Celebrating and Curating for Curriculum Alignment
Curriculum alignment is important. It is essential to ensuring rigorous learning for all and appropriate vertical and horizontal articulation. Curricular alignment requires assessment and instruction to be aligned to standards, including the intended rigor of the standard. It ensures that students have a clear, cohesive experience from year to year and leads to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. While many educators see the value in this work, it isn't necessarily something that many look on as an exciting or worthwhile experience. I'm sure many of us have experienced or seen curriculum alignment that looks like this: Teachers are mandated to align their curriculum using a top-down approach. Teachers get together, discuss their units and lessons, align assessments and instruction to standards, fill out a template, and perhaps upload it to a digital space that is rarely accessed.
Here, curriculum alignment runs the risk of being a compliance-based task for teachers to do, where teachers feel disempowered and undervalued. There is no joy. In addition, it is viewed as a "one-and-done" task. It is naïve to think this. A guaranteed and viable curriculum is not one step in the PLC process, it is an iterative process. The challenge for us is to present and implement the process of curriculum alignment as celebratory and meaningful experience that focuses on reflection and continuous improvement. Curriculum alignment should be implemented through four values: going beyond filling out a form, the importance of people, making the hidden visible, and focusing on reflection.
Curriculum Alignment is Beyond Forms
One mistake educators working on a guaranteed and viable curriculum run into is moving quickly to "the form" or template. A template will not create engagement, relevance, nor true meaning for individuals undergoing a process of curriculum alignment. A template or form should not be the first priority in the curriculum alignment. While many of us feel a sense of accomplishment in filling out the form, completion of a form is not the goal. In fact, a form might stifle the need for continuous improvement and conversations related to curriculum—the form is complete, and thus curriculum alignment is also completed. Instead the goal is to have meaningful conversations on the 4 questions of the PLC. Forms and templates serve to collect information from meaningful conversations, they do not create these conversations. We should focus on the culture of continuous improvement in order to create the space for meaningful conversations connected to curriculum alignment so that the perceived curriculum is also the taught curriculum.
Curriculum Alignment is about People
People, not forms or a template, align curriculum. We need to understand that people are the process. The nature of communicating what is expected in the curriculum and what is actually taught requires people to connect and refine constantly. Alignment happens in curriculum when alignment in thinking happens with people. The more teachers share and connect about the curriculum, the more they are able to negotiate the learning outcomes. Coaching conversations require trust, empathy, and reflection. As coaches, we strive to build relationships through ongoing coaching conversations around curriculum and instruction. We must not lose sight of the importance of people and the support they need. In order to make curriculum alignment ongoing and sustainable, people should be the priority.
Curriculum Alignment is about Making the Hidden Visible
Teachers are doing amazing things in the classroom. Often, we don't get to see it. While we might have a conversation in the hallway, that is just a snapshot of what is occurring. Teachers yearn to see what is happening in other classrooms to learn and be inspired. We should leverage this in the curriculum alignment process. Instead of using a deficit model approach by focusing on what is not occurring, focus on what is occurring to celebrate learning. Again, while a form might make the hidden visible, we should use other media, like magazines, videos and podcasts to bring curriculum out of the shadows. We should curate not only the important pieces of curriculum like standards and assessments. We should also curate reflections of students, teachers, and powerful moments in the classroom.
Curriculum Alignment should focus on Reflection
As mentioned, a culture of continuous improvement must be created for all. Teachers are our most valuable resource in the curriculum alignment process, and we need to develop them as reflective practitioners who can constantly reflect upon and refine curriculum. To start the process, leaders should focus on building the reflective lens of educators. This could include dilemma protocols where teachers share problems of practice, or conversations on what worked and what didn’t work in a recent unit, assessment, or activity from the classroom. These low-stakes moments of reflection can lead to more vulnerable and challenging discussions later. Curriculum will not adapt if the culture of reflection is not there. Practices such as journaling, reflective discussion protocols, observing classrooms, and debriefing with an instructional coach or each other are all effective ways to build the culture of reflection. Focus first on reflection before jumping immediately to the process of curriculum alignment. Through developing a culture of reflection, curriculum alignment becomes part of the culture—it's who we are, not just a task.
To learn more about how we launch this process in our school, watch the video below. We believe we have an opportunity to build culture while building practice.https://vimeo.com/200304500
Andrew Miller, Azul Terronez, and Scott Williams are all Instructional Coaches at Shanghai American School.