In the most recent EdVoices episode, we sat down with Dr. Shontoria Walker and Shannah Estep to discuss the important considerations that should happen between the decision to adopt materials and beginning the adoption process in order to ensure students and teachers are truly served by their curriculum.

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Jess Barrow  00:07

Hi, I’m Jess Barrow with EdReports and this is the EdVoices Podcast. Today I’m joined by two members of our partnerships team, Dr. Shontoria Walker and Shannah Estep. And we’re going to be talking about some important steps and considerations districts should make once they decide to adopt new materials. Shontoria, Shannah, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr. Shontoria Walker  00:29

I am Dr. Shontoria Walker, I am like you stated a specialist on the partnerships team at EdReports. I’ve been here for about a year before this. I served as a district instructional coach and a campus instructional specialist at a district in Houston, Texas, where we did a lot of adoption work.

Jess Barrow  00:50

Awesome. Great to have you.

Shannah Estep  00:53

I’m Shannah Estep. I have been with EdReports going on six plus years. I came from work with another nonprofit here in California. This is about my 30, maybe 31st. year in education. I started as a middle school math and science teacher and have done a lot of things in between there and here. And most of my work, since I’ve been here, is really focused on helping states and districts think about what needs to be in place in order for them to get new materials for their teachers and their kids.

Jess Barrow  01:35

Great. Well, we are so lucky to have two people with such a wealth of experience. And I just want to dive right in because there’s so much there’s so much to get to. But I think starting off with we know that districts decide to adopt new materials for a whole variety of reasons. I wonder if if you both could talk a little bit about what some of those reasons are? And how how these reasons might impact what happens next?

Shannah Estep  02:01

Yeah, well, I’ll jump in here just to say that we seem to be in a curriculum renaissance. I think I’ve seen that that hashtag somewhere out in the internet space. With a lot of states recently, in the last few years putting specific legislation in into a place requiring districts to adopt off of a list or out of a certain set of criteria. For example, we see a lot of legislation recently, regarding science of reading materials, making sure that teachers are trained and also have curriculum to do that. So a lot of times districts find themselves in a position of my state is making me do this because because of new policies and or, and or legislation or movements, you know, that that are happening within the state. Generally, those those districts are, are in a position of, I don’t know if I need new materials, or I personally don’t think we need new materials. But my state is saying I do and now I have to actually act on it.

Dr. Shontoria Walker  03:15

And another reason with that is, so the last district I was at we had 96% Latine or Latinx students. And over the years, we realized that with the population, we had about 40%, emerging bilingual students, and our curriculum just was not meeting their needs, right. And so it wasn’t given them what they needed at the time. And in order to get them to the highest potential growth in college career readiness. So we made sure that we had to put some things in place to ensure that we were doing what’s best for students, but also given them are looking for a curriculum that could meet every bit of who they were in order for them to reach their potential.

Jess Barrow  03:59

Yeah, that’s huge. I wonder because, you know, you just mentioned you were recently in a district Shontoria. They’re are these variety of reasons. So sometimes districts aren’t necessarily planning for it if they’re told they have to do it. Sometimes the data tells them, hey, you should really be doing this. Once a decision is made to adopt what do you often see, you know, what did you see in your district? Or what have you seen with other districts that you’ve worked with what often happens next?

Dr. Shontoria Walker  04:28

One of the things that I noticed when we went through the process of figuring out what our students needed, and then we said, okay, yeah, so we need new curriculum that is high quality. Once the decision was made, then at some points because I’ve been through the adoption process a few times. One of the points was they reverted back to something that they already knew, like they realized there wasn’t really a clear path, or really a clear process of moving forward. We just knew that we needed something for those students. And so in that space, we were just like So let’s just come together and do what we think is right in order to get to the curriculum. But in hindsight from doing this work where it EdReports and looking back, it’s like there were some gaps that we missed that probably could have made the process easier, because at some points, those gaps, kind of created some fundamental pieces, that those in the community could have been involved, that the stakeholders could have been involved. So those fundamental pieces that were probably missed in, if I could go back and change that, that is something that I do notice that was one of those pieces.

Jess Barrow  05:33

Yeah, that’s such a good point Shontoria. I wonder, Shannah, you know, you’ve worked with a lot of districts over your six years here, are there other things that you notice? Districts tend to do once they decide to make decide to adopt materials that maybe isn’t the best practice for for moving forward?

Shannah Estep  05:53

A couple of things. One is usually they just jump right into the materials? Like, what, what’s out there? And generally, it’s like, what do I know if I’m, if I’m leading the adoption, or I’m a teacher on the committee and kind of I’m charged with, with moving the committee along, it’s, what do I know is already in this space, either I have experienced with these materials, or my, my sister who’s teaching in the next door neighboring district is using, right, it’s like, going right to the materials. And let’s get our hands in the materials. So which, which is the most fun, right? That’s the most fun part of doing it. Adoption is like, really, really digging into to those materials. However, you know, I think that is definitely you’ve left out some information that’s going to help really inform that I’m opening up the materials and jumping right in. I also think that we know that time is an issue. Their time is an issue always with districts and state department’s of education time just is ticking away, right. And educators right now, specifically don’t have a lot of extra time, and capacity. And so often we see what, what would normally be a robust process, like squished into, oh, I have I need to spend $100,000 in curriculum materials by the first of the month, right, especially right now with so funds, like books, or those funds are starting to run out, right. And so it’s a mad dash to like, pick something really quick. Because we have a certain, a certain amount of dollars that need to be spent toward curricular resources. And so let’s like, just pick the thing really fast and write the check.

Jess Barrow  07:57

Yeah, so you both touched on things that you can totally understand why it happens, given the circumstances, you know, not necessarily being grounded in student data or under understanding the community or just jumping right into materials without really doing that foundational work. I wonder, you know, if a district were to come to you and say, Yeah, well, we were we were pressed to do this. Could you talk through some of the consequences of sort of immediately diving into material materials adoption? Why is it so important for districts kind of take that breath? Think through a series of considerations before they begin their selection process?

Shannah Estep  08:33

Yeah, something that Shontoria shared earlier, in her example of like, well, we just went right back to the old way of doing things and getting the materials. There’s a really interesting research study done by Morgan Polikoff out of USC, that looked at districts and how they selected materials, and nine times out of 10, they all had a process. So you asked districts, do you have a process for selecting materials? Almost, you know, all the districts are like, yes, we do have a process. However, in this particular study, what we found was the processes didn’t yield anything better for kids, right? So I think one of the consequences of immediately diving right in and or reverting back to kind of some old practices is that you’re not getting ahead. The whole reason we want great materials for kids so that they have opportunities to do the work, learn the material, and have teachers have high expectations for them, right. So if you you’re jumping right in and you’ve got this process, and you go back to the way you’ve been doing things in the past. What the study found was, the materials weren’t getting any better. Right? The things that districts were choosing, were not yielding. So those processes and it’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of time and it’s a lot of money. They weren’t yielding the kinds of results that they wanted in the first place for kids. So that’s one. You know, one caveat we would put out there. It’s like, get the time issue. But there are consequences if you don’t really think through a thorough process.

Dr. Shontoria Walker  10:20

Yeah. And I think I think with that, too, to add on to that, I think the the consequences come without really realizing, or really taking note of the impact that it has. We’re talking about curriculum that impacts generations of students, right? We’re talking about curriculum that actually you have to think about the school systems. We talked about the PD, we talked about the assessment, we talked about the grading, we talked about it. I think not actually taking a step back even and thinking about the most recent adoption that I did with my district that I love, not really taking a step back and really analyzing how each part is actually multilayered. Right. And like Shannah just said, how it will yield results or outcomes for students in order to dive right in. Because we were in one of those situations where it was like time we have time is not on our side.

As educators, we have so much amount of time to finish and spend this money within the budget. We need to do what we have to do to get get the materials in place. But then also considering what about educator impact, right? We talk a lot about getting the high quality instructional materials for students. But a consequence of not taking a step back, we’re not necessarily thinking about the PD prep in order to actually do the PD for our educators in order for them to actually retain and sustain the information for their students in order to actually implemented the way we need for the outcome. So I think that’s one of those pieces where we really have to take a step back and say, We really need to do a thorough process in this development of choosing this curriculum. So that way, the domino effect is actually a positive effect, and not necessarily a negative effect that we’re that we will unfortunately regret if we just dive right in. So one of those consequences, that’s what made me think about that when Shannon mentioned that.

Shannah Estep  12:16

And Shontoria, oftentimes, what can happen to when you talk about that domino effect and a negative domino effect, you districts can potentially lose credibility and trust from other stakeholders, right. So you rush to do something and you’ve missed, including some group, some, you know, parent feedback, student feedback, teacher feedback, it can often result in the material stay shrink wrapped in, in their box on a shelf. And you’ve actually created more tension, more stress, and really caused some harm and damage to how you work with parents and students, and teachers and site leaders and other central office people who, you know, who are responsible for several elements, especially currently in the space that we’re in your it, you mentioned it, you know, there are implications for every one of those departments, plus the families and caregivers. And so, what you don’t want to do is you don’t want to jeopardize relationships with those stakeholders, since you will need everyone right. It takes a village, you will need everyone when it comes time for implementation.

Jess Barrow  13:43

Absolutely. And I was wondering Shontoria, because another thing you connected to as well, Shannah, you said the positive domino effect. Are there ways that you’ve seen when districts do develop a strong process that that helps districts even beyond just getting the better materials?

Dr. Shontoria Walker  14:02

Yes, so a few things that I’ve thought about, even with that is, in particular, the district that I actually worked at when we did our last adoption, one of the things when we were able to step back, so once we did it again, and another instance and actually did it the way that it was supposed to be done. We uncovered some layers that probably wasn’t at the top of our thoughts at the when we first started.

So for example, we found out in that district that I mentioned at the beginning, that they were 96%, Latinx students that we were actually in a the resources that we actually got the material was digital access, but we were actually in internet, kind of like desert, right? And in the access and the resources that we were we got and we did this selection process and did the best adoption process for our students.

Then we realized that’s just something that unfolded, we were having access to technology. But when every student has digital access to new curriculum, then you start to realize, oh, wow, this is like an area resource access gap that we needed to go and get community support and ensuring that we got more access to our students. And every actually, the beautiful thing about that is that we were able to connect with T Mobile and do a partnership. And we got hotspots for students that were able to use at the school and then also at home where they probably had an internet gap or didn’t have Wi Fi, when you think about this day and age, just like wow, that is something that it probably wouldn’t have uncovered if we didn’t take a step back and do this process, right?

Because like I said, initially, we didn’t have internet, but at that high capacity now, you know, you need a little bit more access for those students. So that was a positive piece in another way, in a project that we’ve covered, that we’ve worked with, with airports and thinking about taking the steps back, you can also consider the communication. Also, how are we actually operating from the top down? How is feedback coming across channels, those pieces that are like when we think about materials, like Shannah said, we go straight to the materials, we think about what we need for the students. But we should also think about what the process will yield and building a stronger foundation for our students, in order for us to just build to be a better, you know, district, a better region, and all of that a better school and a better place for students and educators.

Shannah Estep  16:39

First of all, I love that. So that’s what we’re all trying to do, right? We’re all trying to get to a place where kids get what they deserve. And teachers get what they deserve to I think one thing that you really made me think about through that is like, we have to change the way we’re thinking about the importance of instructional materials, right? So if we go back to question number one, and I’m in a state whose now they’ve now said, you will be getting new materials, and you have a choice of these five things.

So here in California, in the olden days, I had a choice of two programs, and ELA two, right. So a solid choice, by the way. But if you’re in a state where you’ve been given two choices, or five choices, or 10 choices, or 29 choices, I think, really understanding the importance of instructional materials, how the role that they play. And so changing the way we think about both the importance of materials, and the importance of how we get those materials is really, really imperative to making sure you have a great, thorough process, we have to start at the beginning with investing everyone in the like, why we’re getting these new materials. And why this time will be different, because a lot of folks are jaded when it comes to instructional materials. Right?

I can tell you a handful of teachers that I know personally, and also live with who’ve been through many instructional material adoptions, and almost all of them will say, yeah, it wasn’t great. It didn’t make me feel good, or we didn’t get the thing I wanted, or we didn’t get the thing I thought that that kids needed. And it really started with a lack of like being on the same page about why they were getting new materials, and what they were trying to do with the materials. So the process itself needed to change, because the why is changing.

And the what we’re doing with the materials is changing. And so I think, you know, there, we still have some kind of old school beliefs about materials and about adoption processes. We still have people in roles, that’s their, that’s their one job. Their one job is to get all of the instruction materials for all the content areas. They aren’t a curriculum instruction person, there may be the media person or the library person, right. And so really, you know, thinking about A to Z, right, this this adoption process A to Z, how are we changing our minds and shifting our thinking about how we go about an adoption, who’s involved who might not be historically involved, but need to be involved?

Jess Barrow  19:49

Yeah, I think those are those are such great points that I think it really transitions us well into you. You all have really outlined the stakes and what you’re seeing happening As you’re working in the field, and I wonder, if we think about, like, what recommendations do we have for districts about how they can set themselves up for success before they’re beginning that process? You know, Shontoria, I’d love to hear sort of your kind of initial thoughts, and I think it will likely connect to some of what Shannah has been saying too, about what districts should do.

Dr. Shontoria Walker  20:23

I would definitely go with what Shannah just said is one of the first recommendations is investing in a mindset shift. Sitting down, like she said, and talking about discussing the why, figuring out the why, doing data digs. There are targets that sometimes that we just don’t see, sometimes the end goal is just the state test. And that’s the state test, although sometimes the end goal is just a standard standardized assessment for our students. But we really need to figure out what more do our students need in order to be the best of who they are? Right and having that, also investing in that mindset shift, it’s with their vision of instruction, whether it’s mathematics, whether it’s English, whether it’s social studies, whether it’s science, really figuring out how to drive our students and say, this is the type of math student I want, in order for them to be successful when they get ready to go to college. This is the type of ELA student I want in order to invest in that. The thing is, sometimes we hinder ourselves as educators because we keep going back to the way we used to do it, or this is what we we have experience with or this is how it used to be. And now we have to think about different aspects of what a new curriculum mean needs means for our students in order to be successful.

Jess Barrow  21:47

I mean it sounds like that, that shift in mindset kind of has to happen before anything else, it can really be what advances the process, or it can be a huge hindrance. I wonder, Shannah, can you talk a little bit about what you think folks should think about in terms of like, stakeholders in the process?

Shannah Estep  22:07

Inviting anyone one to the table, when you’re talking about curriculum, especially in the current landscape, can feel scary. Sometimes we want to just like, close in to the people who know what they’re doing, and the people that are impacted most in the implementation. But actually, in order to have a really transparent and comprehensive adoption process, we need to figure out ways to invite all kinds of diverse perspectives to the table. Now, that doesn’t mean that they need to be specifically on the, you know, on the adoption committee, but we need to ask, like, what do students want to see from their materials? What excites them about new math materials?

We need to know from families and caregivers about like, what are their hopes and dreams for their students and their kids in instruction? And, you know, what is the data say that our students need and our families need? Always hands down, you need teachers, right at the table, got to have teachers at the table. They’re the ones that know students best. They know their content or their curriculum, you know, their curricular areas, they know, their grade level. They know curriculum in general. They’re the ones that are going to be implementing the day to day doing the heavy lifting and the hard work, they absolutely have to have a voice.

And I think, as a matter of fact, Jess, you and I wrote something about this 100 years ago, about having teacher including teacher voice in your adoption process, because without that, the idea of like, building any kind of investment toward implementation, it blows up before you even get started. Right. You gotta have folks fully invested in the process and as many perspectives as you can to help you make that decision.

Jess Barrow  24:09

Right. And I think, in that piece that we worked on, it was directly connected to building buy in, right, which is sort of what you’re really going to need in the next phase after the process. Is there anything you’d want to add in terms of how the importance of buy in from the beginning? I think sometimes maybe districts think that that’s something that comes closer to the end? And and why is it so important that you’re there thinking about that from the get go?

Shannah Estep  24:39

Yeah, that’s a really great question. And that is true. Oftentimes, when we think about stakeholders who are involved in any kind of curriculum decision, it’s, well, we’ll make this decision here. And then when we’ve made the decision, we’ll invite other people to like, look at the two things we narrowed it to or look at that one. One thing that we, you know, we’ve decided on and now you can give your feedback on the thing that’s already been decided. Or now you can ask your questions and have any comment.

But honestly, if you really think about how to start, well, in the beginning, it’s those things circled back to what I just said, which is like making sure you really know what it is you’re trying to do with these materials, you have a clear picture of your student data, right? And you have a really clear picture of what your, what your very diverse group of stakeholders needs, what parents need, what what students need, having that at the beginning.

And you know, maybe that’s a survey that it’s put out to students or families, maybe that’s like an open during open house or back to school night, you start talking about, hey, we’re doing an adoption this this year, we’d love for you to contribute, we’ll make sure there are a variety of ways for you to do that. That is what guarantees a fully comprehensive and transparent process, right? So that those stakeholders are informed along the entire way. Where are we oh, we’ve narrowed it to these two or three things. Okay, cool. This is these are our next steps. This is where teachers are going to be included.

This is the Professional Learning Site leaders will get, you know, all of those decisions or multiple decisions throughout the entire process. So that when you get to the we’re down to these two things, we now need to make a decision. You have lots of folks, their input, their feedback, and etc. To help push one or one of those products over the line. And then ultimately, teachers and students are the ones that are going to be using it. Right. So making sure that those two groups are aware of what the process is right from the beginning. We’ve seen the most success with districts who are thinking about what that implementation looks like, from the very beginning.

Jess Barrow  27:00

Thank you Shannah for spelling that out, because I think there’s so many moving pieces that it’s it’s not, it’s easy not to be aware of all of them. I wonder for sort of the kind of last recommendation we’re focusing on Shontoria. You know, Shannah talked a lot about stakeholders. But I think this really focuses on getting even more granular and effective with how stakeholders are engaged in the process. Do you want to talk through the fourth recommendation we have for folks?

Dr. Shontoria Walker  27:31

Yes, one person cannot do the job. I will say that, again, one person cannot do the job. At any step we talked a lot about within our step one about gathering on adoption committee and the adoption committee are the ones that come together, they’ll think about the process, they’ll help with division of instruction, they’ll do all these things to go through the process. I do think that’s very clear. But some things that we forget about is who is leading the process. And usually, that may not be one person that might be a team of people.

But there should be clear roles, clear responsibilities, clear communication, who is reaching out to the adoption committee to make sure that they are up to date, they know what’s coming down the pipeline, they know what to expect, right? They know when to meet, who is also seeking approval, there may need me needs to be approval from board communication, there may need to be approval from the top from chief academic officers there may, there just there are so many pieces, moving pieces that we need to consider.

And a lot of times, a lot of us when we’re doing this work, we think about okay, the committee, the adoption committee is going to help us get to the pilot or get to the end of the process that we would like, but you really have to get clear on those communication roles, those responsibilities, where does the adjustments come in? How are we collecting feedback in order to make sure the process is seamless? And even if it’s not, if we run into challenges? How do we communicate that? How are we communicating that we’ve landed on this process? And who does that go out to? A lot of that has to come from a team of people who are not only thinking about how to construct the committee and how to bring those together?

But then also how are we going to go about this process in a way that everybody is informed. Everybody is involved, like Shannon talked about with the stakeholders, and really thinking about those structural pieces that we need in order for the process to go from beginning to end. I think sometimes we forget that in working with districts and working with partners where it’s also like who is also reaching out to the publishers to get the materials just thinking about things like that. I think sometimes getting that specific will really help the process be seamless, then trying to figure it out once you’re in deep knee deep in the process, and now we kind of have to restriction in order for it to be clear, so starting from that, also at the beginning with the investment with the buy in, we’re considering the mindset shift, how are we going to actually carry out this thorough process with the people that we have involved. And I will say one last time one person cannot do it all. That is, that is something that we want to make sure that we stress.

Shannah Estep  30:25

Yeah, Shontoria, I, I was literally picturing several districts that we’ve worked with, when you’re, you know, kind of talking about roles and responsibilities, right? The leader, whoever that is, can make or break this process, you have to have one, right now that person cannot do everything. But you do have to have someone who’s like responsible for leading, planning, you bring, you’re bringing teachers together, anytime you’re bringing teachers together, you better have that planned to a tee, right? You don’t want to waste their time, you want to make sure that you’re getting the, the most information from them as you possibly can.

And that takes so many, there’s so many moving parts in there, that if you’re deciding to lead by committee, many things fall through the cracks. Often districts have specific timeline, you know, one, one decision or lack of decision made, can actually interrupt the entire timeline of your process, which we’ve seen, right? If nobody knows who’s responsible for communicating with the publishers to get the samples to do the field test or the pilot, and you miss a crucial deadline that was set. Now your pilot cannot happen when you were hoping for it to happen, right.

And so now your whole timeline is pushed back. So there, you have to have someone who’s willing to like, do the work. And also delegate because there are many, many, many, many, many little pieces that can really gum up a process and throw an entire timeline off. And we know we are set we live by timelines in schools, right? It’s not like we’re the corporate or do we have January to December to do all the things we like have a very short amount of time in schools. And summer, when we typically use you know, that time to maybe have professional learning for teachers. That is very precious also. So leading it, and someone who will organize and delegate?

Jess Barrow  32:44

Well, I thank you both so much for sharing your expertise. I think, you know, this is the kind of work that through our partnerships team, we are literally doing with states and districts every day, we’re here to support that. And we have a wealth of resources, as well as in our amazing staff, who have years in education who are really here to support districts through those efforts. Before we say goodbye, is there anything I didn’t ask you all about that you would really want to stress around this topic that you think you know, is important. Any any closing words to the educators out there?

Dr. Shontoria Walker  33:25

I think I would like to watch every every facilitation workshop that we’ve done a lot of the work when it seems to go off the rails. That’s why it’s important to have that why. And then vision of instruction. That’s why no one no matter where you are in the process, if your district has already adopted curriculum, if your district has already started with the work, or if you’re just thinking about getting started really getting clear on that, why, and that vision, every time it seems like something may go left, you always go back to that. I think that’s something that becomes clearer as we continue to do the work with our partner organizations, and the work through our facilitation and our workshops. Going back to that why. Because then you’ll get to this is the purpose. This is why we’re doing this. This is what’s going to work for our students. This is going to keep whether a large adoption committee or a small committee, that leader, that team on one page, always going back to that why and I think that’s something I want to always stress. And usually sometimes we get into the situation where they say, well, we don’t have a why or we don’t have a vision of instruction. That’s where the work should start. That’s that’s where we need to have in order to keep us grounded in this work that we do for our students. And I think that’s something that’s truly important within this process.

Shannah Estep  34:50

I have nothing after that amazing thinking that Shontoria just shared.

Jess Barrow  34:59

Shontoria said it all right there. Well, thank you both for being here. And we look forward to having you back on the EdVoices podcast soon to share more of your brilliant experience. We’ll see you soon.