For children to become curious life-long learners, they need adults around them that model good behavior. That’s why it’s important for educators to believe in one key principle — great teachers never stop learning.
This key principle drives the curriculum and culture at my school. As the Lower Campus Curriculum Coordinator at Rippowam Cisqua School, continuing education is a driving force behind the regular improvements we make to strengthen our program, excite students, and prepare them for what lies ahead. We don’t take a set it and forget it approach. Instead, we evaluate each year’s progress and test our assumptions.
Children aren’t monoliths. It’s important to take a fresh look at our approach to ensure we are retaining the best parts of what we accomplished and improve where needed. We also take into account that each group of children is different. What worked successfully one year may not be as effective the following year. Equally important to the academics, is the extra step of considering the important work of a social-emotional curriculum that suits the personalities and learning styles of the incoming class.
Having taught Grades 2, 3 and 4 for nine years, I have found that the approach to curricular review at Rippowam Cisqua School is a great check and balance that invites meaningful discussions among the teachers and administration. Our reviews provide the appropriate autonomy for our superstar faculty while also providing oversight that ensures constant emphasis on academic rigor and fundamental skills. Our approach is also a great tool for parents to better understand their school’s teaching methodology.
Here’s a look inside Rippowam Cisqua School’s approach to curricular review which parents can use to evaluate their child’s current school.
Do teachers meet regularly with a curriculum coordinator and division head?
School leadership must lead the charge when it comes to programming, but it’s also important to involve key players so there is representation across disciplines and grade levels. This ensures alignment with the school mission and a consistency of experience and rigor across grade levels and divisions. At Rippowam Cisqua School, we formed an Academic Council that consists of our Upper and Lower Campus division heads, early childhood coordinator, curriculum coordinators, and Director of Innovation. Having our school leaders at the tip of the spear means that decisions can be made quickly with respect to the strategic vision of the Head of School and Board of Trustees but also with the respect to the day-to-day lives of the teachers and staff.
How involved are the teachers?
Curricular reviews can be a messy and tedious process. It involves lifting up the hood, cleaning the engine and installing new parts to make the engine run better. However, it could also mean retiring that engine and investing in a new car. While you will find many areas of success and accomplishment, you must have a team that is willing to do the hard and uncomfortable work of critiquing the program and methodology of teaching. There is always something to learn. Learn how to do it better and smarter.
Never complacent, our teachers are always looking to be on the cutting edge of research-based practices so that our students have the greatest possible classroom experience. To that end, it has been a goal to model our professional development in a cohort model (more on that below) so that we can bring the vast range of faculty expertise to the forefront and support a culture of ongoing learning. It also accelerates knowledge sharing so we can put best practices into place faster.
Is creativity and innovation at the forefront of curricular review?
Curricular reviews can take many forms. It can range from a grade-level team revising a unit to a division head re-evaluating a particular discipline to the entire school collaborating on integrating innovation as a theme in all their teaching. We favor the creation of cohorts — a group of teachers across disciplines and grades that meet regularly to dive into the most current trends and innovative teaching practices for the chosen subject matter. Each year, six teachers embark on a journey of monthly meetings and activities that overhaul a unit of study to meet the creativity and innovation goals set by the Academic Council. This model has accelerated the pace at which teachers are able to integrate creativity into their lesson plans in ways that map directly to our school mission and engage students on a deeper level.
Do all schools perform curricular reviews?
While curricular reviews are practices most schools employ, approaches differ. Our approach recently evolved to become more collaborative and iterative. As parents, it’s okay to ask questions of your teachers and administrators. I’m a parent too and it’s sometimes difficult to see the big picture when you are so focused on the day-to-day activities of your child. You want to be assured that your child is receiving the best education that properly balances the core subjects they should know with modern practices that will prep them for the future.
It’s most important to have educators who don’t take the set it and forget it approach. You want to see growth. As we learned how to take a more innovative approach to engaging students, we evolved our practices to mirror what we wanted students to learn. We also considered ways to gather data to track growth. It goes back to our opening – great teachers never stop learning. When you employ a team of lifelong learners, you create the same in the students.