Anne Lyneis never travels anywhere without an armful of picture books, which she patiently stacks and restacks beneath whatever chair she happens to be sitting in. She is a curriculum director at Match, responsible for English Language Arts at the elementary level.
Anne is one of six master teachers at Match who comprise our Curriculum Team. All happen to be women: three are dedicated to math; three to ELA. All are ferocious about good teaching.
The job of the curriculum team is threefold: to write unit plans, lesson plans and assessments for grades pre-k thru 12, to transfer knowledge to our instructional leaders at each school (who in turn work closely with classroom teachers) and to package up our material in a way that can be shared on Match Fishtank, a website that makes all of Match’s curriculum available to anyone with an internet connection, free of charge.
It sounds simple enough in theory – why wouldn’t every school operate in this way, with one centralized team of curriculum creators – but its execution is a carefully choreographed set of people, systems and stuff that isn’t all that common in most schools.
Match is betting big on two things when it comes to our public charter school in Boston. First, we are betting that enrolling students earlier in their academic careers (as early as pre-kindergarten) and hanging onto them all the way through high school will yield greater results for our students on the metrics we care about most: graduation, college enrollment and college completion. And second, we’re betting that a unified curriculum that builds from one year to the next will be good for students and teachers – increasing rigor and retention for all.
The curriculum team is new – about two and a half years old – but there are at least three things good outcomes we’ve seen thus far from this new way of operating:
1) A K12 curriculum, all aligned to Common Core standards that moves sequentially from one grade to the next, ensures that we – as a school – are all pulling in the same direction. It means our students are introduced to concepts and texts at the same time in their schooling, making it possible for us to operate with greater certainty about what students have and have not been exposed to. That certainty makes a big difference in the decisions we make about how to best engage and challenge our students to reach their academic potential.
2) Match’s curriculum team is easing the cognitive load on teachers. Teachers, of course, still have to teach: they have to engage with the material and determine the best way to help their students master the concepts and content, but all the time they would have previously spent mapping out units and lessons, selecting texts and writing tests, in now time they can dedicate to their instructional practice. For a teacher in his or her first or second year in the classroom, this is no small thing. And even for a veteran teacher, the opportunity to step back from that work, can leave more room for creativity in the classroom and make a demanding job more sustainable.
3) As we’d hoped, teachers are improving their instruction. This is due, in part, to the greater percentage of time they can dedicate to their practice. But it’s also due to the intensive coaching they receive weekly from the instructional leaders (the assistant principals at Match) whose primary responsibility to coach teachers.
The time our instructional leaders spend with teachers – observing teachers, coaching teachers one-on-one, and running weekly meetings (organized by grade level) that zero in on everything from intellectual preparation to specific lesson plans – is the topic of our next story.