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THE START OF THE JOURNEY: THE CURRICULUM IS MORE THAN A TEXTBOOK

Dr. Susie Long, CEO of Long Educational Consulting, LLC, first shared this post on Curriculum Trak (March 17, 2022).


Blog, Curriculum Development, Curriculum Mapping, Leadership, Professional Development, Textbooks

The start of my journey began when I entered the doors of our Christian School. I had been asked by the Pastor of our church to serve as Principal for the next eight years. Upon arrival, I was full of excitement, anticipation, and reverential fear just thinking of what God was going to do in my life and the life of our school. During my earlier career in public schools, I developed a sincere desire to work in a Christian school environment; however, I knew I had to wait for the timing of God. Finally, that time arrived thirty-three years later.

Retiring from public schools, in all honesty, left me exhausted and saddened that I was unable to make a greater impact on the lives of students I had taught in the classroom and served as principal. In public education Boards of Education, political factions, and federal funding constraints often hinder the development of an effective academic curriculum. Children of all races, socio-economic backgrounds, various disabilities, and orientations did, and still do suffer because of educational conflicts. As a Christian in public education, I found myself often having to navigate through the system to ensure I did not compromise my love for children, godly principles, moral integrity, and doctrinal beliefs.

After completing my tenure in public schools, I went on to serve as Principal of our private Christian school—it was truly amazing! For the first time in my educational career, I experienced students, especially Black boys, who were academically confident and secure in who they were as children of God. Parents were so involved in the school and education of their children that I found myself feeling exhilarated and filled with admiration. Teachers were extremely loving towards administration, students, parents, and each other. They were also very knowledgeable of the textbooks used to instruct their students. I knew God sent me to this school and for that specific time.


THE DISCOVERY OF CURRICULA NEEDS


Once the informal and formal introductions had ended, I conducted classroom visits and instructional observations at every grade level. As was common in many private schools during that time, I observed course textbooks and teacher generated lesson plans being called “the curriculum.” However, none of the curriculum resources or textbooks intentionally focused on faith-based, state, or national standards. It was not unusual to find a lack of technology, teachers instructing from each page of the textbook, end-of-chapter questions being given as classwork assignments, nor students copying endless pages of notes. The memorization of formulas, vocabulary words, dates, events, and facts were used as formative and summative assessments. The teacher-centered classroom completely dominated the learning environment.


After having been a Curriculum and Instruction Specialist and Principal in public schools, my observations in this new environment caused me to fervently pray and ask, “Lord, where do I begin?” In my previous roles, I strongly advocated for Disciplinary Literacy, cognitive demand, evidence-based learning, and a student-centered classroom. These were all foreign concepts to the teachers. I quickly realized they would need professional development to prepare students for the challenges ahead in higher learning and secular careers. I also noticed that some of the instructors lacked the depth of content knowledge necessary for challenging the critical thinking and analytical skills of the students. This made teaching from the textbook more convenient and less stressful for the teacher but ineffective for the students.


PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IS THE KEY


Professional Development was needed to address 21st Century educational and instructional needs that I had identified. To begin the process, I assigned teachers for the upcoming school year, to teach courses relevant to their college degrees or as close as possible. Prior to the start of school, intensive training was planned and conducted. For seven hours and fifteen minutes a day, for five consecutive days, teachers received training on standards, curriculum documents, digital media, lesson planning, technology integration, and instructional practices and methods. Everyone worked extremely hard and tirelessly as I inundated them with “new” educational knowledge and trends. It wasn’t until the trainings were over and the teachers tried in vain to apply what was taught, that I realized my mistake.


MY MISTAKES: TOO MUCH AT ONE TIME


I’d made assumptions about the knowledge I thought the teachers had. I assumed they knew the content standards for our state. I assumed they were all aware of the “new” national standards that had just been adopted by our state. I assumed they knew and understood what was meant by research-based instructional practices and instructional methods. It never occurred to me that even though the teachers had degrees, most of them were not education degrees. Some of the teachers had never received content specific training, completed student teaching, nor did they have knowledge of professional organizations outside of Christian education. Most of the training I had provided during that time, was overwhelming, unfamiliar, and beyond their depth of knowledge. Thank God for mercy, love, and forgiveness! Realizing my mistake, I apologized to the staff and refocused my attention on effective training and professional development needs.

As a result of my reflections, I’ve identified some suggestions that may assist those who are beginning.


TEN SUGGESTIONS FROM WHAT I HAVE LEARNED


1. Assign courses to teachers based on their major and where they have the most content

knowledge.

2. Don’t overwhelm teachers with too much information and too many topics during

Professional Development.

3. Select two of the most concerning instructional and content specific needs and focus

training on the research underpinning the area.

4. Allow teachers time to observe, practice, and apply the concept and/or skills taught

before piling on more.

5. Provide praise (first), immediate feedback, and encouragement when teachers attempt

and/or apply what was taught during the training.

6. Allow teachers to ask questions no matter how irrelevant or “missing the point” they

may appear.

7. Assure the teachers that no question pertaining to the training are insignificant.

8. Allow content area teachers to meet on a regular basis as a team.

9. Provide concise details and a rubric when giving assignments based on the training.

10. Provide feedback using language from the rubrics to guide teachers understanding for

knowing exactly what you want or expect.


THE CURRICULUM IS MORE THAN A TEXTBOOK


When I determined best practices for effective professional development to address my concerns, I began with shifting teachers’ mindsets from the textbook to a rich and more robust curriculum. The meaning of curriculum and how it differs from the textbook had to be fully explained and understood before moving forward. Harry Wong, a noted educator, clarified the purpose of the textbook and defined curriculum as:

“the course of study and experiences that states what the students are to learn.” (Wong, 2009, p.232). Curriculum is the driving force of the content to be taught and the methods to be used. The textbook is not the curriculum. It should not be followed, chapter after chapter. The purpose of a textbook is to supplement the district curriculum and the creativity of the teacher. It is imperative that you ask for the curriculum guide first, before asking for the textbooks. Textbooks are fine as supplements to the curriculum guide.

The Inspiring Schools to Flourish Through Accreditation (ACSI) manual, provides a clarifying statement pertaining to Standard 8: Curriculum Planning. It states that the curriculum guide “captures the essence of information within the scope of a particular course or subject, containing essential questions and key concepts, to prepare learners for success. It serves as a current and accessible roadmap of instruction to guide students along their spiritual and educational journey.”

Assisting students with selecting and attending colleges and universities of their choice, and preparing them for competing both nationally and internationally, requires moving beyond textbook only learning to a rigorous, enriching, and robust curriculum. This will ensure quality instruction, a strong sense of teacher efficacy, and student outcomes that successfully meet the demands of 21st Century learning. Knowing the difference between the textbook and the curriculum is certainly the place to begin; however, it is only the start of our Curriculum Mapping Journey.


References

2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.bartleby.com/essay/Harry-Wong-Defines-Curriculum-As-The-Course-FK9D5B3LDE7W> [Accessed 17 February 2022].


Effectiveteaching.com. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.effectiveteaching.com/userfiles/cms/unitFiles/25/GoBe137TheFallacy.pdf> [Accessed 17 February 2022].


ACSI. 2022. ACSI Inspire - Accreditation Revision Process. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsi.org/accreditation-certification/accreditation-for-schools/other-pages/inspire> [Accessed 15 February 2022].



Dr. Susie Long is a Maryland certified Principal, Special Educator, and Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. With more than forty years in education, she served as a public and private school Principal, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Special Education Administrator, Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and a General Education Teacher at all grade levels. Dr. Long also holds CT Certification with Curriculum Trak. Within the private and public-school communities, Dr. Long has presented and facilitated a wide range of Staff Training and Professional Development to administrators, general educators, special educators, and paraprofessionals. She is currently the Instructional Coordinator for a private Christian School in Prince George’s County Maryland and the CEO of Long Educational Consulting, LLC www.longeduconllc.com

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