Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.
There is no doubt that the quality of instructional materials makes a real difference in schools and classrooms (see a great roundup of recent studies in Ashley Berner’s recent blog post here). We know we are unlikely to achieve the real power of those materials—and their potential to help educators serve all students—until we invest in building the capacity of educators to understand and implement those materials with integrity.
Learning Forward’s recent whitepaper, High-quality curricula and team-based professional learning: A perfect partnership for equity, explores how team-based inquiry cycles offer teachers meaningful, frequent opportunities to dive deep into the academic content of the materials they use with students along with the resources and context essential to supporting such learning.
We have long advocated for job-embedded collaborative professional learning for educators, as outlined in the Standards for Professional Learning. Policy at the national level in the U.S. offers an exciting lever for advancing effective professional learning with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes a definition of professional learning aligned with these standards. The definition states that professional development is “sustained (not stand-alone, one-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused,” essential elements to ensuring teachers have time to study and implement high-quality materials. (See the full ESSA definition here.)
As I consider starting points for how schools and districts might plan their professional learning to align with the ESSA definition, particularly related to understanding and using instructional materials, I’d suggest these key shifts:
Many priorities at every level in the system
A limited number of priorities with understanding instructional materials at the core
A balance between school, grade-level, and subject matter team learning to best serve the immediate needs of teachers and students
Catalogs, workshops, and courses
Learning teams, modelling or co-teaching, and mentoring and coaching
Long-standing PLC frameworks and guiding questions
Learning cycles embedded in using high quality instructional materials
With each research study and example of effective use of materials, we more fully understand how much curriculum matters. I’m determined that professional learning always go hand-in-hand with robust academic materials so each student has the opportunity to experience great teaching every day. As schools and school systems make these shifts, educators will have the support they need to use data about what their students need to set their own learning goals and learning agendas. These educators, through their learning, will come to each class equipped with knowledge about the materials their students are using and with the instructional strategies required to adapt materials for the particular students they serve.
The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.