Most educators graduate from teacher preparation programs ready to plan their lessons but not to internalize curriculum. When a school or district adopts high quality instructional materials, the work for teachers fundamentally shifts from designers to implementers. If implementation sounds like easy work, it is not! Wit & Wisdom®, like other high-quality curriculum products, is not a script. Effectively delivering a Wit & Wisdom lesson requires thoughtful preparation, internalization of the learning goals, and working backward through materials to understand the knowledge and skills students build and demonstrate over their course of study.
Educational leaders are responsible for building effective structures to support internalization. In their 2020 challenge paper, Jim Short and Stephanie Hirsh emphasize the importance of structural design for professional learning with high-quality instructional materials, which should include “collective participation structures that enable teachers to work together to achieve common goals; models of effective professional learning that evolve as teachers’ needs change; and time, the most basic precondition for growth” (36). Especially as educators respond to unfinished instruction from the previous two school years, leaders must create the structures for teachers to prepare for students’ variety of needs effectively. This blog post will share some key considerations for participation structures, time, and tools to design effective professional learning structures for teachers implementing Wit & Wisdom.
Take a moment to reflect on the current structural design of professional learning in your school or district. How have you prioritized these structures for teachers’ growth with Wit & Wisdom? Even if the school year has begun, consider how preparation needs to shift to sustain implementation throughout the year.
Who needs to be in the room?
Focus on your school structure first. In schools with larger teaching teams, it makes sense to gather a grade level regularly for collaborative preparation. But who else might need to be there? Include special education and English language teachers, or others in supportive roles who may push into instruction or offer extended learning outside the core instructional block. If there is only one teacher per grade level, consider how you might work with other teachers across the district or connect with Wit & Wisdom teacher groups on Facebook.
Another important consideration is identifying the facilitator for collaborative planning time. For some schools, an instructional coach, school administrator, or curriculum specialist may be available to lead this work. If these roles don’t exist, identifying and training a teacher-leader is essential to focusing the work time. Great Minds provides three preparation protocols and offers a foundational professional development session, Module and Lesson Study, for all teachers to understand how to use them. However, designating a strong leader who is responsible for maintaining the focus on instruction during collaborative planning time is critical.
Where do we find the time?
Time is a precious resource—there is never enough of it in teaching! District and school-based leaders should work collaboratively to build preparation time into annual, monthly, and daily schedules. Create a pacing calendar for instruction and preparation. A good goal is to plan all module, arc, and lesson studies one to two weeks ahead of the instruction to give teachers enough time to internalize instruction without falling behind.
If time for designated collaborative preparation is not a part of your master schedule, then use the reflective questions below to reconsider how collaborative preparation can become a priority.
- What time has been set aside for staff meetings? How can this time be reallocated, especially in the first year of implementation, to preparation—even a couple of times a month?
- How can staff meetings prioritize time for preparation? Can announcements, information sharing, or other noncritical work shift to another forum, like email or a newsletter?
- Is coverage available for teachers during lunch or recess duty so they can have additional time for preparation?
- Does your school or district provide an early release day to students regularly? If so, how is this time used for staff development? Using this time for collective preparation is a powerful lever for improving instruction.
- In what ways can the school reorganize enrichment or elective schedules to provide a longer block of time to teachers for effective preparation at least once a week?
- How might students follow an alternate schedule, once or twice a month, to provide teachers with extended preparation time?
- How might English language arts (ELA) teachers receive a preparation day once or twice a semester? Consider extending math, science, and social studies blocks on those days. Then return the same amount of time to other teachers by extending the ELA block on occasion.
- Are stipends available for preparation time after school? Historically, if your school or district has made stipends available for curriculum creation, can this allocation shift to support extended time for preparation?
What do we do with shared planning time?
Identify the right protocols for collaboration based on where your team is in implementation. In Year 1, teachers need to focus on the big picture of each module collaboratively. As teachers deepen their understanding of the curriculum, their focus can narrow. A clear focus on teacher learning goals is critical to maximizing the time available.
- For a teaching team in Year 1 of Wit & Wisdom implementation, start with the Module Study Protocol to understand the full scope of the module and inform arc and lesson planning. Leverage the Focusing Question Arc protocols next to make the most of your collaborative time.
- In the first two years of implementation, use common preparation time to focus on the most challenging lessons to teach—often Reveal and Distill lessons.
- In Years 2 and 3, teachers shift their collective focus from studying lessons to analyzing student work produced in lessons with the support of the Analyze box at the end of each lesson.
- In Year 3 and beyond, it’s helpful for teachers to engage in deliberate practice and observation of lessons. With a stronger understanding of each lesson, teachers can deliver the lessons for one another, reflecting on effective instructional moves and the opportunities available for maximizing student learning. Consider the use of video to observe lessons, as well.
Providing the necessary structural supports to teachers leads to implementation success. As leaders, providing this level of preparation is our responsibility to the hard-working teachers in our schools and the students in our care.
Developing a Professional Learning System for Adults in Service of Student Learning. The Aspen Institute Education and Society Program, 21 February 2018. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Developing-a-Professional-Learning-System-for-Adults-in-Service-of-Student-Learning-6.pdf .
Short, Jim, and Stephanie Hirsh. The Elements: Transforming Teaching through Curriculum-Based Professional Learning. Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2020. https://media.carnegie.org/filer_public/47/94/47947a81-4fdf-421b-a5e8-fbb211898ee0/elements_report_november_2020.pdf .
Cari Killian has worked in curriculum, instruction, and leadership development for 16 years. Her educational career began in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, Cari helped open KIPP NOW College Prep, a school in Houston for New Orleans evacuees. She returned to New Orleans, where she worked as a teacher and educational leader. Cari received her B.A. from Ithaca College in Business with minors in Spanish and Art History, and her M.Ed. in Education Leadership and principal licensure from LSU.