Our commitment to equity and excellence has never been more important. Over the past decade, college- and career-ready standards have dramatically shifted our expectations for student learning. It is no longer enough to raise a hand and give the right answer. Instead, we want students to wrestle with complex problems, collaborate with one another, and investigate and apply information in creative ways.
All educators – as well as parents, caregivers, and education policy makers – have a vested interest in the success of our students. Throughout the pandemic, many of us witnessed one thing that is clearly supported by research: curriculum has a direct impact on student engagement and learning. The instructional materials that teachers use with their students can dramatically accelerate or hamper learning.
Equally important is the way in which teachers use curricula, including involving families and caregivers to support learning. Curriculum-based professional learning presents a unique opportunity to enhance educator efforts by incorporating strong, high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials and an approach to professional learning that ensures teachers know how to take advantage of everything they have to offer.
Curriculum-based professional learning offers an approach to professional learning anchored in the use of high-quality instructional materials and grounded in immersive learning experiences for all teachers. This approach to transformative professional learning requires shifts from traditional to curriculum-based professional learning.
The instructional materials that teachers use with their students can dramatically accelerate or hamper learning.
Below we explore a few of these shifts to help you determine your next steps toward greater equity and excellence for students.
From Curriculum Developer to Learning Facilitator
Instead of thinking of standards as a starting point for developing their own lessons, imagine if teachers worked like learning engineers to understand the underlying structures and internal logic in high-quality curriculum materials. Rather than professional learning that focuses on content or teaching techniques in isolation, curriculum-based professional learning uses lessons directly from the curriculum to deepen teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge. Teachers enhance their subject-matter expertise while practicing how to facilitate and teach complex content to their students.
From Disconnected Learning to Deep Dives into High-Quality Curriculum
When professional learning shifts to focus on experiencing the curriculum, teachers have opportunities to deepen their content knowledge by learning specific approaches to teaching their content that put students at the center of learning. Teachers also learn to translate new knowledge into practice by engaging in planning with high-quality instructional materials, ideally working with other teachers. Curriculum-based professional learning includes practicing teaching from the curriculum to help teachers try out in classrooms with students new teaching strategies embedded in the materials and examine the results of how students respond. As teachers reflect on their beliefs about teaching and learning using well-designed curriculum materials, they examine experiences in the classroom, assess the impact on students from changes in instructional practice, and consider how the curriculum is helping support student thinking and learning.
From Retrofitting to Establishing New Structures
Professional learning is not one-size-fits-all. It should include a collection of research-based learning approaches that instructional leaders thoughtfully select based on the needs of individual teachers and professional learning communities at different stages of implementation. Summer institutes are the beginning, not the end. Curriculum-based professional learning requires work throughout the school year and takes different forms, including professional learning communities and instructional coaching.
Shifts in How Professional Learning is Designed and Implemented
Teachers are often introduced to new curriculum materials in “training sessions.” We even say that teachers have been “trained up” after participating in these workshops. Although training is often used to refer to professional learning sessions, those who use the term are rarely referring to the same thing. People can get trained on how to use a computer software application or a new device, such as a cell phone. But that does not mean they understand how it works or was designed. Rather than tell teachers about a curriculum, curriculum-based professional learning prioritizes letting them experience it. For example, experiencing new instructional approaches from a learner perspective can enable teachers not only to trust that student-led discussions can be productive but also to anticipate questions and ideas that will likely surface.
Our vision of professional learning uses curriculum as both a lever and a guide, helping link teachers’ actions and ideas to new standards in concrete, focused ways. Done well, curriculum-based professional learning can close the gap between the experiences we provide teachers and those we want them to provide students.
Teachers and students continue to face challenges. There is no simple or silver-bullet solution. When teachers are supported with high-quality instructional materials and curriculum-based professional learning, they accelerate learning for their students.
To read more about these and other shifts check out Chapter 2 in our new book, Transforming Teaching Through Curriculum-Based Professional Learning: The Elements.