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Curriculum Writing

28 Oct Southampton Township Shares 5 Professional Development Tips to Support Curriculum Writing

by Alexa Morales, Rubicon International

Your school or district has decided it’s ready to start developing a fully documented curriculum. Now what? How do we get started? How should we prioritize all of the necessary steps? In this post, we’ll outline an implementation approach with examples from Southampton Township School District for other teams starting from scratch, interested in fully documenting their curriculum.

In June of 2015, Southampton Township School District didn’t yet have a documented curriculum in a consistent format across all grades and departments. Since they were starting from scratch, they recognized a need for a focused, centralized approach to writing curriculum grades K-8.

The district was also committed to creating NGSS aligned curriculum, along with other concurrent initiatives competing for time. The team knew they had to take a proactive approach to make the most of faculty’s time and energy.

I. Identify our goals and needs

In the case of Southampton, the long-term goal was to have a consensus curriculum for the entire district. They also wanted to have a common understanding of the curriculum writing process using UbD for all faculty and use their curriculum as the driving force for instruction.

The Southampton team outlined their long-term goals, along with key objectives to make the journey more manageable. They also identified roles & responsibilities, timelines for their goals, and a roadmap for Professional Development and training. They began by articulating their Goals in a “Getting Started with Atlas Worksheet.”

Application: What are your goals? Is it to have a fully documented curriculum? Quality and spiraling Essential Questions for all courses? Diverse assessment mix for high school students?  It’s important to have clear objectives identified to give meaning to your work. Think about your students’ needs, and what information administration and teachers would be interested in.

II. Determine the pedagogical approach to mapping

Southampton’s preferred pedagogy was the backwards planning approach, Understanding by Design (UbD). They knew they wanted to start planning units with the end in mind and wanted to incorporate elements specific to state requirements and initiatives. Based on these priorities, we designed and finalized a unit planner that was to be used by all grade levels and subject areas.

Application: What type of information do you want to capture in your curriculum? What conversations are you hoping teachers can have with this information? Are there school- or district-wide initiatives you can weave into the curriculum?

III. Identify PD and training needs based on your approach to mapping

Since the district didn’t yet have a documented curriculum, most faculty members weren’t familiar with the UbD framework or writing a unitized curriculum. The leadership team at Southampton agreed that it would be essential to frontload the necessary Professional Development to give their faculty the tools to write a quality curriculum from the start.

To make the most of their time, the team decided to use a Curriculum Questionnaire to identify specific faculty PD needs. They used this information to have a very customized and targeted in-service day. The PD content and facilitation was tailored around Southampton’s needs, and served as a great foundation.

The next step was a more technical training on the Atlas system, which allowed faculty to apply their curriculum writing basics within the platform.

Application: Has our faculty had exposure to the type of PD and training needed? What needs do we see specific to our faculty? What are our key milestones, and what coaching do we need to facilitate those conversations? Consider your overall goals and include the PD and training necessary where possible.

Google Results Southampton
Southampton administered a Google survey to faculty, which logged results in helpful pie charts that can map Professional Development Priorities.

IV. Establish an appropriate, yet ambitious timeline

The district set out to accomplish a fully documented curriculum in two years. Rather than implementing such a large task district-wide right away, they decided to introduce it to their faculty in phases. They started by department, prioritizing them based on their revision plan. The district’s curriculum would be developed incrementally over the two years as departments were ready to begin. This allowed the district to make time for other competing initiatives, consider time commitments of their faculty, and celebrate successes along the way.

Application: How can we break up each goal into incremental and manageable milestones? What are the most critical conversations that must take place in 3, 6, 12 months and beyond? What products are most pressing? The SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) Framework is critical in this step!

V. Develop teams to lead the process

Southampton’s core group of leaders, their “Steering Committee,” is composed of district leadership and a representative mix of teachers. This committee works together to make decisions, which ultimately ensures consistency and buy-in from all levels. The Steering Committee are leaders within the district on the process and serve as the “go-to” folks for Atlas and curriculum related questions from peers.

Application: Create an inclusive culture that encourages faculty to participate. Identify key stakeholders who will oversee the project. This can be a mix of volunteers and members who are recognized as engaged. What are the roles and responsibilities of our team members? How will we engage leadership and teachers in this project?

Just Want the 5-Step Quick-Start?

  1. Establish your team: Core Team, Steering Team, Curriculum Team, Dream Team—it’s up to you! Who is going to drive the process and stir excitement?
  2. Determine faculty PD needs based on your goal/initiative: Check out this curriculum questionnaire.
  3. Find the time to get it done: Time is a scarce resource. To quickly assuage any fears, intentionally outline your plans to include time throughout the year for curriculum work.
  4. Get strategic and creative with PLC or department/grade-level team meetings: Make sure that precious time isn’t wasted and instead have focused initiatives and deliverables for each gathering.
  5. Review, identify new needs, and refocus your efforts: Like curriculum, our priorities and needs shift overtime. Leave room for flexibility to allow for those changes.

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