be is the first step.
Why is that important? Because teachers are intentionally validated as being important decision-makers and academic leaders.
SAC members interview other teachers about what they are doing and convey that to other committee members in a systematic way.
Moving from left to right, kindergarten to grade 12, everyone could sit back and see curricular content — how it unfolds year to year. The unintended overlaps and gaps. Deficiencies in grade level and student readiness considerations.
Most of all, a curriculum covered in terms of topics. A viable start.
But as time goes on, they must transform that language to measurable verbs and substantive content fields.
As leader and resource persons, our job was to help fellow committee members convert a passive curriculum into one that was focused, spiraled, teachable, and measurable.
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