Curriculum Writing and Team Planning

Justin Ross
Justin Ross
Middle School Principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
Animated hand writing curriculum on a table with a notebook, coffee, and a ruler.

In his 2003 book, What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, Robert J. Marzano states that the number one factor in school change is a coherent, guaranteed, and viable curriculum. Dufour and Marzano, in their 2013 book, Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement, describe the idea of team planning as impossible without a curriculum. The curriculum is the most important piece of the puzzle and it must prioritize the most essential standards at a grade level.

Michael Fullan, in his 2001 book, The New Meaning of Educational Change, describes a strong curriculum as a small number of high-leverage, evidence-based, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences. When developing a subject level teaming concept, it is important to start at a very basic level. You cannot have a functioning team without first a guaranteed and viable curriculum. This coherent curriculum should include user-friendly topics and standards collected by teams of teachers to help support student learning.

In Jim Collin’s 2001 book, Good to Great, he states that the real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence. It demands each of us to focus on what is vital and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions. This cannot be truer when discussing writing curriculum at any level in schools.

Football Analogy

A football team year after year has an average record. Each week, when the coaches get together to develop this week’s game plan they search through books, the internet, and game film to develop a new set of complex plays because last week’s plays did not work.

The team never had a chance to master last week’s plays and are frustrated when a new group of plays is given to them to practice this week. The coaching staff is completely missing the most essential parts of what wins a football game. They need to focus on becoming really good at a small set of skills that can become transferable from game to game and make a high impact on the outcome of the game. It is important for the coaching staff to rely more heavily on ball security, tackling, and blocking than it is to develop a complex offense that changes week to week. This is going to make an immediate and substantial impact at their next game.

What will make an immediate and substantial impact in schools? Many educators are always looking for the next big thing, but it all starts with an essential set of learning objectives or big ideas that make up a grade-level curriculum.

Skinny Curriculum Writing

This same concept is true in any level of education. Teachers need to develop and become great at teaching a small set of skills that will make the greatest impact on student achievement. When a team can develop this small set of skills, they will give themselves, and more importantly, the students that they serve, a chance to make great gains in the school setting.

Just like the football team, we as teacher teams often times allow our school and district to live in a state of curricular chaos. The “what we teach” is so important, and staying focused on the curricular elements that make the greatest student impact might be boring but is effective.

Ensuring that all teachers on a team are working together to achieve this goal sounds easy but can be a challenge from a leadership perspective. Each teacher brings in a unique set of skills and is passionate about education in their own unique ways. The job of an educational leader is to bring all these perspectives together. Getting a whole school heading in the same direction can be challenging for all administrators but the payoff is remarkable.

Teaming Planning Inside a Curriculum Framework

When teams of teachers can describe on paper a consistent set of expectations that outline what they teach, then they are ready to move forward with the “how”. The “how” of teaching is the start of the grade level planning process.

The importance of teams working together to develop their craft is an essential component of a successful school. It is important to help these teams stay focused on their curriculum, while using data to make small, necessary adjustments to the curriculum. Effective instruction by a team requires a high level of student engagement that has a learning objective that follows a clear before, during, and after lesson plan model.

The before describes the anticipatory set with a strong, consistent bell ringer among members of a team. The during allows team members to work together to develop a set of important skills to understand the big curriculum development ideas. This includes the all-important exit ticket for teams. The after allows teams to use data and dissect the strengths and weaknesses of the lessons. The team will use the results of the exit ticket to make curricular changes. The true work for teams happens at this point. The grade level team has developed a skinny curriculum, created strong lessons, and is now ready to dive deep in to the day-to-day data work.

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