Starting on the Right Foot This School Year

By Lorena Kelly
Lorena Kelly is the assistant principal at Virginia Beach Public Schools

small-child-going-to-schoolIt is that time of year … teachers are preparing for a new school year. I have spent the last week meeting with teams of teachers who elected to get together on their own (no district or building requirement) to prepare for this year. While each team is different, they all have a wide range of teacher experience, from novice to seasoned teachers. So, where did we start?

We began by examining the curriculum. This sounds like a simple task, but I believe it is a very complex task. A curriculum which clearly defines what should be taught at each level, combined with accountability ensuring that the material is taught, is a factor that has been proven to increase success in many schools nationwide.

To truly examine curriculum, we must unpack standards because this is how we determine what it is that students need to know and be able to do; at the same time, we have to keep the bigger ideas in mind. An unintended consequence of unpacking standards is breaking learning into small bits of isolated material. While it is important to know and understand the declarative and procedural knowledge students need in order to be successful with a particular standard, we cannot let this turn into disconnected, irrelevant learning experiences. We must use our understanding of the standards to create transfer goals, enduring understanding, essential questions, and performance tasks that make these standards come alive for students.  We must make the learning relevant.

Examining curriculum through this perspective is just a starting point. Actually transforming standards into meaningful units of study is an ongoing process. Just like any other endeavor in our lives, we want to start on the right foot. Maintaining a balance between unpacking standards and teaching for transfer of big ideas, which in some cases could mean a paradigm shift in some people’s thinking, is an important place to begin.

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