“curriculum” & “teacher autonomy” may seem like mutually exclusive concepts – but Fishtank Math curriculum and Kiddom are changing that.
Whitney Green is an assistant principal at Ooltewah Elementary in Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, TN. She currently leads the implementation of EL K-5th and is taking full advantage of utilizing Kiddom within the classrooms at Ooltewah Elementary as both have positively affected our students success this year. She is excited to share her drive and her experiences with others.
Assistant Principal Whitney Green successfully rolled out a new curriculum and platform at her school – here's her step-by-step implementation plan, which is full of helpful advice, regardless of what type of change you're bringing to your school.
Ask Whitney: Do you have questions about change management or using Kiddom + EL Education? Click here to submit them and she will write a follow-up response in her next blog.
I consider myself an advocate for instructional reform. Many of you may also feel change is needed in your schools, but as we're all well aware, change does not come without some growing pains. In my career, I'm not sure I have met many who are excited about change, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary.
As an assistant principal at a mega elementary school in Chattanooga, TN I have had the privilege of leading our community through a few different changes. I hope you will find the implementation plan I've developed to be helpful, regardless of what kind of change (curriculum, program, or platform) you are rolling out in your community.
Successful Change Starts With a Good Plan
Hamilton County is a larger district in the state of Tennessee having roughly 79 schools with a variety of demographics, including low-income rural and urban students, as well as upper-middle-class suburban students. Due to our low proficiency in ELA based on state testing over the years, I had all the reason to try something new – and guess what, it worked!
I believe this success started in how it was implemented. You can have the most highly-rated and reviewed programs/platforms, but if teachers don’t use them or understand their purpose, what is the point?
The Order of Implementation: Choosing What's Best for Your Community
Our school had been blessed to pilot both, EL Education (an ELA curriculum by Open Up Resources), and Kiddom – two new programs, and both during the pandemic!
Fortunately, our 3rd-5th grades first piloted the print version of EL Education in the 2019-20 school year. (Maybe not so fortunately, as this was the year we shut down early due to the pandemic!) But that did not stop us, as soon our district suggested we pilot a digital version of EL Education using Kiddom during the 2020-21 school year. As it turned out, this was perfect timing. Before I get into the logistics of how I implemented these two programs, I want to give you an overview of our specific needs and what both EL Education and Kiddom provided.
During our pilot year with EL Education, things came to a screeching halt when March hit and the world seemed to stop, literally. Although the pandemic threw a wrench into our plans, our administrative team was determined to develop a game plan to continue the EL curriculum, as it had brought a refreshing, yet needed, rigorous ELA instruction that all students could participate in. So the question remained, how do we continue the EL Education curriculum virtually?
Well, this is where my relationship with Kiddom started. I had the option to say no to piloting this platform, but I knew we needed to try something, as we were unable to provide the richness of the EL curriculum to our students remotely that first March of quarantine. I will be honest with you, I am not the type of person to fluff or provide any recommendations to anyone if I do not 100% believe in what I am saying or providing – some say, it is because I am from the North. But it works for me.
Now, one might ask, if I could have waived my magic wand to have piloted both EL 3rd-5th and Kiddom during the 2019-20 school year, would I have done this? I have mixed feelings. A few teachers in my building stated they would have loved to have Kiddom when we first piloted EL Education. The reasoning being, Kiddom provided a digital hub with all of the materials and resources organized by unit/module/lesson. If you know anything about the EL curriculum, you know they provide a lot of planning materials.
I also would have loved to continue the rigor of the EL curriculum when we transitioned in March, so yes, Kiddom would have greatly benefited us at the time for these reasons. But I do know that implementing new programs is overwhelming for all. I appreciate that we spent all of our time and efforts pouring into the EL curriculum first, before learning to navigate Kiddom. So I guess the answer is, depends who you ask. I do not believe you could go wrong with either option.
Now that I have given you the background on the how and why we implemented two programs at my school, I want to share how I roll out new programs/platforms that I have found works! Every time I start a new program, I always learn something new about this process and make adjustments accordingly, so it can always be perfected.
Whitney's 5-Step Implementation Plan Overview Diagram. Read on to dive into each step in detail.
An Implementation Program That Works
Many leaders find implementing new programs to be a daunting process and avoid it at all costs, as past experience tells them districts always roll out new items every couple of years, so why waste the time and energy? Trust me when I say, I completely understand, but as leaders, we need to be mindful of programs/resources that will further the vision and mission of the school. So my recommendation is to start by investigating and learning more about the platform before making decisions on how much time and effort you want to spend on this.
Let me first say, I love a good challenge, and piloting is just that! But when you're first starting out, it's hard to know where to begin. So now the process begins. I am a bullet points person, so I am going to outline this process below. I hope this helps!
Step 1. P.W.P. (Play With Program/Platform)
Let me take you back to the first program I ever launched at this school, when I was a curriculum coach. If you've ever heard of Mastery Connect, then you know where I am going with this. It was an amazing platform that our district had purchased, but it was not the easiest platform to understand at first. I remember leaving that training feeling so overwhelmed and not sure how I was going to ever really understand or implement this program. One thing I have learned in implementing or piloting, is that you have to understand it yourself and be willing to sit side by side with teachers during any trainings.
I have found that teachers respect those who have walked in their shoes and are willing to do the hard work with them. The best way to learn is through practice. After leaving the Mastery Connect training, which was only one day, I was determined to figure the thing out! I spent time playing with the platform as I navigated through the different features. The more time I spent using the platform, the more I realized we needed to get this into the hands of teachers immediately.
In order to launch anything new, you have to know it first, or at least that is my rule of thumb. Take time to navigate through all of the features and write down both pros and cons as these will come up with teachers.
Do not be afraid to ask the source! Kiddom has been an amazing company to work with, as they have spent so much time working with myself and my staff to ensure we were provided all the training needed to be successful. Training is key to any implementation!
Step 2. Create a Think Tank
The next step after you have successfully spent time working with the platform/program is to start creating teacher buy-in. Everyone knows if you do not create teacher buy in, then it will not be successful. They are the ones who are going to use it and they need to see the importance and benefits.
I recommend selecting specific teachers to come and get trained firsthand. I asked one teacher per team, and the teacher I asked I knew would be positive and influential. This group is able to explore and provide immediate feedback. This way, both the company and administration can answer any questions or provide clarity on concerns or adjustments that may need to be addressed.
Step 3. Train Your Ambassadors
The group that you selected for your think tank is now being promoted to ambassadors. This group will serve in your school as school leaders for this platform/program. I specifically have the ambassadors lead PD (Professional Development) sessions, walk other teachers through the program, and highlight all the features they have found will benefit instruction/students.
We all know teachers listen to teachers far better than hearing things from a district representative or administrator when speaking about items that pertain to the classroom. The ambassadors need to be your experts, so spend time with them, and support them, so they can then support others on their team. This is relieving from a leadership standpoint, as members on the team can reach out to their ambassador for help when questions or issues arise.
Step 4. Step Back & Let Your Ambassadors Lead
As teachers start to recognize the success of the ambassadors using the platform/program, word will spread like wildfire! I have also found that these programs will improve data, and so when their teammates see an increase in data, they are now banging at your door to implement this program/platform in their classroom.
We are fortunate to have a curriculum coach in our building that I would ask to support these teachers to implement it into their classrooms during the school day. You also can utilize your ambassadors through after school PDs to train teachers on how to effectively use it as well.
Step 5. Set Expectations When It's Time for Accountability
Now it is time for accountability and expectations! As you are able to create more teacher buy-in, you are creating a larger mass that is working together using the same resources. There will always be a couple that never take the initiative or get on board with this type of change at first. Fortunately, you can now expect it from all teammates. How, you might ask?
Well, we know that the odds are in your favor when a majority, if not all, are on board with this new implementation. As an administrator, I recommend setting certain expectations or requirements for the use of these programs. For example, I expect all of my 3rd-5th grade teachers to use Kiddom during their collaborative planning sessions and that Kiddom is used by students daily. This expectation started in September, as we began school in August. This allowed enough time for steps 1-4 to successfully be implemented.
As I said before, I started this implementation process with Mastery Connect a couple of years ago when I was a curriculum coach. That year, I was successful with Mastery Connect in our building and throughout the year, more and more teachers started to use the platform and reaped the benefits as they saw their data improve. This process can be used with any platform/program, not just the programs I have piloted or implemented at my school.
Fortunately, I have been able to refine this process as I have now piloted a few different programs. There will always be resistance or skepticism when you introduce something new, so the key is to avoid this by creating teacher buy-in versus forcing something upon teachers. Don't think I didn't hear comments like, “Is this just another district initiative?” or “How can you be so sure this is going to meet the needs of our students?”. The key to implementation or piloting is how this work continues. As we look into the 2021-22 school year, both EL education and Kiddom will continue to be used by our teachers, as our benchmark data has proven these two platforms have been nothing but a success for us.
"Ask Whitney" Series
AP Whitney Green's school uses EL Education (ELA) digital curriculum via Kiddom. She led the rollout of this program, resulting in the highest reading proficiency improvements in her district, and now she'd like to help others in their journey to do the same. Submit your questions using the form below and Whitney will answer them in the next blog of this series.
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