Fact: Implementing high-quality, instructional materials in an environment with supportive leadership—along with ongoing coaching, and professional learning—amplifies the likelihood of the materials being used with integrity.
Unfortunately, this is not the experience teachers report having.
Nearly a quarter of teachers say they have no curriculum-related professional learning at all, and almost a third have access to only 1–5 hours of learning per year. When teachers do participate in professional learning sessions, they often don’t feel satisfied with the learning they receive. Half of teachers do not feel that their professional learning prepared them to use their district curriculum.
But imagine the difference curriculum-aligned professional learning could have on the way teachers perceive new materials. That’s what a report from the Carnegie Foundation recently documented: “Curriculum-based professional learning invites teachers to participate in the same sort of rich, inquiry-based learning that new academic standards require. The positive effects for students are magnified when strong curriculum is paired with strong professional learning: not only are students working with more rigorous instructional materials, but they also have a more skillful teacher to guide them.”
The Power of Professional Learning and Instructional Leadership to Impact Use of Quality Materials
Like all professionals, teachers need and deserve quality professional learning to continue developing and improving. And these opportunities should be tied to utilizing high quality instructional materials in service of supporting student learning.
And teachers want this type of support. A recent RAND survey revealed that when teachers receive professional learning around their core materials, it affects whether they use them. Yet, the majority of teachers are not receiving the professional or leadership support they deserve which leads them to spend up to 12 hours a week creating or searching for materials online hours. This was untenable before the pandemic, and even more so now.
Data on the effectiveness of providing high-quality materials to teachers—and training them to use them well—is clear. A study by Brown University found that: “Programs saw stronger outcomes when they helped teachers learn to use curriculum materials.” These programs focused on improving teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge and/or understanding of how students learn, incorporated summer workshops, and included teacher meetings to troubleshoot and discuss classroom implementation.
Access to professional learning and related supports not only affects curriculum use but also directly impacts student learning. A 2017 study found that: “When teachers participated in curriculum-based professional learning, their students’ test scores improved by 9% of a standard deviation—about the same effect caused by…reducing class size by 15%.”
Instructional coaches and principals are integral in creating a supportive environment that can be the difference between quality content in the hands of students or new materials that sit unopened on a shelf.
Consider these three tips for instructional leaders working to ensure teachers have the appropriate supports and environment to truly leverage the high-quality materials in front of them:
1. Prioritize the voices and needs of educators in your materials selection and implementation process.
Listening to and prioritizing the needs of teachers is key because they are the ones using the curriculum. Teachers are faced with the tasks of understanding why their materials are high quality, what adaptations and supplements may be needed, and how assessments can inform their instructional decisions as they strive to reach students at all levels of learning.
Instructional coaches can work closely with teachers on how the materials help all kids to meet the demands of the standards. Where the curriculum hasn’t given enough support or guidance or where students may face unfinished learning, coaches alongside teachers can step in to fill those gaps.
2. Leverage instructional leadership roles to support curriculum coherence throughout the school building.
Principals and coaches have the benefit of seeing how materials are being used across classrooms within a building (or even multiple buildings). Don’t miss the opportunity to leverage this perspective.
Instructional leaders also have intimate knowledge of school level data and a deep understanding of academic standards that can be applied to support teachers to use the curriculum and ensure students are receiving the right content at the right time in the right amount.
Rather than expecting teachers to piece that kind of coherence together lesson by lesson and classroom by classroom, a supportive environment combined with quality materials help ensure all students are accessing the content they need—not just on a daily basis but year after year.
3. Support teachers to problem solve and address gaps through data, collaboration, and professional learning communities.
Students have individual needs and arrive in classrooms at different levels of learning. Instructional leaders can be great thought partners and facilitate educator collaboration to support teachers with questions such as: What can you do differently if a student is struggling, and if a student is excelling? How can we make sure students can delve deeper and accelerate their learning?
Instructional leaders can be a support to teachers as they assess whether content is learned, and, when challenges arise, addressing how content is conveyed.
Curriculum choices matter. But we cannot forget the importance of high-quality professional learning and a supportive school environment. Teachers deserve these resources and the systems it takes to implement their materials well. Only then will teachers be able to use their time, energy, and creativity to bring lessons to life and inspire every child to learn, grow and succeed. Only then can we hope for impact to reach all classrooms.