Winter Brings Reflection and the Hope of New Beginnings

I’m a native Chicagoan. Chicaaaaaaaaago is in my spirit for sure, particularly in the wintertime. Chicago winters make you better at dealing with them year after year. 

With each winter, I become a better driver on an icy expressway and my driveway gets cleaner, faster as my husband and I find more efficient ways to remove snow. We are battle-tested by mother nature every single year. We deal with the change and push through it to be stronger in the end. 

Now, how does this connect to curriculum and instruction? I have worked in schools for over a decade. Teachers around me have always questioned change. Does change really improve instruction? Why use a different curriculum in the old one was “working?” Yes, I have heard it all. I have felt it all. I have agonized over it all and shed many tears. Change is tough. 

Change in our curriculum and instruction can hit us like a Chicago winter. First, we deal with some mild temperatures that we think aren’t too bad. The snow comes, a couple of inches at first. Then, we get a beautiful “White Christmas” and the snow is enchanting until we’re buried in it by New Years. Then, it traps us in our homes, and we’re frozen. We begin to warm up, we clean up the mess around us and hope it does NOT snow again, but of course it continues to snow until April. A new curriculum can hit us like a storm and it is up to us to reflect and let the storm make us stronger.

When the Snow Falls, It’s Cold

The “implementation storm” has hit, and you don’t know what to do. I answer many questions on a daily basis in our Facebook community for Open Up Resources EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. I’ve had teachers tell me they are having trouble understanding a lesson, or they don’t know why they have “to do this.” A cold front has moved in, and the precipitation is really falling. They are trying to keep up with the change, and they’re exhausted. 

Always know this, when starting a new curriculum or initiative, it is not going to be perfect overnight. You need to, as they would say at EL Education, “Dive in, get stuck, and push through.” I’ve spoken to many teachers who have taken the dive, thrown on their winter gear and braved the storm. They are so happy they did it. My own team did it last year—at first they struggled but eventually began to understand how to navigate through the ice.

Here is what you can do to weather the storm:

  • Look for resources to help you navigate. These resources can include: PLC videos from Open Up Resources, Detroit EL slides, The Open Up Resources Facebook EL Education K–5 Language Arts Facebook Group, and #OpenUpELA on Twitter.
  • Find your support group! Surround yourself with positive peers in the workplace. It’s easy to feel down about something when people around you are venting about it too. If it’s hard to find that group in the teacher’s lounge, you can find your own professional learning network—also known as a "PLN" via social media. As community coaches, we (myself, EJ Lofton, and Justin Endicott) are willing to thought partner with you.
  • Remember that you know your kids. Do the curriculum with integrity, but make it your own. Also, adjust the curriculum to the kids you support.
  • Target the learning target. The target is there for your students to reach. Always make sure you are unpacking the target, and the students understand it. As you grasp those targets with the students, it will help you better understand the structure of the content. 
  • Look at each assessment before planning for the unit in the module. The assessment will help support you in understanding the end that is mind. This will support your planning of the learning targets.
  • Use your data as a guide. As you navigate, the EL Education resources you will have different Module assessments and benchmarks that you and your students will partake in. Use the data to navigate your teaching and what your students need. 

Getting Yourself Out of the Deep Freeze

Feeling like you’re not accomplishing the goals you thought you would in year one? Working hard, but don’t know what the results of that work are yet? How do you get out of this freeze?

  • Do more checks for understanding. If you want to know how your students are doing with the resources, continue checks for understanding. Many of these checks that you can use are in the book Management in the Active Classroom, a text that is used as a guide for practitioners of EL Education K–5 Language Arts resources. These checks can give you informal data regarding student needs and understanding.
  • Get observed by a trusted colleague or coach. Be vulnerable and let a colleague or, if you have one, instructional coach observe or co-teach with you. Not only will you learn a lot about your practice, but you may be inspired by what you hear.
  • Remember you’re doing this for the kids. Yes, like any new initiative this is a lot of work in the beginning. Always remember your “why.”

Looking For Ways to Grow

We’re out of the deep freeze. Take a rest, then begin to reflect on where you’d like to go next. Do you want to expand a module further into more community work? Maybe you want to find a different way to organize your skills block? The sky's the limit. It’s up to you.

As you plan, look at the following:

  • Are my ideas realistic to implement? Some things you will need to think about are cost, time, and support. 
  • What steps can I take to assure I can grow? Take it steady with your growth.
  • What are different ways to reflect on my practice? As a leader, I journal about my day-to-day interactions and ideas: What can I do better? How can I streamline my ideas? Figure out what works for you and do it.

You may be struggling now but know, in the end, what you are doing with this curriculum is opening kids eyes to literacy. You can do this! Believe that. Roll up your sleeves, take out the shovel, and push away the icy snow. It will be uncomfortable at first but, in the end, your discomfort will melt away as you see and feel the results of the work you are doing.

See you soon in the Facebook EL Education K–5 Language Arts Facebook Group and on Twitter.

Sarah Said is the Director of Language and Equity Programs at Elgin Math and Science Academy and an #OpenUpELA community coach. Follow her on twitter @MrsSaid17.