When I started this venture as an instructional coach I knew the potential impact I could have on supporting teachers in the classroom. I also knew that there would be opportunities to work with teachers through professional development and one-on-one coaching cycles. What I didn’t really foresee was how involved in curriculum planning I would be and how accepting my colleagues were of me in this sort of role. In the Spring of 2018, I went with my future district (as I had not officially started there yet and was still the Director of Technology at Carl Sandburg College) to a PD training on #FutureReady. The gears presented to me in this training were nothing that I didn’t already fully value and believe in, nor was the conversation new to what my wife, myself, and my core group of educator friends had been talking about since about 2011.
- After leaving my previous district when a technology initiative had veered off course and spending time in higher education, the workshop was revitalizing to me. Moreover, the structure of #FutureReady was what I was most interested in as I viewed it as a successful way to immerse my future staff in the model, specifically in the way of curriculum alignment. You can view the logistics and results of this entire rollout on this slidedeck of the UJHS #FutureReady Initiative if you are interested but in short, the model allowed to develop several things.
- It allowed for us as a building to develop a strategic plan to deploy over the course of the next three years.
- It allowed me to meet with each department (except math because of our 15 snow days...ugh) to look at that strategic plan and our current curriculum.
- We started out the meeting with the expectation of confidentiality and without the building administrator (he would join the meeting at a later time). This was key in the process of gap analysis as everyone was given the opportunity to express their thoughts. I was glad we waited until January to begin this process to allow me the time to gain the trust of the teachers and to build relationships.
- The strategic plan served as a catalyst for the restructuring of curriculum and the meeting among department teachers to come up with a shared vision for what the new curriculum would look like as well as accompanying instructional practices
- As I am in every class, it also gave me the opportunity to identify potential interdisciplinary units for our teachers.
- It gave me an opportunity to share successful instructional practices that I have viewed in my role as an instructional coach.
- Taking from a process we used at Carl Sandburg College, each department will develop its own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which are SMART goals for the department to implement.
All of the departments that I have worked with have done an amazing job of identifying areas of potential growth and have worked together to develop new ways to reach our kids. Science has adopted the OpenSciEd curriculum and developed a three-year plan for implementation along with department KPIs to reflect this strategic plan. ELA identified gaps in their reading and writing, adopting 6 Trait Writing as a common tool they will use to focus on areas of potential growth within the writing. They were able to identify these areas when looking at each standard laid out horizontally from 6th, 7th, and 8th. They are also putting into place book study groups based on a theme for each grade level. 6th grade will take on the theme of character building, 7th grade will address social justice issues, and 8th grade will focus on heroes. To see how these book study groups will play out, check out the social justice posts on www.instructionalcoaching.net. This format was a huge success last year as far as student success and I can’t wait to see it in practice again this year.
The department I would like to highlight throughout this process is social studies. With changes to the Illinois social studies learning standards, it took some time for us to unpack what this new alignment would look like for UJHS. Mr. Westart and I really began looking at this as early as August of 2018. The biggest change that we wanted to embrace was that as we began to align the curriculum for social studies, we wanted to construct a curriculum that really focused on the skills needed to authentically do the work of a professional in the field. With this focus shift on skills rather than content, we began looking at what those skills would look like for us. We also began to take a look at gaps in our current curriculum.
Mr. Westart and Ms. Wynne decided that foundationally for students to understand not only social studies topics but the topics that are covered in each of our thematic areas within ELA student needed to have an embedded knowledge of world cultures. Also, with the state expectations in regards to civics in the middle grades, we felt that dedicating our focus to such skills in a semester of 6th-grade social studies would be essential. This will be the first year with this alignment, and as we progress I would like to identify a few core driving questions, as well as case studies in civics for the students to consider.
7th & 8th Grade
For 7th and 8th grade, we had the revelation that we no longer needed to do things how we have always done in the past. The typical social studies course in 7th and 8th grade begins in pre-Columbian times and go chronologically as far as the teachers and students can get by the end of 8th grade. This no longer needs to be the case. The focus is on the skills that need to be acquired in the field of study. For example, can students navigate through two primary sources, and develop an argument when studying a historical topic. The topic itself is secondary to the skills acquired. This is where Mr. Westart and I began to think critically about interdisciplinary units and parallel content, specifically with the ELA department. Because of the themes that ELA have taken on for next year with their book study groups and that process, Mr. Westart began to explore the opportunities that were available for his curriculum to parallel that of the book study groups to allow both subject areas to play off each other.
For example, as the 7th grade student begin to dive into social justice issues or as 8th grade students begin to explore heroes in their ELA book studies, this is a prime opportunity for Mr. Westart to supplement or expand on what students are learning there. This format would allow Mr. Westart to restructure his courses to reflect what is happening in our OpenSciEd curriculum, in which for each social studies content-area we identify not only what skills need to be addressed, but also what the driving question will be for the unit content. Students will then develop their own questions to create a driving question board. These questions will allow for student inquiry to drive student understanding of historical topics and students will use historical evidence to draw their own conclusions. We can also adapt what science uses for modeling their understanding to fit our needs in social science. Students can compare and contrast multiple texts, perhaps multiple texts written from both the perspective of the left and the right and students can construct their own arguments from their own interpretations. Mr. Westart has even observed the structure of the OpenSciEd lessons in class and feels confident in deploying the same instructional strategies for a different content area. I am excited to support Mr. Westart in his efforts in this upcoming school year.