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Troubleshooting Curriculum Implementation         

Every now and then, I attend curriculum training in my district to learn more about not just the curriculum itself, but also about how teachers are doing with implementation. As a specialist who spends the day traveling from school to school, I have observed that the effectiveness of a curriculum is most visibly demonstrated through instruction; however, gathering teacher voice about the process provides a necessary window into possible barriers or needed upgrades. This year, I have worked with teachers across grade levels and content areas to support their adjustment to a variety of new curricula. What I’ve learned is that no matter the school, no matter the age of the students, teachers are aligned in their challenges. The question is, how to troubleshoot that first year of curriculum implementation smoothly so that kids learn and teachers feel confident?

Pacing Pressure

 “I only have 60 minutes to teach this math lesson and I can’t leave anything out, because the next day builds on what we did today. How can I do this?” One of the chief concerns teachers express during new curriculum implementation is the pressure to teach each day’s content in the time specified. Quite often, the best solution to pacing challenges requires time and patience. The first time we teach a curriculum, our lack of familiarity slows us down and makes us nervous, which is an uncomfortable combination. Over time, our pacing improves as we become more adept. Essentially, the best thing to do sometimes is calm down, accept that it might not be smooth, but that we will get better (growth mindset), and celebrate what we are doing well to help students learn by creating clear and measurable learning goals.

Technology Takeover

Many new curriculum companies are loading content onto web-based platforms, which means that lessons and accompanying materials are located online. In a climate of increased technology integration (Chromebooks and tablets in each classroom are becoming the norm), many teachers worry about an overabundance of screen time. In fact, they’re not the only ones, as this recent Washington Post article demonstrates. However, just because a resource is located online does not mean that lessons have to be conducted on digital platforms. Tap into the creativity of students by providing assignments that bring out other skill sets on paper. For instance, if the unit connects to the American Revolution, take the opportunity to do a classroom library trip and show students how to use reference books. Students can participate in discussion circles, or create artwork, or do pretty much anything that helps them connect curriculum content to their learning. Technology is just one way to do that, but it’s not the only pathway.

Stay Open

Change is hard, especially if a teacher enjoys the curriculum already in place. Who wants to replace what seems to be effective with something new? While that adjustment period is rough and it’s very important to acknowledge and expect that, teachers often prefer the new curriculum once the transition begins to take effect. Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to be open-minded. Our mindsets are a choice we make, so instead of jumping to negative conclusions within the first couple of months of implementation, ride out the challenges and look for what works. For instance, one teacher shared that she loves having experts at the curriculum company just a phone call or email away. That way, she has a continuous support outside the school to turn to. The more we look toward the benefits of a change rather than the deficits, the more successful we will be.

Don’t Confuse the “What” for the “How”

“I don’t want to change how I teach.” I hear this concern pretty often with new curriculum implementation, and I always emphasize that a curriculum is a “what,” not a “how.” A curriculum gives teachers a road map to learning with resources; however, it does not dictate pedagogical or stylistic preferences. Our teaching style is not dependent on the curriculum; rather, we find ways to incorporate the best of our craft into what students learn. It is important to believe in our expertise, and not to take shifts as a threat to what we do best. Instead, how can we use what we know to make this new curriculum rollout even more meaningful for students?

Being faced with a curriculum rollout can be exhausting, but we forget how much of our approach and mindset can mitigate feelings of stress or pressure. Flip the narrative and make it one of empowerment. Curriculum is not designed to be an imposition; it is designed to be helpful. What experiences, practices and background can we draw from to make a new curriculum as advantageous for students as possible? Those are answers that we have, and a process we can control with positivity and growth.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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