In the spring of 2020, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) created a strategy to engage a range of educators and community members in its review of K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. As MDE prepared to offer guidance to districts around the adoption of high-quality instructional materials, leaders aimed to meaningfully involve educators from across the state in the process. The goal was two-fold: To intentionally solicit community feedback and ensure all materials under consideration reflected student needs.
Mississippi is one of many states we have worked with over the years to support materials adoption processes. While each district and state may have a different approach, almost all committed to some level of stakeholder engagement.
Through our work in the field, we have seen how authentic stakeholder engagement can elevate local priorities, amplify diverse voices, and ultimately lead to more equitable practices and outcomes in the materials chosen for students. As districts begin their own curriculum selection processes, consider these stakeholder engagement best practices learned from Mississippi and educators across the country.
1. Conduct an in-depth stakeholder analysis.
When the Mississippi Department of Education began its review of ELA materials, leaders created a preliminary list of priorities. This list was then used to create a pool of potential people to engage. MDE partnered with EdReports to evaluate how and to what degree stakeholders should be involved in the review process.
Understanding the interest and influence of each stakeholder group can help districts prioritize resources during the initial feedback process and ensure that key stakeholders are kept informed, engaged, and involved throughout each step in decision-making.
2. Emphasize Teacher Engagement
Teachers are a key stakeholder group that can help define specific and concrete local priorities that directly impact student learning. For example, through the adoption process, Mississippi teachers identified the need to include supports for students learning English. Mississippi teachers also helped the state understand what resources their students need to meet grade-level expectations so that these components could be effectively incorporated into the curriculum review criteria.
Engaging educators as stakeholders helps to ensure the review process reflects the students and community served.
Engaging educators as stakeholders helps to ensure the review process reflects the students and community served and also helps to increase the use of adopted materials in the classroom. When teachers are a part of the decision-making process, they are more likely to commit to the high-quality curriculum chosen.
EdReports recommends referring back to your instructional vision and local priorities when considering how to engage educator groups. Mississippi’s focus on early literacy as a priority guided them to engage educators with this specific expertise at the onset of the process. It is much more likely that your district will land on options that work for all students if the right teacher voices are included from the beginning.
3. Focus stakeholder engagement on topics that directly relate to educators’ experiences and areas of expertise.
In Mississippi, the team found that stakeholders could provide more thoughtful feedback when they were asked to comment on topics in which they had a high level of interest and experience. MDE used surveys to help identify stakeholder groups with the necessary subject matter expertise as well as to gauge the level of interest and influence of each group.
4. Provide guidance for stakeholder feedback.
Mississippi was very specific about the kind of feedback they were requesting from stakeholders on their review criteria, and this helped streamline the process. Providing details for how stakeholders should approach the data they are presented, explaining the instructional vision that is guiding the review criteria and adoption process, and laying out how this vision can be used to provide feedback are all helpful tactics.
5. Recruit diverse voices to be a part of any adoption or curriculum review team
The Mississippi Department of Education recruited a large team from across the state (both urban and rural districts) to lead its curriculum review process and develop adoption guidance for districts.
In order to build an effective review team, MDE reached out to a wide swath of educators whose skills aligned with the areas most important to the ELA review. They were thoughtful about building the team by looking at both subject matter skill level and previous experience conducting a curriculum review.
When recruiting stakeholders, consider expanding beyond your immediate network to ensure new perspectives and voices are being heard.
When recruiting stakeholders, consider expanding beyond your immediate network to ensure new perspectives and voices are being heard. This can include collaborating with community organizations that have ties to parent and student groups. These stakeholders can help fill gaps in understanding, help to articulate the needs of all students, and ensure local priorities are considered.
6. Engage the whole community.
By engaging the entire community, not just educators, the state sent a signal of how much they valued parents, families, and community-based organizations.
The Mississippi Department of Education created one-page documents to provide an overview of the instructional materials adoption process to support local districts and communities to use the information the state provided. The goal of these resources was to help stakeholders understand how the review criteria was developed, who was involved, and how the review criteria would be used. By engaging the entire community, not just educators, the state sent a signal of how much they valued parents, families, and community-based organizations that have deep ties to and knowledge of students and families.