25 Jul 5 Tips for Planning Your Curriculum Process
By Elizabeth Worlein, Rubicon International
In our recent webinar, we shared 5 tips to use for a successful curriculum process. These 5 tips are rooted in research-based Project Management practices, as well as the best practices our team at Rubicon has developed over the last 25 years in the field of consulting.
Tip #1: Know the Key Elements of a Process
To design a successful process, there are three main elements to consider:
- Tasks: What must be done in order to reach the desired outcome. For your curriculum process, this could be as straight forward as creating and reviewing curriculum unit maps for each course. It may also be more complex, such as creating Portrait of a Graduate outcomes or identifying Power Standards. Often times, a curriculum process may entail a few key tasks (such as first identifying Power Standards and using those to develop curriculum unit maps).
- Time: How much time it will take to complete the outlined key tasks. This includes timelines, deadlines, and duration of the tasks.
- Resources: In education, this includes the costs of Professional Development and time for teachers to complete curriculum tasks, as well as any resources like textbooks, an Atlas System, etc.
These key elements are interrelated, in that if one element changes it will impact the others. For example, if you have to reduce the amount of time you can dedicate to professional development for teachers, you may need to also adjust the number of tasks you had planned to complete that academic year.
Begin by outlining the tasks you hope to include within your curriculum process and clearly identify how much time you have available to dedicate to this work. Think about the specific tasks that will be involved, how much time it will realistically take to complete the tasks, and the frequency (or consistent time) individuals will have to complete those tasks. You might also consider where and how can you reallocate time to maximize the impact of the work. From there it’s easier to identify the necessary resources. (We are also available to collaborate with you on this topic!)
Tip #2: Consider Everyone Involved
Once you have drafted a plan with the time, tasks, and necessary resources, consider everyone involved. In the world of Project Management, the term often used is “stakeholders.” By definition, a stakeholder is a person with an interest or concern in something. If you have a “stake” in something, it’s usually an investment. What is it usually for teachers? You guessed it: time! By doing what project managers call a stakeholder analysis, you can proactively think about the all important “buy-in” piece to your long-term goals and plans.
There are recommended steps to gather and analyze information, determining the degree to which certain groups’ interests will sway the success of your process and need to be considered throughout this project. Armed with this knowledge, you can proactively seek to build buy-in with these groups based on their key motivators.
- Make a list of the key stakeholders. There will likely be 2-3 key groups (e.g. teachers, administration, parents and students).
- Analyze the groups’ power and impact. “Power” refers to the sway a group has in the project, while the “impact” relates more directly to the tasks that need to be accomplished. These two factors can be qualified as high or low. For example, if teachers are expected to diary map their curriculum, they have a high level of power and high level of impact on the overall success of the curriculum mapping initiative. This helps identify the importance of ensuring teachers are onboard, understand the expectations, and truly understand how this process will benefit their work.
- List out key motivators and characteristics of the groups that have high power and impact. List the interests and incentives of your process that directly relate to the group’s interests. What changes can you make to your project, in order to address their key concerns? Research shows teachers involved in mapping often report that their instruction improves, in part because they have been more intentional about unit design and because it has led to increased collaboration with colleagues about what and how they teach. What will resonate with your staff?
Tip #3: Know and Plan for Obstacles
All processes and projects have risks. Perhaps funding changes, there is leadership transition at the school, or teachers’ time to engage in curriculum is cut short. Though many risks are unforeseen, many can also be prevented (or their effects less felt) with careful, proactive planning. Without understanding what the risks may be – and having thought ahead about how to get around them – your plan may not be as viable as you hoped.
Think back to the three factors (task, time, and resources) of your process. Reevaluate what you have outlined. Key questions to consider include:
- Have you made any assumptions in the outline of the three factors? A common assumption we see is around time, such as that teachers will plan units or map their curriculum on the own time. Without time clearly allocated to curriculum work, this assumption often leads to resistance and other road blocks.
- What other initiatives may take away from or influence the three factors, such as time or resources? How can you plan for changes and their potential impact, embedding options for change along the way?
Be sure to revisit your analysis of everyone involved in the process, too. Did you assume any characteristics or key motivators? How might you gain relevant insight from the group itself, to double check the key incentives are accurate and meaningful to the group?
As schools approach this work, we have found it helpful to use various change management models to help to understand the emotional aspects of change, foresee when roadblocks may occur and how to ensure our plans foster a positive track for change.
Tip #4: Build a Team
You may have noticed that curriculum processes revolve not only around the outcome, but also the people involved. A curriculum process cannot be completed by one person. In fact, we have found time and again that the role of curriculum leaders, like a project manager, is mostly to guide the tasks of the project to people. In addition to having a sound multi-year plan, we strongly encourage building a core leadership team.
Some schools decide to have one or multiple teams. Depending on the size of your school or district and the scope of your curriculum process, these might include a curriculum team, a professional development team, and an Atlas/technology team.
Consider creating teams that include people from a diverse mix of grade levels, disciplines, and leadership levels. This team could be your “early adopters,” who really pave the way to documenting their curriculum. They might also help to identify stakeholder needs and potential risks to your plan.
Once you have your team assembled, it’s time to begin their leadership journey. Setting expectations, for the team and the curriculum process goals, is essential from the very beginning. Note that some schools have found it effective to begin with an outline of their curriculum process factors (i.e. time, tasks and resources) and then collaborate with the team to make final decisions as a group.
Use this as an outline for your first meetings with the team:
- Share your plans and vision with the team(s). Consider their feedback and input. They may identify resources or risks you hadn’t considered.
- Provide time for your team to set norms and bond as a team. Allow them the space to understand and expand upon their role and responsibilities, considering each member’s unique strengths.
- Structure your curriculum process so the team can gradually lead the tasks. There are a few key phases to set your team up for this successful path:
- Forming: Team comes together and defines their role, as well as the curriculum process.
- Storming: Team identifies things to change and how to do it.
- Norming: Team establish relationships and confidence as a group.
- Performing: Team examine and execute tasks at a high-functioning level. The project/process leaders is guiding, when needed.
Tip #5: Come Back to Your Plan Often
We think of a strong, successful curriculum process as one that cycles or perhaps spirals, becoming deeper and more focused in each phase. Once you’ve formed a plan, put all the pieces in place, and set the work in motion, it’s important to build-in time to check in on the progress of each element of your plan. Planning time to reflect and reevaluate ensures this essential tip will take place. Whether things are going well or have gone off-course, set milestones and schedule meetings to review your plan, touch base with influential groups, reevaluate the status of potential risks/roadblocks, and check-in with your teams.
To keep your plan on track we suggest you:
- Come back to the vision for why you began. Has it changed or evolved?
- Check the factors (time, tasks, resources). Have these changed? Are there other initiatives that could be included in this task or will influence these factors?
- Check in with influential groups. Have the key motivators for your highly influential group(s) changed? Perhaps survey to see what PD needs and/or questions exist.
- Reevaluate where you are in the change cycle. What roadblocks may lie ahead this year?
- Come back to your team. Do they have rewards/incentives, skills, reasonable timelines to be successful in (eventually) leading this process? Moreover, do they have trust in you?
For more resources, check out our handout!