By: Sarah Said, Director of Language and Equity, Elgin Math and Science Academy
Change is never easy, but when you do it and do it well, the benefits are endless; adopting a new curriculum is no different. We all learned in School Leadership 101 that you need to prepare your staff for those changes, and most of our bookshelves are filled with books on the topics of managing change. So in this blog post, we’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty of change management—every organization needs to handle that differently. Instead, we are going to explain what tools you need as you are embarking upon the journey of empowering your team with these resources.
Our school, Elgin Math and Science Academy, is an EL Education network school that was founded in 2018. Our staff was and still is excited about what EL Education K–5 Language Arts has to offer schools. It has been a hike, but we have managed to rethink how we teach language arts. As we have grasped how to utilize EL’s tools, we have become successful in educating students in a unique style. We have been able to offer students opportunities in learning that are hands-on and differentiated. Students have been given the license to think critically about the world and become more socially conscious about issues related to environment and justice.
What we did was not something that happened overnight. As the saying goes,“You need to start slow, to move fast.” In starting slow, there are some pieces of advice we want to give you as you embark upon beginning to utilize these resources.
Fostering A Community of Student Agency Through ELA Instruction
EL Education has a vision that is unique from other curricula, resources, and ways of doing things in schools. EL Education K–5 Language Arts makes students become an active part of their learning experience through labs, projects, and other unique opportunities. Teachers also shift roles in many ways in order to help facilitate student learning. Both students and teachers must be actively involved in order to make this curriculum a success. Prior to asking a team to embark upon that vision, you need to understand what it means to lead this kind of paradigm shift. Our Curriculum Specialist, Lina Ayesh, recommends reading the text Leaders in Their Own Learning by Ron Berger. This is a book about how student engaged assessment can drive students to understand their own learning and growth, in order to be more active learners.
Grounding yourself in the philosophy of EL Education not only helps you “know the curriculum,” it helps you become more set in the ways of EL Education K–5 Language Arts. In addition to this, EL has tons of acronyms and phrases that are unique to EL—know them and learn them so that you can support teachers in planning and implementing instruction. Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K-5 Language Arts Curriculum by Libby Woodfin and Suzanne Nathan Plaut can support you in supporting team when there are questions being asked about terms and practices. Also, reading the book Management in the Active Classroom (Ron Berger, Dina Strasser, & Libby Woodfin) can clarify the terminology and practices discussed in the curriculum resources. This year we are actually creating an acronym word wall in our teachers’ work area to support everyone’s understanding of terminology. Our staff has also watched many of EL’s videos on their different practices. Another great way to prepare yourself: attend one of EL’s “Starting Strong” institutes before you begin your work with EL Education.
Marinating in the “Why”
Your school’s team is about to take on some incredible work! They will do well when invested in the “why” of it. Open Up Resources and EL Education have plenty of resources to support your staff like ones above. There are also plenty of site visits your team can go on to see the curriculum in classrooms. Seeing teachers in action with EL’s curriculum can help many visual learners on your team better understand it—and more importantly, better understand the purpose of it.
Some other ways to marinate in the “why” are:
- Having teachers explore their own learning and compare it to the way EL sees learning
- Hearing from other teachers who have used the curriculum
- Watching videos of students who have been part of EL Education classrooms speak about its impact on them
- Engaging in Open Up Resources' Facebook and Twitter Communities
- Working together while viewing and understanding the resources
Invest in the Resources – Tangible and Intangible
Like any initiative in teaching and learning, investing in the proper resources is critical to success. We’ve already talked about professional learning. It’s a must to invest in professional learning through EL Education’s Curriculum Specialists. They know the resources and how they should be utilized. This is not just a one- or two-workshop deal; you need consistent professional learning throughout the school year and in-class coaching. If you can afford it, have an in-house person who has learned the curriculum who can support the implementation of it on a daily basis through coaching cycles.
To preserve precious time, teachers need support in navigating the online resources if you’re not purchasing the curriculum manuals and decodable readers. We recommend purchasing the sets of the curriculum manuals in hard copy through Open Up Resources, plus class sets of decodable readers. This will save your team lots of time in preparing for instruction and creating manipulatives.
Time...Time...Time… It is precious. It takes time to learn something in order to do it well. Make time for coaching and collaboration. It’s beneficial to have a schedule with late starts or early dismissal; this allows for you to build in time for collaboration so teachers can learn the curriculum well. Your teams need time to plan across grade levels, and with special education and ELL support teams for instruction. This curriculum really involves a collaborative culture. Teams cannot live in “silos” or avoid discussions about planning for this kind of work.
After year one, we have already seen the fruits of our labor. We are proud of the work that our school has done to support this type of learning. We know there’s room for growth, and we are willing to continue to learn more about this work. We are a proud team that had the will to “dive in, get stuck, and push through.” (Yes, another EL education saying…) You can, too. Change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.