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Recap: Creating a Curriculum Leadership Team

Recap: Creating a Curriculum Leadership Team

March 08, 2022

On March 2, 2022, the Curriculum Leadership Team at South Western School District presented a webinar about how they have approached curriculum development and management. Hear from their leader, Dr. Rob Freil, as well as the Curriculum Liaisons at the secondary level.

The recording and the transcript are provided below. If you would like to learn how Eduplanet21 can assist you with your curriculum management journey, please request a meeting with a member of our team!







Table of Contents

1) Welcome

2) South Western Introductions and Team Background

3) About South Western School District

4) Curriculum Development Process

5) Curriculum Design Values

6) Systemic Curriculum Leadership

7) Building Curriculum Management Capacity

8) Building Capacity: The Practical

9) The Curriculum Journey: The Practical 

10) Curriculum Development: What’s Next at South Western

11) Participant Q&A

12) Thank You and Wrap Up



[Eduplanet21] Eduplanet21 is excited to introduce you to our superstar customers, the team at South Western School District. They are going to talk about their curriculum process and what they've been doing as a curriculum leadership team. They will provide some background in their approach, their lessons learned, and their success stories. Introducing Dr. Rob Freil, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at South Western.

South Western Introductions and Team Background

[Rob] It's great to have this chance to tell you a little about South Western and about our story. I'm going to let my team introduce themselves to you. As just mentioned, my name is Rob Freil. I'm the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for South Western. I am finishing out my 24th year in education. I've been a teacher, building principal, and then central office administrator for the last five years. So glad to be here with you all today. And I'll turn it over to my team for some introductions.


[Jana] I'm Jana and I have been teaching technology and engineering education at our middle school level, 6th and 7th grade for the past 14 years. And I'm the curriculum liaison for our Technology and Engineering teachers, Business, Family and Consumer Science, Technology Education, and World Languages.


[Suzanne] I’m Suzanne, and I am in my 13th year of teaching. Prior to teaching, I worked in autism research. I teach English here at the high school. This is my fifth year at South Western. So in some ways, I still feel pretty new. I'm also the liaison for the Health and PE departments, as well as Fine Arts. In addition to being a liaison, I'm also the English Department chair


[Mary] I’m Mary Cook. I have been teaching for about 15 to 18 -  I took a very long maternity leave to raise six children. I am a Special Educator at the high school level and I'm responsible for the Math Department as far as the curriculum goes.


[Amy] I'm Amy Kaufman. I am the Student Achievement Specialist at our middle school. Prior to being in this position, I was a middle school social studies teacher, I am currently the middle school social studies department chair and the liaison for the social studies department and this is my 25th year in education.


[Danielle] I'm Danielle Lumin. I teach English at the high school and it is my 18th year. I have spent all 18 years at the high school and I am working with the English Department six to twelve. 


[Heather] I'm Heather Waybright. I am a Science teacher at the middle school. I've been here since 2004 and I'm in charge of the Science Department for our curriculum liaison team.

About South Western School District

[Rob] South Western is located in south central Pennsylvania in York County. We are “South Western” because we are in the South Western part of York County which is the Genesis of the name. We have a student enrollment of about 4300 students. Two of our four elementary schools are considered Title One as far as free and reduced lunch is concerned. And we have 311 faculty members right now across all six of those schools. I wanted to highlight that number because when we look at this team and what this team is really targeted, we are targeting about half of that faculty as it's a secondary curriculum assessment liaison team that we're featuring today. All of our middle school and high school teachers are included there. We have an administrative team of 33 people total. But on the educational leadership side, about 18 people are responsible for the educational programming of the district. I mention that to give you a little bit of background history about South Western and how we're constructed and how I came to be a part of this team. This is my fifth year in the district. And before I came, the role of curriculum management was held by the Assistant Superintendent of the district. Prior to my arrival, the former Superintendent and our current Assistant Superintendent had a vision for reconstructing the central office team to create a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. One of the primary responsibilities that I had coming into the district was to think about and implement our entire management development process. 

Curriculum Development Process

We know that at the very end, the goal is to have a written curriculum that is implemented across the system. As the director of curriculum, that's really what I was after. And so to get to that place as the end product in mind, I developed three steps to this process. That first one, I'm going to spend most of my time talking about the cultural piece, the cultural impact part, and I'll unpack those three bullets a little bit more. But then how that led this cultural impact, cultural understanding sort of led to this building capacity piece. And what you're going to see today and hear from the six leaders who are working right now in our system is that kind of that product of the capacity building part.


It really is the instrumental piece to then lead to where I think we're going to go with really just a well-oiled, well-run management system for our entire curriculum process. I already mentioned that from the curriculum side, the curriculum leadership side in our system before I arrived, we had three levels of leadership. We have our district office, central office leadership having one arm of curriculum leadership, our building leaders, our principals and assistant principals having another arm of that. And then we have teacher leadership teams as well, grade-level leaders, department leaders, department chairs, curriculum leaders, all very much part of our entire system. I'll come back to that in just a minute. But what we didn't have was how are all of those different teams supposed to work together to really create a very good, coherent system where curriculum is not only designed well but flows and implements well across the classrooms. And at the end of the day, when we think about what's most important for students, it's really that if we're saying and doing one thing and writing curriculum is that finding its way into the day to day practice for kids, we really want to see the connection between those two worlds.

Curriculum Design Values

This visual of the design values was something that we created that pulled together all of those pieces that were out there but weren't really coherent out there among those system leader's roles. But then once we're sort of wanting to articulate a true curriculum leadership team, we realize that we do have values in how we actually design curriculum that relate to having a process and having continuous improvement. We don't want to just stay in one spot. We always want to continue to grow and to keep learning and doing what's right for kids and thinking how we can change. We want to think about impact, the idea of what outcomes are we really after and what meaningful learning looks like. And how do we see that being shown by our students? That leads to, then our understanding of the importance of understanding. We're not just teaching surface-level things. We want to teach for a depth of understanding that we know kids can then transfer across new situations and new experiences. So what I just articulated those five things. We're kind of out there, maybe bits and pieces people might have latched onto one thing or another, but really wanting to put those values in place in a clear way is an important part of our culture, or at least how we want to keep moving forward in our culture so we know what we're anchored to.

Systemic Curriculum Leadership

I mentioned that “system-level thing.” We had those roles: district administration, teacher leadership teams, and building leadership teams. All of these roles still have an important role in our curriculum leadership plan. But from that, we have this more focused team that is now really looking at how to strengthen curriculum leadership in our system, which has me as the central office/district rep, the liaisons who you're looking at today, and we have assistant principals who are coming alongside at the building level to then go very focused and deep with regard to what curriculum leadership could look like. 


As I think about culture in our district and sort of this plan of how do we want to get to a place where we can build the capacity of our leaders to actually lead to a well-designed, well-written curriculum that is managed well across the system and then implemented these three things. I spoke a little bit more about this in the blog that I was able to publish for Eduplanet21 just recently. The first part of that culture is defining what our framework looked like for curriculum philosophy and values, that helped to lead to looking at where we are as a culture and where could we have entry points so that we could put together these review structures of which this team and administrative Curriculum Council and a teacher leadership team now really operates in order for us to look at and continue to evaluate the quality itself.


So knowing that I am this culture analysis guy, one thing that I worked on with our assistant Superintendent last year was talking a lot about how can we create a teacher leadership team that would be devoted to the task of aligning and focusing on quality in our written curriculum? And so the genesis of that idea came about, number one, because we believe as a district that we want to always improve and having the status quo of existing people, existing structures, existing everything, that's great. But we have to just keep thinking, what do our kids need now? What does our system need now that we have to keep changing and making sure that we're meeting those needs? So we have that belief system, and we also wanted to invest in developing people. If I am not around in ten years from the district, the role and the things that we have in place need to go on after I leave. And I would say the same is true for everybody else. If we don't have a belief system about building into the people who could then help carry on the different things that we want to see happen for kids, then we're just going to be spinning our wheels again and again, and that's just ineffective.

Building Curriculum Management Capacity

We have a system that really wants to foster and develop people. One thing that I looked at early on last year as I was thinking about this team is looking at existing Department configurations. We have Department chairs, and we have curriculum leaders at our middle school and our high school, I was careful to not step on people's toes because I didn't want to overstep in certain areas and just really understand the balance of roles and responsibilities of existing leaders. So how could I think about those departments and think about the alignment of departments and think about balancing middle school and high school, knowing that quality and alignment was important? Thinking about that and then also thinking about creative budgeting. We do not have these positions are not contractual positions, the liaison positions. But I believe in rewarding hard work that goes into the time and trust me, these six ladies who are part of the liaison team, I think they would never tell me this, but they are probably like, darn it, Rob has sent another email with another meeting invite because yet again we need to get together, but they have committed so much of their time.


I feel like part of that is understanding the budgetary pieces of how to help promote and support the work, the good hard work that they're doing. Put that building blocking together. Look at our existing Department structures, look at our existing budgeting things. How could I work within the confines of contractual things to offer some monetary structure for the team and then set up some parameters? I said we're going to have some training in the summer and some ongoing meetings throughout. We have three specific days of professional development that we have really worked through this year and kind of built out of that. Looking for what a curriculum leader means. We drew a lot on and this is sort of, I guess our core text, if you want to think about it like that, is Jay McTighe and Greg Curtis's book Leading Modern Learning. And there are a few chapters in there in particular that we really anchored ourselves around. The one that does talk about the curriculum blueprints and thinking about how a blueprint that is an aligned blueprint does focus both on interdisciplinary and disciplinary transfer goals. And so we'll talk a little bit more about that as the team continues on.


So this was all just the preliminary design to begin that capacity building of this team, how this team could be formed to then begin to work in working with all of the teachers in our middle school and our high school. And I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to Heather and Danielle so that they can talk a little bit about what that capacity building looks like at the practical level.

Building Capacity: The Practical

[Danielle] So I'm going to start off with the goals. My goal for joining this team was, as I told them at the beginning, kind of selfish. I really like to be in charge of what I'm teaching. I was able to about eight years ago write a course for English that I'm able to teach now. And I just really kind of love that ability to be in charge of what we're preparing for the students. So that's one of the things. But really I really want to build that six to twelve consensus and alignment. I think it's really important that we kind of jump over some of the hurdles that we've been experiencing over the last couple of decades with kind of a little bit of disagreement about how six to twelve works. And I think this is one of the best ways to do it. I've already found just a lot of great resources, six to twelve, where we can work together. I love learning so much and so learning about curriculum is really something that I'm interested in. And I think that we can all benefit from learning about why we do things and why it's good for our students. And also just for me, it's the potential what kinds of things we can do for kids to make them really enjoy school so much more than just as an obligation, but just as an opportunity to learn. And that's where I am with my goals.


[Heather] I'm going to speak a little bit about the training. I know Rob has already mentioned we started this past summer with three focus days that were our training. And Kelsey (Edupanet21) came on and we zoomed with her and we were reading chapters from Leading Modern Learning. But what I took away from the training was he brought six people together who knew of each other within this district. But we all haven't really worked together that often. And so we all had to build a relationship among us as well. So part of those three days over the summer in creating this team, we were building relationships and we would go to lunch together and we started group text together and sending encouraging messages, that kind of stuff because we needed to know that we're all in this boat together and we were all venturing out on something that we haven't done before. As he said, some of us are leaders in our schools. Some of us are emerging leaders. So that was all part of the training, which I think is really important if you're going to build a curriculum leadership team to make sure you have people that are going to be able to work well together, rely on each other, and help each other out a lot.


So the relationship building, I felt was the most important part. But also when Rob was leading those three days, he was really modeling for us what we were going to have to do when we went back with our six to twelve groups. Again, mine is science. He was really modeling for me: How am I going to bring our six through twelve educators together and build this curriculum blueprint that we're all working towards now? So it was a really important time over the summer. We thought three days was going to be enough, but lo and behold, it was not. So we added an extra two days later on in the summer, just to really make sure we were ready for our first in-service day that we were going to have with our groups from six through twelve.


But throughout the school year we have in-service days that are already built-in and that have been devoted to our curriculum writing. Some of them were able to do it on our own and others are going to be led by this curriculum leadership team. So we had our first one in the fall, and we all went and led our groups, and it was nerve-wracking.

And we didn't know that we were ready.


But with all that training we did over the summer, we were able to get everything started, and we've had really good support from our administrators. We meet once a month for about 2 hours in the afternoon. So we've had to have coverage and substitutes, and our administration has been very supportive of us. And sometimes we need a little bit more than the 2 hours. So Rob has been able to, again, use that charm of his, I guess, and give us half days, substitutes, where we are able to work together as a team because he knows the value of we can't just do this on our own. He can say to us, “go read these chapters and come back,” and we can do that. But when it's time to really build what we're going to be teaching and how we're going to be leading, we really do that as a team. And we've been doing that this whole time. So I think the training and the support has gone really well here. And hopefully, other districts are able to have that same sort of support that we have.


[Danielle] We all are reading and rereading our chapters, and we're coming back. And I like to do a lot of brain dumps about all of our reading and all of the concepts. I think that that helps me in particular to understand all of the ideas. And then after the jumping of ideas, then I moved into making connections, everything. And this is a group where I feel 100% comfortable sharing all of my concerns or misunderstandings. And everybody is just so supportive of everybody understanding, everybody being on the same page. It's really just one of the best professional experiences of my career. And it's just something where we kind of help each other build our understandings in our capacities. And we're constantly meeting in the hallways, in each other’s classrooms. We're meeting virtually on documents or Slideshows. We're just regularly working together so that we're all feeling comfortable and ready. And rereading over and over, rereading and rereading, just working on understanding as best we can. 


I'm going to hand it over to Jana and Suzanne, and they're going to talk about some practical insight.

The Curriculum Journey: The Practical 

[Suzanne] One of the things that Rob always tells us is that he's never going to ask us to do something we're not ready for. And Jana and I, this summer, I think we were the first out of the gate to have an experience where we were working independently with a group of colleagues, and our first experience was super positive, even though we kind of felt like we weren't sure of ourselves yet. It was the right time, and it was the right experience. And at this point in the year, we have both had multiple experiences with our individual groups. And at this point, I feel like I have enough comfort in being able to guide teachers into multiple entry points for stage one. We have kind of been hanging out in stage one for a while. And as I've worked with the performing arts group, they are naturally ready, I think, for other stages as well. And each time I have an experience, I find a different way for groups to enter into the curriculum writing process. And with the general kind of professional development that we're sharing with our colleagues.


Everyone has comfort now, and the conversation is no longer about completion. The conversation has shifted to “how can I get this to be aligned?” “When are we going to do the Lollipop test to see if this really is aligned the way we want it to be?” So even with these incremental changes of professional development for our entire faculty, I think we're seeing those shifts.


[Jana] For Suzanne and I to work together right out of the gates right after our training this summer, he (Rob) built within us confidence where he came in, got us started, and then walked out. And then him believing in us gave us that sense that we could do it ourselves. And we did. And we had a great response from the teams that we're working with. And that ideal led us directly into the year. And because it was so positive and we were working with some wonderful people, the word got out that, oh, this works.


So by putting the capacity in teacher leaders, you have that cloud with your colleagues, that relationship that you're building where they understand that you're going through the same day in and day out things that they're going through. So once we started to work with our teams and like Suzanne mentioned, we continued this year, we’ve been very lucky. Our teams have been really starting from scratch, writing brand new curriculum. We have really been able to form relationships with them. And then they're talking to other departments saying “Oh, it was great. We got to talk about these things. We're building this out. We understand.” 


We've now gone through two full professional development sessions this school year, during the school year where we have been meeting. And I can tell you this last one that we had just a few weeks ago, my team of multiple departments already felt, in my opinion, that they were buying in. That was one of our biggest things we had as a team. How can we get everyone to buy into curriculum? Because they don't always and I can tell you personally from my department and departments that were in the room they were buying in, which is really exciting to see. And there was a transition from. It's not just somebody telling me this is what I have to do. This is somebody that's on the same journey as me, and they're going to help and coach me through that journey. So what does that work looks like? We're still developing it, but to this point, that's what it looks like from our perspective. What we've learned is you also have to know the people in your department, who you go to, and you sugar a little bit so that you get them on your side so that when you have those naysayers, you know who to invest the time and energy in because you will have that.


So I know that's been something that we've both worked through. And again, I know both Heather and Daniel mentioned this having Dr. Friel model, what we need has been invaluable and also having each other to build off of, to text when we need it. We have a relationship now, Suzanne and I are holding hands, you can't tell, but we're supporting each other at all times. So we're here for each other. And if nothing else, having this small community of leaders that are now impacting other departments has been fantastic. Absolutely.


[Suzanne] Off of what Jonah said about when you are on this journey with your colleagues, but your colleagues are taking you to task. So one of the things that I think prepared me to have that experience was Rob reiterating: “what is our purpose here?” And I'm ready: “quality and alignment.” And having an answer to that question for my colleagues was a game-changer. I could feel in the room having an answer to that question meant something to them and it was a turning point. 


The other recent turning point I think we had is a group, and this is something again, like an epiphany that Rob shared is when we share this blueprint of how we are building capacity, how we are building education for our students. It has everything to do with the changes that we see coming for assessment, and that is something that we all see and we recognize. But having this plan to follow, like that's how we get there. And I think this is something that we can articulate for our colleagues and it's not so high in the sky anymore, and it's something we can all sink our teeth into it it makes a difference.


So the last question that we kind of have here: “How have we navigated culture, capacity, and curriculum management?” So when I thought about this question myself, I remembered one of my very first interviews. It wasn't even through my education program. And the question was a scenario that I was given and they were definitely looking for a specific answer and I didn't give it. But the answer they wanted to hear was “with rigor and urgency.” And I feel like that is how we are navigating culture and capacity and curriculum management. So I think Rob gives us that rigor through his process, and it's thorough. Trust me, there are hyperlinks and plans galore, but the rigor comes from the process that he's laying out for our entire district. And then the urgency is real. We all feel that, and that is something that we had to articulate because everybody already knew that.


And then within our Department, we have found that by supporting them, constantly checking in with them, asking them in the halls, or seeing them if you get into other buildings, we're forming relationships with the teams that we're working with, which again, is just something that I can't even explain how important it has been. I will see teachers in the high school and I'm from the middle school, and they will stop and say, hey, how are you? I never had that before. I had somebody when I was walking in here earlier say, oh, you're here again. You should just come work here. Which means they're accepting me for the role that I'm playing and they're also accepting this process. So I'm not just a figure that I'm a checkbox to them. That's not how I'm looked at it anymore. So by being of support, not just during this writing process, but being a support as a colleague and a leader, that's another capacity piece that I think we've all been able to experience.


For a cultural insight. It is the visibility of our support team that I think is contributing to the value of the written curriculum, the value of UBD, the value of education planet, because I do think we are starting to be associated with those constructs and that having a team just adds value. The same way how you spend your time in your classroom, that's how your students see what you value. Having people in the school system that are wrapped around those services is creating that perception for our colleagues. And it's clear.


[Jana] And how do you tackle the challenges time? Well, because we've been given at least once a month. These afternoon sessions where we meet is a curriculum team. A lot of times we're able to talk through that. Unfortunately, it's a lot of back work outside of the normal school day on top of what your normal duties are. But a lot of the questions that I know I get from colleagues and teammates in regards to how can you help me? I need to work on this next. I have to be realistic. A lot of times that work is going to happen in the summer. So first we have to calm fears and then say, okay, here's the small piece that we're working on. First, let's talk about transfer goals, or we really need to work on just getting a game plan for the next time that we meet. So it's also making it manageable and doable. But I don't know. How do you handle time challenge of time, collaboration?


[Suzanne] I would definitely say this afternoon during my planning period, I'm leaning on Jana for support. And how do we conquer this next task together? So the concept of team, it's just the same as if you have an opponent that you're facing. Jana and I both play basketball. So if we're facing a team that's got a dominant player, it isn't just you out there. Like, I can count on my teammates for some health defense if I get beat. I think that kind of builds towards the capacity insights that we have. And I think this has to do with not just teachers having a deep understanding of UbD, but also our administrators. Rob is developing our administrator's understanding of UbD and where we're coming at with curricular changes. And I think that understanding is absolutely necessary if we are going to be talking about incremental changes in instruction or assessment practices. So without an understanding of both levels, the task would be impossible.


[Jana] The last piece that we're going to handle is obviously Eduplanet. The last professional development that we had I actually had a group asked to get in before I got to the slide that said we were going to go check it out. So I think Suzanne already spoke to that. They're associating us with the use of Eduplanet, which is what we want. We know that that's our warehouse. That's what we're going to go to: understanding and Eduplanet are hand in hand. They're the combo that we want them to use. We're excited about. I know we have more training coming up with that. We're kind of diving in with our teams on that now. And that's exciting because I know we enjoyed learning more about how that's used and the positivity that comes along with it.


[Suzanne] One of my groups, Music, just completed their unit. It is a magical experience when you can pull up their completed unit, and show other teams how they put it together. And to have PE look at that and say “this is exactly what we need.” And there's where the alignment becomes concrete - it's clear how this is supposed to move forward.

And now we’ll turn it over to Mary.


[Mary] First I will talk about the personal side of why I joined the team. Dr. Freil came and presented his ideas to us at a faculty meeting, and I respect him and the things that he really stands for, and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity. I enjoy curriculum myself, and I wanted to be able to get better as a teacher and be able to improve the curriculum that we use in the classrooms. As a learning support teacher, you teach a lot of classes. That's a solitary kind of thing. And so the curriculum is written usually by you, maybe with another person. And I wanted to be able to find a way to make it what it really should be. To me, the most important thing is being able to be part of a team like this, but knowing that the person who is training you and taking charge of all of that really is listening to the ideas and thoughts that you have, your concerns, and trying to find ways to work through those concerns and to find effective tools for helping us learn the things that we were questioning. To me, that was really important. And in learning all the things that we have through Eduplanet and through the trainings that we've had, I think it's made each one of us look at the way that we present information to our classes as well.


From working with one another we have learned that some of us have one way of thinking about things and others have other ways, and that's the same in our classrooms. And so we have to find ways to meet everyone's different needs through our team meetings and then through the meetings that we have with our colleagues as our department type thing.


[Amy] Our liaison team has already been referenced. We all come from different content areas, different levels of experience, didn't know each other real well, but there has been a true coming together of this team, and I think our ability to do that transfers to how we build relationships with our departments. We all process information differently. We have different needs, and I think we've kind of learned and grown from each other in those trainings. And as we've been planning what each of us needs, this team is truly supportive of one another. If somebody needs an extra practice session, we schedule an extra practice session to kind of talk through things to make sure that we feel confident going into leading our departments. It's not an easy task to stand up in front of your departments, and we each have unique departments to put ourselves out there. But I think we have found a strength in our work together that transfers to the work that we're able to now do with our Department. Although we've only had two sessions that we've done already, we really have, I think, been able to start moving the needle a little bit and maybe more than we thought would happen in this initial kind of work that we're doing.


We have shared goals. We are truly invested not only in this process and the work that we're doing. We only have strong beliefs in the value of written curriculum, of quality products, high-quality assessments, and all of those things, but we really are invested in each other. And that investment in each other transfers to our departments, which transfers them down to our kids. So we know that we are sharing that down through and it transfers from us down into our students and the work that we provide and the experiences that we provide for them.

[Mary] When you think about the Departments we work with, our Department, one little trick that I've done, I just bring candy. Everybody likes chocolate. And so we just put that out. And again, I know everyone's mentioned it seems that they're not being led by someone who sits in an office all day, but by someone who actually is on the front line with them, that we're all in the classroom and we're all dealing with the same types of problems, with the successes, all those kinds of things. I think that really helps to develop these teams. And then when we meet with the Department, we group them purposely so that we have people from all different levels sitting together working in smaller teams so that they're not separated by grade level or by the specific courses that they've taught in the past, and that's been really successful as well. So that when we're sharing ideas, middle school teachers are sharing things that they've done, and high school teachers are figuring out how they can use those same types of ideas and apply it to the higher-level math. Because I'm working with the math department, the higher-level math skills that they're teaching, they can use some of that same type of thinking and encourage the students to try new things.


We have team members who are very vocal about the fact that they don't enjoy writing curriculum. They are not curriculum specialists, and someone else on their team is responsible for those kinds of things. But they're still willing at these meetings to share ideas, how to make some changes where certain things might fit into the curriculum. As far as some of our transdisciplinary goals and things like that, it's really interesting to see the change in some of their manners. They're not so weary about coming to these meetings, although they don't take place at the best time of day necessarily, but they come and they share and they do the things we ask them to do, which is really impressive to me.

[Amy] One last reflection related to secondary as a whole. A lot of times secondary teachers are kind of infamous for just worrying about content, and they go in their classrooms and they do their thing. So one of our challenges that we're working through is really getting people to step out of the content, to really focus and think big picture, look at more at those understandings and those skills, the transfer that we want our students to take beyond what they're learning in terms of content and to think kind of more globally or programmatically. And I think what we're seeing is this tremendous opportunity to really grow this interdisciplinary work that I think if anything has revealed itself through the pandemic where we see maybe the need for that kind of reinvestment or that thinking about what life is like beyond school, not just worrying about what's happening in our classrooms, but we know that our kids have a lot of needs beyond just what's happening in social studies or in math. And through this work, there's an acknowledgment of those skills and those needs that kids have, and we're able to begin to plan for how that looks in terms of our curriculum.

Curriculum Development: What’s Next at South Western

[Rob] So the last thing is what's next for the team. As you heard from everyone, the work and the commitment that this group has made to each other is really inspiring and has truly made a lot of positive inroads in the culture of our district, especially in the building of capacity among the people and working through curriculum process. But some of our team members are stretched a little more thin than others, and that's because of the configuration initially of the way the groups were designed. So for next year, we are actually bringing another person onto our team. A little bit of shuffling around, Mary is going to take on a slightly different role with some groups. Suzanne is taking on a little bit different. Jana is taking on a little bit different, and then a new person is coming in to join our team as well. So I'm excited about that, excited to continue to build the capacity of our group and add another support layer in place. And then, of course, the biggest thing and you heard mention of it a lot today is sort of the idea of that blueprint, the curriculum blueprint.


There is a practical level to that where Eduplanet has the curriculum blueprint piece that we're excited to actually have for our district. But beyond that, there's just the whole design component of transdisciplinary and disciplinary goals that we're really going to work on and sort of implement across our system. 


Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to just share a little bit about South Western and about our journey and sort of what this team has been able to do and being formed and what good work we're doing right now. We're certainly excited about it, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the years ahead, hopefully with this team.

Participant Q&A

Q: How has your role changed and evolved as the liaisons have taken on more?


A: I've just been able to shift my focus a lot more to really investing in the leadership side of the curriculum. I felt before this team was formed, I was the one always going and visiting small groups of teams to work through helping them work through design and doing education, planning, trainings, and talking about UbD. And to just have a group who is skilled and desiring to go and to do that work and do it well with respect of their colleagues has allowed me to focus on leadership stuff with my team, with this team, with the administrative team, and it's really just shifted my workflow to that. And I just think it's going to strengthen our overall capacity as a district because of that ability to be able to shift that way.


Q: There are emerging issues with curriculum in the public eye, with school boards caught in the middle. Do you have any plans to integrate the school board to make sure they are prepared in advance rather than being reactive?


A: [Rob] I think I'll go and field this one again for my team. Yes. A lot of the work that I put together in policy and procedure has been intentional to our school board. So we obviously have different school board policies effective to how we design curriculum, how we define curriculum, our core resource policy, for example. So we've been proactive on that front. I've actually spent time working with new school board members who have come in to just help them understand that curriculum is not something we purchase from some outside agent and just bring in and implement. That it is a part of the design itself. We design the process. That's what our partnership with Eduplanet, our Understanding by Design framework that we use is designed to actually design the learning goals and the assessments. We select the resources to support that. And so having some time with our school board to help them understand the process, I've put a few documents together, a philosophy document that explains just the design process itself, an explanation about core resources versus supplemental resources, and how core resources are attached to curriculum approval, supplemental resources. Here's how we handle the decision-making on what that looks like all tied into the process of design. And so getting them involved in understanding our process has been our approach right now.


Q: Can you talk about the instructional coaching aspect of curriculum design?


A: [Amy]  I think this is an area where there's so much potential, and I think we all hope that we are able to expand kind of the coaching side of this. But we have the opportunity to work in small groups and with our Department or with small curriculum teams as their writing, even being open to their questions throughout any part of the process, I think, has allowed us to provide that feedback in a timely manner when they needed and not the after things are done. Suzanne and Jana, I have been working directly with teams and probably can speak about that a little bit more. But I know that as somebody who does some coaching in my middle school, certainly hope to see that kind of expand as we continue on this journey.


[Suzanne] So I think the thing that I would want to speak to because I have never had the instructional coaching experience, working with different content areas has definitely increased my toolkit, I think, in terms of what I can offer for curriculum design. So if I had just kind of stayed in my lane of English, I do think that there are ways that I am limited by only experiencing that content. The more that I am working with Health and PE and working with visual arts and performing arts, I am seeing first hand the way that they think and the way that they design. And then I can kind of step back at that 10,000-foot view and help to see ways that they can connect, or at least their methods and design, the way that they think about design can connect. So that has been tremendously valuable.


[Jana] Sometimes they want you to do it for them. So it's you taking on that role of I will prompt you in the way that I think I can. I will build your confidence. I know I'm working with a new teacher who will say “Dr. Freil’s not going to like this. It's done. He hates it.” I’ll respond, “No, that's not it. Have confidence in yourself. You know your content. You know what you want the kids to do. You have these great goals and objectives. Let's start with that. Let's start with what you have.” And again, it's building that capacity as their coach, as almost a mentor. You're guiding them and helping them along the way. So that's what we've experienced from the instructional coaching side.


Q: For the team: Knowing what you know now,  would you have changed anything about your approach over the past year? Is there the way you interact with your teachers, anything from a professional learning standpoint, anything that you wish you would have known a few months ago that maybe could provide some insight for some of the groups on the line?


A: [Heather] I'm going to go. I'm kind of thankful I didn't know then what I do know now. To be honest, I feel like I have been learning along the way as I'm helping to coach and teach these other teachers. So I'm thankful for learning right along with them. So in my case, I'm thankful I didn't know then what I do know now.


[Danielle] I also leave every single meeting with more work than I want to redo everything that I've ever done. But I do wish that I had spent more time over the summer writing some of my own units to kind of get my hands dirty, I guess, so to speak, with the material. I feel like the more that I work through it with my own content, the better I understand how to direct my colleagues. So I think that's what I would have done or will I just continue to do.


[Mary] And I kind of go along with Danielle and that. But learning about this stuff and not using it right away or not practicing with it can kind of reduce the amount of it that you know? Well, I guess I was writing curriculum at the time, but I had written a lot of it before we started our trainings, and so I tried going back in and making changes where I could with the things that I knew at that time. But I'm the kind of person I learned best if I'm doing as opposed to just hearing about it. So I think that is an important thing is to be able to practice it and to use it while you're learning about it.


Q: A couple of you mentioned that you realized how important curriculum was during the Pandemic, and a lot of the schools that we work with came to the same realization. How are you able to stay focused? What were some of the challenges that you saw over the course of in and out of school and everything else that came with that? And how did you kind of say the course was the North Star, I guess, for lack of a better term.


A: [Amy] I think for all of us, I think there are points of time, like when something is happening that it's kind of that thing that redirects

everybody like this. As terrible as the pandemic has been and how disruptive learning has really created a lot of challenges for us to work through. It also has perhaps presented us with an opportunity that maybe we would have overlooked before. I think one of the challenges as a result of everything that's happening, it has been hard. I think a lot of us were kind of unsure about how are we going to engage teachers who are just so defeated right now in curriculum work when they've got 1,000 other things that they're worried about? I think a lot of what we've tried to do is acknowledge that a lot of our work that we did, in the beginning, was looking at what were the pre-pandemic needs of students, what are the post-pandemic needs? So we're putting it right out there to the forefront. We know that in doing this work, we're asking them to do really hard things in a really challenging time. But it's a really wonderful opportunity that perhaps when we look back on it, I think if we didn't take advantage of the opportunity, we would maybe just kind of be like, well, could have done better. And hopefully, this is again, that opportunity to kind of move us, continue moving us forward.


[Mary] I believe that because of the pandemic, I think some of the people thinking about curriculum, we're thinking about it and having their ideas of what students need at this time looking at their curriculum, and now they're instead of I don't want to be writing curriculum again. We've done it. We've done it. They're now thinking about how can I add something into these lessons and over these units, these courses to help students gain those things that we feel that they're really struggling with now because of the pandemic. Awesome.

Thank You 

[Jeff Colosimo, Eduplanet21 CEO] Kudos to you and the team. The sense of commitment, the energy, the communication around this whole thing was just amazing. It's exciting to see things like this. And thanks for sharing the story. I think the time and effort that you put together to share this with other people really just makes us feel good about what we try to do every day as well. And just having us as part of the team, I think, is what makes it exciting for us. Knowing that our solution adds some little piece of the puzzle of value to what you are doing. And it's something that helps you help kids be better. 


[Eduplanet] Thank you to Rob and to the team. The great thing is that Rob and the team have agreed to do regular check-ins with us. We're not giving you this information and then walking away. We'll be using different mediums, maybe one of our 10 Minute Tuesdays or another blog, but you'll be hearing from them every so often with an update on what next steps they've made. So we appreciate their commitment to helping us and our customers and other folks out there learn. 


[Rob] Thank you again, we appreciate it being able to share a story today.


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