Selecting Great Materials is Not Enough

By Lauren Weisskirk, EdReports.org Chief Strategy Officer

Wed Jul 25 00:00:00 UTC 2018

There’s a critical time in the curriculum adoption process after the materials have been chosen and before curriculum implementation begins. It’s easy to assume that the tough part is over once a new program has been selected; however, the two to three month rollout period has the potential to make or break the hard work that a district has done to improve the instructional materials available for its students.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege to work and learn alongside many districts as they navigate the materials adoption process. The similarities and differences between approaches is fascinating, and we have learned a lot about both what works and what doesn’t.

A Tale of Two Adoptions

In one memorable case, a smart, passionate instructional leader was incredibly frustrated with the state of instructional materials in his school. He had just learned that boxes of unopened textbooks had been accidentally thrown away during summer cleaning. Not only was he upset about the waste of money, he was perplexed —these materials had been in the school for a year but remained unopened and unused even on the day they were discarded.

He wanted to know where things went wrong, and he understood that as a leader he had to examine how his own practices had played a role. He had led a comprehensive adoption process which included a committee of teachers. This committee had identified great resources to support its community. So why didn’t the material reach the students?

Recently, I worked with another team just a few miles down the road from the first. Like the first team, the instructional leader had convened a committee of teachers to examine options and make a decision about which materials to adopt.

Unlike the first example, in the first year after adoption, administrators reported high levels of materials’ use in classrooms. Teachers were actively engaged in planning, served as leaders for the district-wide professional learning, and had seen success with these new materials in their instructional practice.

How Rollout Made the Difference

So what made the difference between these two districts? In both cases, we conducted an audit of the materials adoption process to identify what practices led to the end results. The greatest distinction we found was in how each district rolled out their selection decision and introduced the new resources teachers were expected to use. 

In the first case, the materials were rolled out to teachers through a school-wide professional development day at the start of the school year. During this time, teachers received a walk-through of the program components and boxes of books. Teachers were encouraged to reach out if they had any questions.

In the second example, the district had planned for its rollout from the beginning of its adoption process. It engaged educators on the adoption teams as advocates for and trainers on the new resources and instituted full professional development days on both the program components and pedagogical strategies for teaching the materials.

The message shared with all teachers was very clear about why these materials were selected, how these would support student learning, what work would be required in order to implement them well, and what support would be provided.

The district budgeted time and resources for rollout activities over the summer. These early professional development days also served as an opportunity for the district to showcase its plan for what coaching and support would be provided throughout the year.

Finally, clear expectations for use of the materials were shared with school leaders and teachers.

Connecting Selection to District Priorities

Beyond the structural successes of the second district’s approach, we found that connecting the selection decision to district priorities was critical.

Stakeholders care about how the materials affect their daily work, but more than that they care about how materials will help them to reach students at all performance levels while addressing the unique needs of their district and schools.

The second district made these connections intentionally and backed up its assertions by prioritizing valuable resources and time in the rollout process.

Planning ahead, empowering educators, engaging stakeholders, and connecting strong professional learning throughout the rollout process can be the difference between materials sitting on a shelf or becoming one of the most crucial tools educators have to improve student learning.

As we see in these examples, selecting high-quality instructional materials is not enough. True impact in the classroom only comes when we support teachers to know WHY these materials are quality and HOW to use them effectively.

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