Monthly Archives: November 2011

Curriculum Maps and the ALCAN Highway

Years ago, my wife and I travelled cross country in a Ford Ranger truck from Warrensburg, New York to Homer, Alaska. We logged 10,000 miles in little over six weeks, and with GPS in its infancy, our travels were guided by maps of the Alaska-Canadian Highway contained in The Milepost. We knew where we wanted to go, but The Milepost and its various roadmaps revealed the hidden gems along the route, and most importantly, spots we could count on to get gas and provisions. We used The Milepost to monitor our progress, plan side trips, and make certain we had the provisions and resources necessary for the trip’s duration. Without The Milepost and its road maps, we would surely have gotten lost, off track, and unlikely to reach our desired destinations. And so it goes with curriculum maps.

Curriculum maps are an educator’s road map that describe what students will know and be able to do on a monthly basis. Fenwick English introduced the concept of curriculum mapping decades ago, and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs used digital technology to bring curriculum mapping to the mainstream. By detailing the content, skills, assessments, and essential questions taught on a monthly basis, curriculum maps reveal the hidden curriculum each teacher follows from start to finish. Maps allow teachers and principals to monitor progress, make adjustments, and plan the necessary instruction that engage and equip students for success. With Race to the Top and the Common Core Learning Standards front and center, curriculum maps are a vital resource schools need to traverse the various standards and curriculum revisions.

Much as my wife and I collaborated to use The Milepost on our trip, curriculum maps allow teachers and principals to plan the learning for their students. As tangible data bases, curriculum maps serve as a bridge between administrators and teachers, allowing principals to more meaningfully engage in conversations with teachers about curriculum, instruction, and assessments. In both formal and informal ways, curriculum maps help cultivate communities of practice within a school. Whether conducting assessment audits, cross walking curricula to the Common Core Learning Standards, or conducting data-driven instructional practices, curriculum maps are an important tool for improving student achievement.

Time is a scarce commodity, and curriculum maps are one research-proven strategy administrators and teachers can use to quickly make informed decisions that improve student learning. Reflecting back on our trek to Alaska, I can’t imagine managing such a trip without a map. Likewise, implementing common core learning standards and data-driven decision making without a map to guide and inform our efforts is an exercise in futility. So, on this wild RTTT ride, be sure to have those curriculum maps readily available to help guide this important work.

Teacher Leadership and School Reform

This past Thursday and Friday I was working with my Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching colleagues on the topic of career teacher ladders to help inform the Board of Regents’ actions on the Career Development Continuum later this year. New York State’s Race to the Top application speaks about the Career Development Continuum on pages 188 and 189, and adding teacher leader certification or annotation areas to a teacher’s credentials lends credence to a long over-due structure. Namely, greater assumption of instructional leadership responsibility for teachers. Teacher leaders are an untapped resource in our schools, and we know that principals are most effective when they share leadership with others. From the 2010 Learning from Leadership Wallace Foundation Report: “When principals and teachers share leadership, teachers’ working relationships are stronger and student achievement is higher.”

Studies on principals’ use of time paint a picture of overworked individuals and fragmented days, prohibitive for being the instructional leaders principals seek to be. Assigning administrative managers  may free up some time, but distributing leadership among teachers seems the best avenue for improving student achievement. This is especially urgent with today’s RTTT reform agenda. Teacher leaders augment and expand administrator expertise, energize the profession through multiple teacher pathways, provide principals with needed support, and help with the change process. Teacher leadership opportunities may also prompt our finest teachers to remain in the classroom while also stretching themselves and others.

New York State will proceed in its work to create the Career Development Continuum, and how the state ultimately defines and evaluates criteria for teacher leadership will be relevant to all educators. Each district has its own set of issues and challenges, but there are questions requiring resolution. Can a master teacher be a great teacher leader? What course work and preparation would be required? For reliability and validity, what assessment would best identify knowledgeable and skilled teacher leaders? What role does nomination play, and would colleagues, administrators, and/or community members be part of the process?

A Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium is in place, and teacher leader standards have been identified. It’s now a matter of establishing a Career Development Continuum to grow the teaching profession, improve student achievement, and help all schools manage the complex changes that lie ahead.

Change is Hard

My interactions with colleagues and audiences during Race to the Top workshops remind me how difficult change can be for individuals and institutions. Under the backdrop of fiscal stressors, radical reforms such as Race to the Top can be stressful and incomprehensible. Principals rightly ask, “where is the time to do this work?” Teachers wonder how they can adjust their curricula to the rigors of the Common Core Learning Standards while also implementing Data-Driven Instruction, and superintendents are concerned about budgets and further cuts in programs as revenue sources decline.  The anxiety of teacher and principal ratings further exacerbates things.

Amidst the churn, Michael Fullan’s adage, “Problems are our friends” reminds us of the leveraged opportunities we presently have before us. Through RTTT, we have the chance to restructure how principals use their time; how teachers add rigor and relevance to their instruction; how leadership is distributed among teachers; and how we collaboratively use data to inform decision-making. In other words, we have a rare chance to deliberately and radically change our public education system for the welfare of our children and society.

There’s no question this country can do better in public education. All one needs to do is look at the Trends in International Math and Science Studies or the Programme for International Student Study Data for confirmation. With a sense of urgency, RTTT has pushed us out of our comfort zones to reconsider and reevaluate “How we do things around here.” Let’s ask ourselves if we are stretching students and providing the scaffolded support for those who struggle. Let’s commit ourselves to using data of all types to make good decisions. And let’s work together to figure this all out.

As Margaret Meade says, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to my blog on Race to the Top and school reform! My name is Stephen Danna, and as a Race to the Top (RTTT) Network Team Lead Facilitator in Upstate New York, I will work to post my analyses and reflections of Race to the Top reform efforts on a regular basis.

Race to the Top is a significant change effort with the potential to radically impact how public education is delivered in this country. With its focus on the Common Core Learning Standards, Next Generation Assessments, Principal and Teacher Performance Evaluation, and Turnaround Schools, Race to the Top is an opportunity to improve the quality of education and increase student achievement. Given the fiscal challenges, increasing global competition, and chronic underemployment in this great nation, it is imperative schools graduate the most capable, confident, knowledgeable, and self-directed students possible. RTTT may be the vehicle to make this happen.