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Lessons from adopting a new Curriculum


Curriculum adoption is one of the most important processes that a School District goes through.  The process is lengthy, costly and does not happen often, yet it directly affects the teaching and learning of everyone in the District.  While it is mandated by the state for every classroom to have adopted curriculum, implementation and buy in from the teachers can make or break usage.  It is vital that the process that districts go through is thorough, research based and is supported by stakeholders.

My work in education has primarily been as a teacher in a two-school school district.  While there wasn’t a single curriculum director like bigger districts have, there was a lot of opportunity for teachers to be leaders, so I jumped at the opportunity to lead the curriculum adoption for a new Math curriculum in my district, which I loved 

How did it Work
Our process began as a whole staff.  We brainstormed what key components we as teachers wanted in curriculum.  We also looked at strengths and needs for our students based on our state assessments.  We studied where our students excelled and where we needed more support in helping them learn concepts.

In our little two-school district we had 6-8 teachers per grade level.  Each grade level selected two teachers to serve on our adoption committee.  We are lucky that in California, the process for selecting state-approved curriculum is rigorous.  Only programs that meet several key guidelines are selected to be considered “approved” and are allowed to be adopted by districts.  Additionally, the state sets guidelines for adoption, purchase and implementation. This gave us a framework to develop our timelines.

Our committee reps took the guidelines that we as a staff had developed and attended the County Adoption Fair.  This is when representatives from each publishing company shows off their curriculum. As a committee, we narrowed our pilot choices down to two different curriculums.  The curriculums selected were very different from each other. One was more of a traditional sequence while the other spiraled and challenged students to deeper thinking.

As a committee we developed an evaluation instrument to use as teachers moved through the programs.  This included evaluating the curriculum, assessments, getting student feedback and getting parent feedback.  We also looked at how the curriculum supported special populations, re-taught and extended standards and provided different modes for learning.  We really tried to look at the program as a whole and how it fit in with the needs that our staff identified at the beginning of the process.

Each teacher piloted the programs for 4-6 weeks.  Our intent was for each teacher to implement two different chapters from each program so they could see how the curriculum developed over time and give feedback on more than one standard area. This was also great for getting buy-in from the teachers – they were able to use the curriculum in the wild and feel like they were a part of the process.

After two months of piloting, we came back together as a committee to evaluate the programs.  We used a post-it chart where positives about each program were displayed in different colors.  After the reflection process, it was clear by looking at the colors displayed on the charts which program stood out for our staff as the program our district wanted to implement.  We presented our findings to the Board of Education. Upon their approval, the curriculum was adopted and the materials were ordered. Teachers would implement the program the following school year.

The adoption process we went through involved multiple stakeholders (administration, teachers, students and parents).  It involved using an evaluation tool to help process the positives and negatives of each program. Our process was done over time in a deliberate and paced fashion.  Most importantly, our process was based on the specific needs of our students in our district.  

What did I learn
In reflecting on the process that we followed in adopting our math curriculum, two key components stand out as “take-aways”…Include stakeholders and take time in the process.

It is imperative to include all stakeholders, including students and parents.  It is easy to focus on the feedback from classroom teachers, but there are others that may offer a different perspective.  Getting feedback from special education teachers, art teachers, paraprofessionals and other specialists will allow for the curriculum to be looked at through other lenses.  Additionally, parents and students are essential in the process, as they are the ones directly working with the curriculum.

Time.  There is never enough time.  Schools are maxed out on time.  However, time is what is needed in a curriculum adoption. It is one of the biggest decisions made by districts and it directly affects every single person within a district.  Taking the time to develop a process, implement the curriculum and reflect on the curriculum is needed in order to make a sound and educated decision. Don’t rush the process.  Start the process early in the adoption cycle so you can ensure that there is plenty of time to evaluate the curriculum.

Curriculum is the cornerstone of teaching and learning.  The process should be meaningful and intentional. It should also be fun!  As a district we learned a lot about how our teachers teach. We also learned a lot about how our students learn and what they need, because, ultimately, the students’ needs are at the center of any adoption!  

Megan Cusimano is a former teacher in the Bay Area. She also writes curriculum for BookNook

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