Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an expression often used when important work needs to be done and there are those who want to rush it along.
When working with districts writing curriculum, I continue to be surprised by the number of people who think this work is something that can be completed during a few summer workshops and then implemented that fall.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I recently visited a school district where a representative from the central office--participating in training and initial design work for a new math curriculum--shared his excitement over the fact that teachers from his district were building their own curriculum rather than purchasing a program or someone else’s idea of a curriculum. He was proud of the fact that the students for whom this curriculum was being written were known by the very people designing it and felt confident this effort would result in the best curriculum for these students.
There are two things about this that have really stuck with me. The first, is that this district leader was in the room with the teacher designers as they engaged in this work. He participated in training with these teachers, asked thoughtful questions, and observed as teachers began the work of creating this new curriculum.
The second, is that by engaging in this work alongside the teachers, he saw (and valued) the level of thought, debate, and persistence needed to see this work through. He understands this work takes time, and as a result of this understanding, has collaborated with colleagues to develop a multi-year plan for designing, training, and implementing this curriculum, and has even developed an ongoing plan for capturing and analyzing feedback to ensure the curriculum is updated and revised--as necessary.
Unfortunately, this situation is more of an anomaly rather than the norm. Why is this?
Here are some of my thoughts:
There is often an assumption that because you can teach, you automatically know how to write curriculum. Let’s think about this. What teachers design--daily--are lessons and learning experiences for the students in their classrooms. Ideally, these lessons and learning experiences are aligned to district outcomes (e.g., goals, standards, mission, etc.); however, when asked to write curriculum, these teachers are challenged to consider all that a curriculum should include. This is very different from what they are asked to do each day and, as a result, requires the type of training necessary to foster an understanding of the why and how of this work--which isn’t always provided when the assumption is, “If they can teach it, they can write it.”
When there is limited (or no) understanding regarding the commitment of time and mental energy involved in this work, decisions are often made that can result in frustration--causing many teachers to opt out of the work; a final product that is incomplete or lacking in quality; and/or a lack of understanding among not only those charged with the task of designing the curriculum but those now responsible for implementing the curriculum in their schools/classrooms.
When a district embarks on this work without a clear sense of purpose (e.g., mission and overarching goals), this lack of clarity around the intended outcomes for students results in a lack of clarity as to where to begin this work. It is essential that before jumping into the design of a new/revised curriculum, there must be thoughtful consideration of outcomes and, from there, the principles of backward design followed to ensure alignment to these.
When a district is constantly adopting every new initiative and program hailed as being “the next best thing” (shiny object syndrome), this lack of focus can lead to frustration and confusion among the teachers and leaders charged with designing and implementing a new/revised curriculum. Where do they focus time, resources, and energy? Once a learner-centered curriculum focused on results is in place, it will become clear which programs and initiatives can best support the outcomes desired.
When a district has made the decision to move forward with developing a new or revised curriculum, it is easy to understand the sense of urgency to make this happen sooner than later. What districts need to keep in mind is that even though it will take more than a few after-school or summer workshops to complete this, the work of shifting mindsets and deepening understanding around the expectations and the “why” behind this new curriculum can begin immediately. Rome wasn’t built in a day and curriculum cannot be built during a summer workshop! This is important work. This is thoughtful work. This is work that takes time.
If you work for a district that is thinking about moving forward with a curriculum writing project, I would love to support you in this endeavor. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.