Our first day back from Thanksgiving break and I had a sub. No, I wasn’t sick, I was at a curriculum meeting. It’s at this point must of us are rolling our eyes and thinking, was that really necessary? Could we have met for an hour or just used email and Google Apps to communicate? I’m right there with you. I hate missing a school day unless I can be sure that what I have learned or accomplished will positively and directly impact students.last Monday was one of those days and I think there were some really important components necessary for any department who wants to have quality curriculum that result in tangible accomplishments.
Have a clear goal.
We were trying to find a better way to place kids in the correct class as freshmen. We had way too many students who were moving to a lower track and a few moving to a higher track of math during the first semester of school. When almost 20% of your freshmen class are changing tracks, something is wrong with the placement method. We all knew that it was an issue and needed to find a better way to help transition students into the correct high school math course.
Include all the key players AND be sure they have a voice.
How many of us have been given notes from a meeting we weren’t present for containing some sort of directive or decision that directly impacted us? I’m sure there are some out there that are totally fine with this but I’d argue that making real change means all parties involved in implementing the change need to be present and in agreement about the changes made. How can we be 100% clear and in agreement, ready to implement or enforce something when we weren’t there?
This particular curriculum meeting was great because all of the freshmen math teachers were there as well as the 8th grade math teachers from each feeder middle school. Even better, we were trusted to get the goal accomplished, which brings me to the next point-
Remember, it isn't an admin meeting.
I have nothing against administrators. I would love to be an administrator one day! In fact, great administrators helped this meeting happen! Most would admit however that admin meetings have a reputation for being a lot of talk and jumping through the hoops states put on public schools. This meeting wasn't like that. We started by talking about how each of us grade and what students need to know before they enter our classes in order to be successful. We used Google docs and collaborated. There was one goal and that was to understand the expectations for enterering high school math classes and to create a placement test and criteria for placing students correctly. We had an entire day to complete the task and our administrators simply poked their head in every now and then to see if we needed anything. We weren't given additional tasks. No one walked in and said they would have to check with another higher up before we'd have an official answer. We had the autonomy to make final decisions and simply report back how the day went!
Give mutual respect and desire open communication.
During the first hour of the meeting, we were trying to sort out how best to spend the day and accomplish the goal. We began to discuss the gaps we were seeing at the high school. Kids didn't know the difference between slope and plotting an ordered pair or they were lacking number sense, etc. It would have been really easy for for the 8th grade teachers to take it personally and shut down but they didn't. We were not attacking them and they trusted that. We knew they had pressure to teach the standards and push kids the same way that we did and we were determined to respect and work together to do what was best for our students.
Make decisions with kids in mind.
Again, near the beginning of the morning we were talking about the standards assigned to each of our courses and the amount of pressure we felt to speed through it in order to "cover" everything. I know we are not alone in this feeling and the fact that none of the schools were accountable to each other by being in the same district could have made the conversation worse. Instead, we were able to communicate respectfully and come to the conclusion that we were professionals who could take responsibility for specific standards and be accountable to each other. We didn't work in the same town or within the same district but we served the same kids. In the end, what was best for them was for us to trust that the person coming next would do what they said they would do. For example, I will teach students how to solve multi-step equations. The 8th grade teachers who have the students who will enter my track would then be sure that the students have become masters of solving one step equations and using the order of operations. Rather than pushing those kids through solving different equations, they would leave that to me and spend the time being sure they had the prerequisite skills mastered. No more rushing kids through standards. They need to become masters of the material and that doesn't happen by reviewing fractions for one week every year. As hard as it is to make these decisions, they have to be made because it is what is best for kids.
Communication doesn't end after the meeting does.
Finally, one of the most important steps to a curriculum meeting is that the discussion that began does not end. After completing our goal for the day and creating a placement test that we agreed on, we discussed what we needed to do as a follow up.
When would it be given? How would students review? How would it be graded consistently across three different middle schools? How will they be sure their prerequisite standards would be mastered before students got to 8th grade?
We set a date to meet again after the test would be given so that we could grade it all together and agree. The 8th grade teachers said they planned on speaking with the lower grades to have similar meetings about mastering standards.
The key here is that it wasn't over. We didn't pat ourselves on the back and move on. We gave each other high fives for the day and planned to meet again and email in between meetings.
Why do we even need a curriculum meeting?
Curriculum is the plan for what we will teach kids. If we don't discuss it and work to make it the very best it can be, what are we doing? We owe it to our profession and to our students and community to talk to each other. We need to be willing to have the hard conversations about what we are doing and whether or not it is the best for our students. We may feel like we have kids all the time but in reality, that 45 minutes that I see students 5 times a week and 9 months of the year flies by.