Since last joining us in 2019 for a 10 Minute Tuesday, Regional School Unit 40 (RSU40) has made strides in their curriculum planning - after a Covid re-set. Join Christina Wotton, Assistant Superintendent of RSU40 as she talks with Kelsey Jaskot about their Curriculum Development group and their role in moving the district forward. The video recording is below and a transcript follows. The resources Christina references in the interview are also available.
Welcome to Eduplanet21’s 10 Minute Tuesdays: interviews with experts in education. My name is Kelsey Jaskot, and I am our Manager of Customer Success here at Eduplanet21. Today I am very excited to be here with Christina Wotton, Assistant Superintendent at RSU40 in Waldoboro, Maine. Christina, thanks for speaking with me today. I'm excited to learn more about the curriculum representative group that you've been developing at the district.
I'm excited to be here and share some of our successes with you.
And this is not your first go-round at a 10 Minute Tuesday. You were here a couple of years ago sharing the ground floor of your curriculum development when you first started your UBD journey.
It's amazing to think back at how far we've come since that time.
Maybe we could just start there. Let's reflect a little bit on how's it been going so far. When you think back to when you first got started, how did you decide to move forward with UbDⓇ, and what are some of the biggest challenges you've had thus far?
As a district, we were headed down the path of finding our next professional practice model. We were in the Danielson Model, and we knew we wanted to move away. We had gone to a lot of trainings on Marzano - a highly respected teacher evaluation system - and our teachers told us they wanted to look at some other options, so we said, okay. We kind of put a pause, even though we had done a lot of work, but listened to them, and they chose the Marshall practice model.
So as we started digging into Kim Marshall's professional practice model and learning about mini observations and giving teachers feedback and looking at curriculum, what was suggested in that model was Understanding by DesignⓇ. So we started looking into this framework that Jay and Grant created and just started doing some research and decided that was what our district needed.
We had a bunch of out-of-the-box programs all over the place in seven schools, and nothing that our teachers had organically created themselves that we could say yes, like, maybe they had it in their classroom. We have expert teachers in all of our schools, but I didn't know what it was. I didn't know what our teachers were teaching, and neither did our parents.
That's a huge problem. It's been so cool to watch over the past couple of years just how far you've been able to come. One of the things I'm most excited for, despite kind of having to jump that hurdle, is your curriculum representative group that you just started this year. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? I know I've been working alongside this process with you over the past year or so, but just kind of tell the audience why we developed that group and why it's been so important.
Everything in education is a learning process, and this has been the most exciting thing. This is my fifth year in this role. I was a principal in our district for five years prior to that, and so I've been here for this entire journey in different roles. But when we started out, it was a volunteer group. We come for a couple of days in the summer, really try to learn all we could about understanding by design, and it just seemed really complex. We were able to build a great base of over 500 units, and then we were shut down like everyone else with COVID. Some teams still tried to keep the momentum going, but it was really hard and just our world wasn't ready for it at that time.
So fast forward to last year and we started digging our way back, trying to get back to our baseline. And so we formed a group of Activators with one to two representatives for every grade level and content area team. So we had 40 something Activators. We base this around the Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design book - the Fisher and Frey model. We used the PLC Activator Playbook and really had a strong kickoff comeback.
And that was great. I was able to meet with all of the Activators four or five times last school year. It was kind of my direct line to every PLC team in our district. Awesome. It just wasn't enough. It's never enough. So we wanted to dig deeper. So I started reaching out to this group saying, hey, I really want to have a content representative pre-k to six and seven through twelve for every content area so we could start getting at those vertical conversations. So we could just spend I wanted them one day a month that we could spend the entire day digging in and doing some of the kind of the bone work for teachers, having a framework of where we wanted to go. Because teachers, our teachers, have one early release day a month, followed by a Google meet, which is great.
I'm very thankful for that time. But it's never enough. So this team formed and this year we've been meeting, we met in the summer a couple of days, and they have really been the force to planning what our teachers need and where our curriculum path has led us. And it's very different than when I think back to the beginning of last summer and what we thought we could accomplish and just changed based on teacher feedback, people who are doing this work.
And it's crazy to think how your culture has even changed. I'm seeing a lot more excitement around curriculum development, and it's not everybody's favorite, it's not everyone's cup of tea, by any means, and we're used to hearing that, but just feeling like it's something that they can do, feeling like it's not this big ominous thing hanging over their head that's just required of them. I think everybody's really seeing the purpose behind curriculum development now, which is really neat. What are some of the outcomes that you hoped to get from this group specifically? So we're bringing on a content area representative K to six, as well as seven to twelve. They're able to work together. We're also able to work as a whole cohesive team. But what are some of the things you wanted to see as a direct result of developing that group?
So this group, they're able to go into their content area, look at units across the district, and start to see connections. Whether it's those vertical or horizontal connections in curriculum, they're really able to dig deep into their content area and then talk with each other with their content area team member on this representative team and go out into the PLC teams and say, hey, I noticed you don't have any math units. Like, what can I do to support you in getting that done? Or hey, this doesn't have any standards connected to it. Do we really need to assess this or just really looking deeply? You cannot do that for every content area across your district. It's really impossible. So they have taken on the content area team leader, teacher leader.
That's awesome. And I know a couple of the things you've been kind of spearheading with them. I know they developed a portrait of a learner this summer, which is a huge feat. So really coming up with and that was a pretty creative process, maybe even talk to me a little bit about that. I think that was really neat.
That was just such an exciting day. So last year we redesigned, or I would just say revised our Understanding by Design® work plan for the district. It had been five years, so it was time for an update and we really tried to focus on some achievable milestones. So this team worked this summer to say, first we need to get stage one on our website. We want a transparent based curriculum that our community can see new teachers coming on board, can see what we're working on. So by the end of our first workshop day, that was our goal. And this team also does the publishing of the units, so they're able to do a review and then they publish their content area units onto our website.
So we do have the curriculum blueprint on our website. It's beautiful. And then the next milestone was at our October districtwide workshop day. This team worked together to create a portrait of a learner, which is our PreK through twelve. We've been calling them Social Emotional Learning transfer goals for a couple of years. We tied in our 21st-century learning skills. All of our schools had PBIS plans or multi-tiered systems of support codes of conduct.
We looked at all of these different documents and started putting up what are we seeing, what's in common? And this whole room was covered with poster stickers and really looked at where were their connections, and narrowed it down to what are the most important things that our kids, when they're young adults, walk out of our school and graduate with. We need to start this at the PreK level. What are the most important things? And all the way through have the same clear focus for our kids.
So we were able to develop what we felt were the most important transfer goals interdisciplinary. And then we introduced that to the staff in October, and teachers that day were actually able to go back and pick out where their transfer goals fit in their units. And so by the end of the day, we were able to see across our district what was being covered, what wasn't, what needed some more support, and that was exciting. And the third milestone was to look at performance tasks. So moving into stage two, how do we know our kids are learning and what are we going to do if they don't?
That's kind of the next steps. But we have a goal of having one performance task per unit across our district. It can be the same performance task for multiple units, but that's our goal. And so setting these clear expectations has really helped our work progress much faster.
I think the best part of that PD day, because I was thankful to be there for that in person, was that the curriculum representative group actually developed a PD Day. They set the agenda and they kind of ran that session. And the feedback that you got from the district as a whole was just really incredible. Everybody was very participatory and everyone felt like they had a pretty good understanding of performance tasks by the end of the day.
They really did. I couldn't ask for better feedback from a workshop day. And having this team of teachers who I get to meet with every month and plan out our workshop days, plan out professional development and our next steps in curriculum design has made a world of difference. So I'm so thankful for them and for all the work that they are doing above and beyond teaching our students every day.
Yeah, absolutely. Christina, I think your team has just done an incredible job this year. I've seen such progress just in the first few months of the school year, so can't wait to see what the second half looks like and what this team is able to accomplish, and really what you can even dive into this summer. I know horizontal vertical conversations are a big part of your next steps as well, so I'm excited to hear how that goes. Thank you so much again for being here. What we want to do now is actually wrap up with some footage from your November 21 PD deck and look forward to chatting with you again soon.